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CBD vs. THC: What's the difference?

CBD vs. THC: What's the difference?


January 17, 2020


CBD vs. THC: What's the difference?


January 17, 2020

CBD vs. THC: What's the difference?

As the availability of cannabis-based products continues to grow in the USA and worldwide, the number of new curious users continues to increase as well. In the past, cannabis was primarily seen as a recreational drug via marijuana use. With the wealth of positive studies, and anecdotal evidence, and even FDA recognition pointing to cannabis' wide range of potential therapeutic uses, more customers than ever are being attracted to the cannabis industry every day.

The caveat is that many of these new users would prefer to experience the wide range of therapeutic benefits without the high. This is where a good understanding of hemp, marijuana, CBD, and THC all come into play. (Click Here to see our blog article about Hemp vs. Marijuana)

Two of the most abundant and popular compounds in the cannabis plant have very different effects on the body and mind. Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), are the two most abundant cannabinoid molecules originating in plants of the Cannabis genus. These two compounds both interact with the body's endocannabinoid system, but they have very different effects on the user.

Psychoactive Properties of CBD vs. THC

The first and most important concept to talk about is the psychoactivity of these two compounds. The two molecules share a very similar chemical makeup, yet have very different effects on the mind:

Delta-9 THC (Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol) - which is commonly referred to as simply THC - is the well-known psychoactive compound that produces the “high” associated with recreational marijuana use. THC is most commonly found in Cannabis strains (commonly referred to as marijuana) that are bred to maximize these psychoactive properties.

CBD (Cannabidiol) is the new rockstar cannabinoid that has made its big push into the public spotlight. Unlike THC, CBD does not produce psychoactive effects and is actually known to reduce the effects of THC. This molecule has been growing in popularity thanks to a wide range of supporting research and widespread use. CBD is most commonly found in special strains of Cannabis (commonly referred to as hemp) which are grown to maximize CBD content while minimizing THC content. The growth in popularity of CBD has also led “marijuana” cultivators to focus on growing strains that are also high in CBD.

Pharmacology of CBD vs. THC

Both of these phytocannabinoids (naturally occurring cannabinoids in plants) interact with the endocannabinoid system in the body. Specifically, they both interact with the CB1 receptors found primarily in the central nervous system and the CB2 receptors found primarily in the immune system. (Click Here to see our blog article about The Endocannabinoid System)

THC is a partial agonist that activates the cannabinoid receptors. CBD acts as an indirect antagonist of the same receptors. CBD is known to interfere with the binding of THC to those receptors, explaining the psychoactive dampening effects CBD has on THC when the compounds are taken in combination.

Medical Benefits of CBD & THC

CBD and THC offer both unique and overlapping medical benefits. Those seeking relief may prefer to use one, the other, or both (more below) compounds depending on their preference or tolerance for the psychoactive 'high' associated with THC use. (Click Here to see our blog article about CBD Benefits)

Side Effects of CBD vs THC

Part of CBD's wide acceptance has been the presence of minimal side effects. The molecule is well tolerated, even by individuals taking large doses for an extended period of time. Most side effects of CBD observed in research can be attributed to interactions with other medications.

THC, on the other hand, carries a list of well known, yet non-severe side effects that are due to the compound's psychoactive properties. Users may experience common symptoms like dry mouth and red eyes when consuming THC. Neither CBD or THC has been directly linked to a human death.

Better Together: The Entourage Effect

While each compound alone may produce many beneficial therapeutic effects, research has proved that consuming a full range of cannabis compounds together provides increased overall effectiveness. This cooperative relationship between cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids is called the 'entourage effect'.

This principle can encourage the use of cannabis products which contain a wide range of plant components rather than a single, isolated molecule. (More info to come in our blogs about the Entourage Effect and Isolate vs Full Spectrum products.)

Legal Status of CBD vs. THC

Public perception and the overall legal status of CBD and THC in the USA are evolving constantly. Currently, at a federal level, the ‘type’ of cannabis determines the legal status of the resulting cannabinoids.

Today, marijuana is a schedule 1 substance, making this plant illegal to possess, except on approved farms in individual states who have legalized all cannabis plants. Hemp, however, has been cleared from this status thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill and is allowed to be grown anywhere in the USA on approved farms.

CBD products derived from hemp containing less than 0.3% THC (the legal limit) are now federally legal and available for interstate trade. Marijuana, on the other hand, is still illegal federally and operates in legal space provided by individual states. As such, CBD products derived from marijuana are technically still federally illegal, even if they contain 0% THC. This is why it is so important to get your CBD products from reputable companies that have records of the source for their CBD products, these are usually referred to as COA, or certificate of analysis.

THC, CBD & Drug Testing with CBD vs. THC

Many people are subject to drug testing at their workplace, most often upon hiring. Though often described as testing for 'marijuana', most drug tests are looking for a compound-specific presence in hair, urine, or saliva. Most commonly, these tests are looking for the presence of THC.

What this means is that consuming a THC-free product (ex. an isolate CBD oil) will not result in a positive drug test for THC, simply because it does not contain any. However, consuming a CBD product containing a full spectrum cannabinoid profile (even with only trace amounts of THC) could result in testing positive for THC. If you are taking any type of cannabis-derived product while being subject to drug testing, you should exercise extreme caution, and do your research before buying any CBD products.

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