THC vs CBD: The Key Differences

by May 26, 2017

What is THC and CBD?

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the most commonly found compound in the cannabis plant. CBD, or cannabidiol, is the second most commonly found compound in the cannabis plant. Both belong to the family of cannabinoids, unique compounds found in the cannabis plant.

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is easily the most familiar cannabinoid. Most people, whether they are cannabis users or not, associate THC with weed and getting high. However, its medicinal benefits aren’t as well known. On the other hand, CBD, or cannabidiol, only recently came onto the general public’s radar; it’s earned its growing popularity from its powerful healing potential. One cannabinoid is not better than the other, they are simply very different.

THC structure

THC. Image source: Herb co.

CBD structure

CBD. Image source: Zamnesia

Most people, even cannabis users, do not have a firm grasp on their bodies’ endocannabinoid system. That, along with the fact that CBD has been plastered all over the news with claims that it can treat almost anything, lead to a lot of questions and misunderstanding around what exactly CBD is, how it works with the body, and how it differs from THC.

There are only a few key differences between THC and CBD. Once you understand how each cannabinoid reacts in our bodies, how they work synergistically together, and what ratio of THC to CBD is best for a given ailment, you’ll have a good understanding of the differences between the two.

Key Differences

The High

The most significant difference between the two cannabinoids, and perhaps the reason for all the buzz around CBD, is that THC is psychoactive (meaning it makes you feel high) while CBD is not. This is a result of how each of these cannabinoids reacts with the CB1 receptors within our own endocannabinoid system. When THC reacts with a CB1 receptor, it is like fitting a round peg into a round hole; the perfect fit stimulates the receptor and releases a bliss-like feeling, or the sensation of being high.

On the other hand, when CBD reacts with a CB1 receptor, it is like fitting a square peg into a round hole. It doesn’t fit and therefore doesn’t stimulate that receptor. In fact, CBD acts as an antagonist and works to block the stimulating reaction between THC and CB1 receptors, which mutes the psychoactive effects of THC.

Infograph of the endocannabinoid system

Image source: Pinterest

This difference is what makes CBD so appealing. A patient can receive the medicinal benefits that cannabis has to offer without experiencing any mind altering effects.

This brings us to a very important point that is so often misunderstood: While CBD is a great option for someone looking to avoid the feeling of being high, the medicinal benefits of this cannabinoid are heightened when THC is also present. The two cannabinoids create what is referred to as the “entourage effect” and work synergistically to provide even more healing power when working together. This is known as whole plant medicine.

Medicinal Properties of THC vs CBD

Another significant difference between these two powerful cannabinoids can be found in their range of medicinal properties. For example, THC is an excellent sleep aid, whereas CBD promotes wakefulness. THC can cause anxiety or paranoia in patients, but adding some CBD can mitigate anxiety.

While THC and CBD do work better together, the ratio depends on which ailment you wish to treat.

Studies have shown that THC is more effective in treating:

  • Side effects of chemotherapy: helps with nausea, vomiting, decreased appetite
  • Multiple Sclerosis: helps reduce spasms and pain
  • Glaucoma: reduces eye pressure
  • Spinal injury: reduces tremors
  • Anecdotal data shows it helps treat insomnia, pain, and inflammation

Studies have shown that CBD is more effective in treating:

  • Schizophrenia: reduces psychotic symptoms
  • Anxiety
  • Severe forms of epilepsy
  • Pain and inflammation

Legal Climate of THC vs CBD

Finally, the two differ from a legal standpoint. THC is federally illegal, classified as a Schedule 1 substance. CBD that is derived from a cannabis plant is classified as Schedule 1 substance.

However, CBD can be found in industrial hemp, which is legal to grow, import, and sell in the U.S. While CBD found in cannabis (as opposed to hemp) is safer and more medicinally potent, While this legal loophole gives us greater access to CBD derived from hemp, it is important to consider that CBD found in cannabis vs hemp is safer and more medicinally potent. This is because cannabis CBD is grown in a much more intentional environment and typically for medicinal purposes. It is full of all of the powerful terpenes and cannabinoids that contribute to its healing quality. It is also easier to trace cannabis CBD back to its original source to guarantee that it is grown safely and organically.

Image source:

Image source: Marijuana Venture

The research on both THC and CBD is still limited, and it is important to note that every single body reacts to cannabinoids differently.

Please consult with a doctor to determine which ratio is best for you. And remember:

  • THC gets you high, CBD does not.
  • When taken together CBD can mitigate the mind-altering effects of THC.
  • Medicinally, they work better together.
  • THC is great for sleep, CBD is great for anxiety.
  • CBD derived from hemp may be more accessible, but medical grade cannabis is far more beneficial.

Please comment below if you have further questions about these two cannabinoids. And please share any experiences you’ve had with either CBD or THC!

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