CBD (cannabidiol) has to be one of the most misunderstood substances out there. Yes, CBD is derived from the cannabis plant, but that’s about the only thing it has in common with THC, the compound responsible for getting you ‘high’ when you use marijuana. Enough is enough: let’s set the record straight once and for all regarding the fundamental difference between CBD and THC.
What Is The Main Difference Between CBD and THC?
To understand the difference between CBD and THC, we have to start by talking a little bit about the cannabis plant genus. Cannabis plants are a family of plant types that include both marijuana and hemp — two very different things. Marijuana is widely grown for the medicinal and recreational effects of THC, while hemp has a vast array of industrial uses in addition to its CBD content.
So, for starters: THC is usually derived from marijuana, and CBD is usually extracted from hemp — and both marijuana and hemp fall under the umbrella of cannabis plants. If you want to get exceedingly precise, both compounds are actually found in each type of plant. Certain strains of either variety can be rich in one compound or another. But generally speaking, it’s more efficient to extract CBD from hemp plants, as they tend to be richer in CBD than marijuana.
Now that we know which plant is responsible for producing which compound, let’s talk about what each compound does for a moment. The difference between CBD and THC comes down to a conversation about psychoactive vs. non-psychoactive chemicals. When you use THC, you end up experiencing various mental and physical effects that, for the lack of a better phrase, make you feel “high.” When you use CBD, although many users do notice some effects, they are not psychoactive, and therefore perhaps not as immediately obvious. And they certainly are not intoxicating or impairing, like the effects of THC.
How Do THC and CBD Work In The Body?
Your body has a biological pathway, or system, already pre-established that’s known as the endocannabinoid system. When you use marijuana, for example, THC molecules bind to existing receptors in your body, causing a fairly straightforward biological reaction.
CBD, on the other hand, operates a lot more mysteriously, and is much more complex. When you introduce CBD into the body, scientists believe that it actually acts as an indirect agonist of your endocannabinoid system. This means that it’s not quite as simple as “see receptor, bind to receptor.” Instead, something about CBD makes the compound interface with our bodies in a more roundabout way. It’s a fascinating aspect of cannabidiol that researchers are still fully unpacking as they continue to determine what benefits CBD might have.
Either way, one thing that both THC and CBD users are often surprised to learn is that their bodies are hardwired to interface with cannabinoids… and that cannabinoids are actually created by the body all on its own!
Legal Status of CBD and THC
Since THC is psychoactive, and therefore intoxicating; and CBD is not psychoactive, they exist in separate legal circumstances in the United States. THC, and the marijuana plant that is abundant in it, has a messy and constantly changing legality in this country. Depending on which state you’re in, THC is either: completely legal, available as medicine, decriminalized but illegal, illegal with minor penalties, or fully illegal with harsh penalties. This is because the country is still coming to grips with an outdated understanding of marijuana, and beginning to realize that it is not the harmful Schedule I drug that it’s been viewed as for so long. However, that’s a conversation for another day!
CBD, on the other hand, is totally legal to purchase throughout the United States. Yes, even in states where possession of marijuana is a crime. Remember: CBD does not come from marijuana — it comes from hemp. You probably don’t want to smoke hemp, as it contains virtually no THC to make you feel high, and its tough fibers would emit smoke that your lungs want no part of.
CBD oil (the most common form in which it’s bought and sold in America) is simply the extract of that one compound from the hemp plant. It does not make you high, it does not intoxicate you, and has been found to be safe even in absurdly high doses (not that we recommend such dosing practices). For these reasons, CBD is legal to buy, right now, from any state.
Comparing CBD and THC As Potential Treatment Options
Now let’s get down to the real reason that most people have even heard of both THC and CBD: their effects on the body and mind when they are used. Both compounds have incredible potential for medical benefit, but the fact is that we are living in a time where our society is still figuring out how we feel about using these compounds (due to their century-long stigma). And as a result of that stigma, medical and scientific research on THC and CBD isn’t quite as far along as one would hope. Therefore, we’re also still learning more every single day about what potential benefits can be provided by THC and CBD.
However, while much (though not all) of the perceived benefit from THC stems from the palliative effect that its “high” provides the user, CBD probably has more actual potential medical upside. Already, mainstream media outlets have begun casting a spotlight on CBD’s potential protective effect against epilepsy. That’s because its potential to reduce or eliminate seizures is one of the most thoroughly studied and publicized areas surrounding cannabidiol. However, dozens more trials and studies are underway right now, and the medical community is hopeful about CBD’s potential to treat a vast array of diseases and symptoms in the future, once more trials are completed.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common conditions that people are currently self-treating (or being treated) with CBD and/or THC, and determine which compound seems to fit which ailment best.
Before we begin, it bears repeating once again that there are very few direct, verifiable cause/effect medical benefits for either THC or CBD. Our analysis here is based on the studies that exist so far, as well as anecdotal consensus from the community.
- CBD vs. THC for pain relief: While THC’s impact on pain relief seems to originate from the overall pleasantness of a marijuana buzz that can distract from discomfort, CBD works a little differently. Many users have anecdotally reported that CBD helps with pain relief, and researchers are trying to understand why. The leading theory at the moment revolves around the fact that CBD prevents the body from absorbing anandamide, which is a compound in our bodies that regulate pain.
- CBD vs. THC for sleep: Both THC and CBD can lay claim to the fact that they help millions of people sleep each day. CBD is particularly interesting, in that when it’s used in smaller doses, it actually appears to cause a mild uptick in alertness! However, when the dosage is increased, drowsiness can begin to set in for many people. In fact, drowsiness is the main side effect of CBD in moderate and high doses for most users.
- CBD vs. THC for seizures: One of the most prominent studies around CBD that attracted mainstream media attention in 2017 has to do with its proven ability to reduce the quantity of seizures in pediatric epilepsy sufferers. This effect, however is what’s known as “pre-clinical,” meaning that it cannot and should not replace existing medication. However, it is a viable option for some people to supplement their treatment regimen with CBD, if they are not satisfied with their existing results.
- CBD vs. THC for joints & inflammation: There’s not a whole lot out there on whether THC can help your joints or inflammation problems, but you’ll find a whole host of reports on anti-inflammatory effects of CBD from satisfied people who use it. Again, the studies are still in preliminary mode, but a recent trial showed that inflammation was reduced as much as 50% in mice when CBD oil was administered.
- CBD vs. THC for PTSD & anxiety: While an extremely common side effect of marijuana usage (particularly in high doses) is paranoia and anxiety, CBD has been shown to actually counteract this effect. Several studies have been done that purport to show CBD having a positive effect on both social anxiety and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Remember that you should always consult with your physician before introducing CBD to your daily regimen, and that CBD is not a substitute for an existing medication or treatment. With that being said, the combination of anecdotal reports from around the world about CBD’s benefits as well as the promising data from published studies shows a bright future for this mysterious compound.
We hope we’ve shed some light on the difference between CBD and THC, so that the next time you hear someone misinformed about the two, you can set the record straight!