CBD vs THC – What is the difference ? (2021)

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CBD vs THC – What is the difference? Surely there can’t be too much discrepancy between the two cannabinoids.

The cannabis plant or marijuana plant has been known to possess medicinal properties for thousands of years and the presence of cannabis use in some form has been present in every great empire in history.

There is even speculation that Queen Victoria used to partake in the herb to ease her menstrual pains.

But what is it about the marijuana plant that people have found so fascinating ?

And what is it in the plant that is thought to help with a range of both mental and physical illnesses? 

In this article we are going to discuss the two cannabinoids called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD).

We will give an overview of CBD vs THC, what they are, where they are found and how they are used in the medicinal use of cannabis.

We will also discuss the health benefits related to medicinal marijuana and why that differs from recreational use.

To find out more about the two main sub-species of cannabis plants, cannabis sativa and cannabis Indica. Check out our article here.

So without further ado, let’s dive a bit deeper into CBD vs THC.

What is THC?

THC, is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis and is one of over 120 different cannabinoids found within the plant.

According to the United States government’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), THC activates the brain’s reward system by signalling the release of the brain chemical dopamine.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in mood and pleasure. The brain naturally releases this chemical when eating chocolate having sex or exercising but by triggering a higher-than-normal release of dopamine, THC causes people to experience feelings of euphoria. 

THC is found in street cannabis and many hybrid strains since the 1960’s have been bred to a high potency to produce a stronger high.

Illegal cannabis products almost always contain high levels of THC. Federal law in the USA changed the definition of hemp to mean any cannabis plant with a THC level below 0.3 percent with the introduction of the Farm Bill in 2018.

Other countries will have their own laws on the classification of cannabis vs hemp and the levels of THC that are permitted in legalised marijuana.

Now we know about CBD let’s continue the deep dive. 

CBD vs THC continued.

What is CBD?

CBD is the second most prevalent chemical natural compound found in cannabis (after THC).

It was first discovered during the 1940s and it has recently become more popular as a natural treatment for a range of conditions.

CBD can be derived from the hemp plant or from the marijuana plant, as essentially they’re the same. Hemp-derived CBD still contains trace amounts of THC, while marijuana-derived CBD typically contains more. 

All legal cannabis products sold for medical use will contain CBD and will be marketed for pain relief or as a relaxant, CBD oil is one of the most common products available, the levels of CBD contained within the product will be in accordance with government levels.

What are the main differences between CBD vs THC?

Effects of CBD vs THC on the human body

The human body naturally produces cannabinoids called endocannabinoids, which interact with the receptors to maintain balance. However, phytocannabinoids, like CBD and THC, also effectively stimulate CB1 and CB2 receptors.

THC and CBD have an effect on the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a system that plays an important role in maintaining homeostasis (a constant environment within the body).

The ECS plays a crucial role in developing the central nervous system and performing various biological functions, like mood regulation, pain perception, stress management, and immune response.

Cannabinoid receptors have two types: CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are widely dispersed in the brain and other parts of the body. CB1 receptors also play an essential role in pain sensation, memory processing, motor regulation, appetite, mood, and sleep.

Therefore CB1 receptors can help treat neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.

Meanwhile, CB2 receptors are mainly found on cells in the immune system and its associated structures. When these CB2 receptors are activated, they elicit a response that helps fight inflammation and treat certain medical conditions, like Chron’s disease, arthritis, and inflammatory bowel syndrome.

CBD and THC affect different receptors in the brain. THC acts upon certain cannabinoid receptors in the brain, CB1 receptors, to produce psychoactive effects and can produce the commonly known “euphoric high effect.

On the other hand, CBD does not contain any intoxicating properties. That’s because CBD bonds with CB2 receptors elsewhere in the body, not in the nervous system.

Let’s move on to look at how chemistry defines CBD vs THC.

Chemical Structure of CBD and THC

CBD and THC’s chemical composition is the same, they both contain: 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms, or C21H30O2. Both compounds also have the same molecular weight of 314.5 g/mol(6-7).

However, CBD and THC differ in their arrangement of atoms, so each compound produces different effects on the body.

Medical Benefits of CBD and THC

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), products that contain cannabinoids can help treat anxiety, glaucoma, symptoms of HIV/AIDS, opioid dependence, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBD), multiple sclerosis, sleep difficulties, movement disorders and epilepsy.

Although the above are some generic benefits, there are specific ones related to CBD vs THC.

Common Uses for CBD

  • Anti-anxiety
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antipsychotic
  • Pain relief
  • Improved sleeping habits

Various studies have shown the use of CBD in treating neuropsychiatric disorders, including epilepsy and schizophrenia. CBD may also provide calming effects and help relieve anxiety.

Common Uses for THC

  • Increased appetite
  • Reduced nausea and vomiting
  • Pain relief
  • Muscle spasticity

Studies have shown that THC is also a good muscle relaxant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-anxiety. 

A cross-sectional study of cannabidiol users published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research highlighted CBD’s therapeutic benefits for pain, anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders. 

A study showed that THC has the potential to reduce nausea in patients undergoing cancer chemotherapy and stimulate appetite in patients with wasting syndrome caused by acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

More scientific research is needed to properly authenticate the health benefits of using marijuana, especially long term.

CBD vs THC is only one component to the benefits of cannabis argument.

FDA-Approved Medications

While cannabis itself has not been FDA approved to treat any condition, there are a few drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that contain CBD or THC.

  • Epidiolex contains CBD and has been approved to treat seizures associated with two severe types of epilepsy—Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome
  • Marinol and Syndros are drugs that contain dronabinol, a synthetic THC. These drugs are used to treat nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy during cancer treatment.
  • Cesamet contains nabilone, a synthetic substance that is similar to THC. This drug is used to treat weight loss and appetite problems associated with chemotherapy and HIV/AIDS.

Side Effects

Whilst the headlines of CBD vs THC are mostly positive, it’s important to be aware that there are side effects too.

Studies showed that chronic use of CBD and even high doses of up to 1,500mg/day was well tolerated by humans but despite the improving reputation of cannabis as a recognised medicine, it is not without its down sides.

Both THC and CBD are considered safe but side effects that have been reported according to the Mayo clinic include:

  • Changes in mood and appetite
  • Drowsiness
  • Feelings of anxiety or other mood changes
  • Nausea and dizziness

Marijuana itself can have a number of short-term and long-term adverse effects, including impaired short-term memory, altered judgment, and impaired coordination.

Research also suggests that marijuana can alter brain development and may lead to cognitive impairment, especially in developing adolescents.

THC alters how the hippocampus and orbitofrontal cortex function. These areas of the brain are important in the formation of new memories and the ability to shift attention from one thing to the next.

This not only affects a person’s ability to learn and form new memories, but it also makes it difficult for people to perform difficult tasks.

Side Effects of CBD

CBD can cause some negative side effects, including:

  • decreased fertilization capacity
  • inhibition of hepatic drug metabolism
  • reduced activities of p-glycoprotein and other drug transporters

Side Effects of THC

The use of THC can have corresponding side effects. These include: 

  • Changes in mood
  • Altered senses
  • Impaired body movement
  • Impaired memory
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Red eyes
  • Hallucinations, especially when taken in high dosage
  • Psychosis
  • Risks for the fetus when taken by pregnant women

Additionally, the use of cannabis over an extended period of time can result in cannabis use disorder, which includes symptoms, like lack of control, craving, and withdrawal.

Which Cannabis Product Should You Take for Medicinal Purposes?

So I’m sure by this point you’ll be asking yourself, CBD vs THC, which one shall I take?

The cannabis product you choose may depend on the effects you are trying to achieve. If you are trying to reduce stress or sleep better, for example, CBD may provide benefits without the negative side effects associated with THC.

THC might be a better choice for symptoms or conditions for which the substance has demonstrated benefits, such as tremors or poor appetite.

Some research suggests that the potential therapeutic effects of THC and CBD tend to be greater when the two cannabinoids are taken together at the same time. This phenomenon is known as the entourage effect. 

One study found that CBD helped block some of the potential psychiatric effects of THC. The authors of the study suggest that such findings have important implications for the use of cannabis products.

People who are prone to unwanted side effects, for example, may be able to still gain the potential health benefits by sticking to products that are low in THC and higher in CBD content.

It is also important to remember that CBD and THC work in a number of different areas of the brain and researchers do not yet fully understand the effects that these cannabinoids have, either alone or in conjunction with one another.

Some evidence suggests that the combined effects of CBD and THC may be dependent on dose. A 2019 study, for example, found that low doses of CBD actually played a role in amplifying the psychoactive effects of THC, while high doses of CBD reduced THC’s effects.

Conclusion

CBD and THC are two of the many cannabinoids found in cannabis plants. While CBD is more dominant in hemp plants, THC is more dominant in marijuana.

The main difference between CBD vs THC is that THC is psychoactive, making users feel “high,” while CBD is non-psychoactive, which means there is no euphoric effect. 

Their chemical makeup is very similar. However, they have distinctively different effects within the human body. THC is known to be largely involved in the CB1 receptors of the ECS located in the brain and nervous system. CBD interacts mostly with CB2 receptors, found in tissues throughout the body. For this reason, the effects differ between the two compounds.

CBD products have been gaining popularity because of its known therapeutic benefits, including pain relief, anti-anxiety, and sleeping aid. 

THC is also reported to have therapeutic benefits, including increased appetite, pain relief, and muscle relaxation.

While CBD oil is generally safe for humans, it can cause negative side effects, including diarrhea, lost appetite, and fatigue, as studies mentioned above have suggested.

THC can also produce side effects, like breathing problems, impaired body movement, and altered senses.

Check out our Indica vs Sativa blog for more cannabis info.

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