Know the Difference: THC vs. CBD

Know the Difference: THC vs. CBD

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Although cannabidiol (CBD) has been around for quite some time, its true nature remains a mystery to many. As a result, this relatively harmless substance is the subject of numerous misconceptions. One of the most widespread errors is mistaking CBD for its close cousin, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

While these compounds share some similarities, they significantly differ in a few critical areas. In fact, whether in terms of their chemical structure or psychoactive effects, CBD and THC are often miles apart. It makes them distinctively unique substances, both in the eyes of the federal law and healthcare practitioners.

As more and more states legalize medical marijuana and other cannabis products, taking a closer look at the differences between CBD and THC is a reasonable approach. Here is everything you should know about these compounds, including what they have in common and what elements separate them from one another.

What’s the Difference Between CBD and THC?

The best way to grasp the difference between CBD and THC is to dive into details, such as the chemical structure, potential side effects, and medical benefits. By examining these distinctive characteristics, the answer to how a game of CBD vs. THC plays out will become much more transparent.


First, it is worth noting that most CBD products come from a different source than their THC counterparts. While manufacturers derive both CBD and THC from the cannabis plant (usually, the Cannabis Sativa plant), they source CBD from hemp and THC from marijuana. These are two types of the cannabis plant, each with a unique composition of cannabinoids.

Yet, we need to add an asterisk to the above statements. Technically, it is possible to derive CBD from the marijuana plant. But, a CBD product created with cannabidiol from this source is illegal under current U.S. federal law. Besides, such a product might contain more THC than usual, which can be problematic for some people.

Because of these factors, most CBD manufacturers use a CBD dominant version of the cannabis plant to create their products (i.e., hemp). Conversely, producers of medical cannabis with high levels of THC commonly extract needed compounds from marijuana — a version of Cannabis Sativa abundant in tetrahydrocannabinol.

The source of cannabinoids in products affects other determinants, including how these products interact with the body and their legality.


In the United States, cannabis-related laws are evolving rapidly. The most significant development in recent years has been the institution of the 2018 Farm Bill, which made CBD legal.

Nowadays, as long as CBD products contain up to 0.3 percent THC and come from hemp, they are perfectly legal to sell and purchase. As a result, the CBD market exploded, with numerous new manufacturers joining the industry every year.

At the same time, many states have approved at least limited use of medical marijuana. While both marijuana and THC remain Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substances Act, some state laws make recreational marijuana with THC legal for personal use.

Currently, ten states allow for low-THC/high-CBD products, and 17 offer comprehensive medical cannabis programs. You might want to check your state’s laws before buying CBD and THC products.

FDA-Approved Medications

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is yet to approve all CBD or THC products to treat health conditions, it has already made some exceptions. As of today, the list of FDA-approved medications that contain CBD or THC includes:

  • Epidiolex — FDA sanctioned this medication for treating seizures associated with two types of epilepsy: Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.
  • Marinol — Medical professionals use this drug to treat nausea and vomiting in cancer patients. This medication features dronabinol, a synthetic form of THC.
  • Syndros — Similar to Marinol, this medication contains dronabinol and is used to treat adverse effects of chemotherapy during cancer treatment.
  • Cesamet — This drug features nabilone, another synthetic substance similar to THC. Healthcare professionals prescribe it to patients struggling with weight loss and appetite problems due to chemotherapy and HIV/AIDS.

As we learn more about cannabinoid receptors, as well as CBD and THC, the number of products that the FDA approves might grow with time.

Chemical Structure

Even though CBD and THC are natural compounds derived from the same plant, their chemical structures are not the perfect match. Indeed, they have an identical molecular structure (21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms). However, the atoms that constitute them are arranged slightly differently. It creates a disparity in the effects we observe.

With that being said, how CBD and THC affect the body remains a common denominator between the two. They interact with cannabinoid receptors spread throughout the human body and its endocannabinoid system.

The endocannabinoid system regulates numerous processes, from sleep and mood to appetite and memory. An active ingredient derived from cannabis, whether you opt for CBD or THC, may alter how this system works.

cannabis chemical structure

Psychoactive Components

As mentioned above, CBD and THC share the same chemical formula. Nevertheless, their consumption leads to different psychoactive effects.

THC is best known for the high feeling it provides. The compound’s psychoactive properties may instill a sense of euphoria in users. As a result, THC — like many other drugs — can make you feel euphoric.

On the other hand, CBD is unlikely to get an individual high. It is non-intoxicating and does not impair function. Instead, it offers a calming effect that could help you deal with symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Medical Benefits

This section is the central crossroad at which THC and CBD intersect. Because these cannabis-derived compounds have multiple of the same medical benefits further adds to the confusion many people succumb to. Nevertheless, potential uses of these cannabinoids do not always include treating the same health issues.

CBD Benefits

CBD is a hot topic mainly due to its health benefits, which are similar to those provided by THC. But, it does not cause the euphoric effects that occur with the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. Consequently, its potential range of uses is much broader than those of THC.

For example, CBD can help with:

  • managing chronic pain,
  • mitigating psychiatric disorders,
  • reducing inflammation,
  • lowering stress levels,
  • combating migraine attacks,
  • treating appetite loss,
  • dealing with sleep troubles.

cbd benefits

THC Benefits

THC, the most potent of chemical compounds derived from cannabis plants, also offers several health benefits. Since ancient times, people have used marijuana to treat their symptoms. As it turns out, there might be something more to it than we previously suspected.

THC has shown promise in easing things like:

  • multiple sclerosis pain,
  • muscle spasticity,
  • insomnia,
  • Parkinson’s disease tremors,
  • nausea,
  • glaucoma.

According to David Shurtleff, Ph.D., deputy director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, “THC may help relieve pain, but its value as an analgesic is limited by its psychoactive effects and abuse potential.” Because of that, many people would opt for a drug comprised of CBD rather than THC.

Potential Side Effects

All cannabis-related products may cause mild side effects. Still, it is worth pointing out that CBD is well tolerated by humans, even in large doses. Many side effects users experience after taking CBD are caused by drug-to-drug interactions between CBD and other medications.

Conversely, high THC levels may increase the risk of experiencing psychiatric symptoms. Examples include paranoia, anxiety attacks, and psychosis.

Generally, THC alters how the human body functions much differently than CBD products. These two natural compounds may yield strikingly unlike results regarding the central nervous system, the immune system, or the body as a whole.

CBD may cause:

  • dizziness,
  • drowsiness,
  • appetite changes,
  • weight loss,
  • diarrhea,
  • nausea,
  • low blood pressure,
  • fatigue.

THC may cause:

  • dry mouth,
  • red eyes,
  • memory loss,
  • slower reaction times,
  • problems with concentration,
  • increased heart rate,
  • disorientation.

Drug Testing

Most standard drug tests typically look for chemicals related to THC. As such, they could detect trace amounts of CBD in your system. Some tests might even mistakenly take CBD for THC.

If you want to enjoy cannabis-derived substances and avoid detection at drug tests, your best bet is CBD isolate. This type of product contains only CBD, lowering the chances of detection.

Other types of CBD products are broad-spectrum CBD and full-spectrum CBD. The former contains other cannabinoids besides THC, while the latter provides you with every cannabinoid hemp has to offer. Taking those products increases your risk of failing a drug test, as even broad-spectrum CBD might have some trace amounts of THC.

Obviously, taking THC products will result in a failed test as well.

Be aware that many products on the market are mislabeled and may contain more cannabinoids than advertised. Taking them could lead to a failed drug test. To prevent this, always buy CBD oils and other products from reliable sources.

Ways To Take Each

Another vital point in the CBD vs. THC debate is how one can consume these substances. Much like in the case of medicinal benefits, both THC and CBD offer similar consumption methods. Still, we can pinpoint two key differences:

  • THC consumption frequently involves smoking or vaping, while most CBD users opt to use CBD oil.
  • Many THC users prefer to take their daily dose of THC from the dried cannabis flower. At the same time, the CBD market revolves more around oils and extracts.

Besides these elements, CBD and THC provide the same consumption options. They range from vapor inhalation via a vape pen and eating edibles such as gummies to putting a few drops of tincture under the tongue before swallowing and rubbing a lotion into a painful spot.

Before You Take CBD or THC

Both CBD and THC are psychoactive substances that may significantly impact how you act and feel. Because of that, it would be best to seek professional medical advice before taking any product that includes each of those two natural compounds.

Remember that nonprescription CBD products are unsanctioned by FDA. Similarly, although high-THC cannabis and byproducts have shown promise as effective aids, taking them does not replace medical treatment.

According to Gallup, 14 percent of Americans use CBD. With its growing popularity, more companies will look to exploit unaware customers. Consider consulting a doctor before taking medical marijuana or other products with CBD or THC, especially if you are taking any medications.


Do You Need THC for CBD to Work?

No, you do not need to take THC to reap the benefits offered by CBD. However, it is worth mentioning that THC and CBD work well in tandem, boosting their benefits. This phenomenon is known as the entourage effect.

What Is the Cannabis Plant Used For?

Besides being the basis for cannabis products intended for medicinal purposes, cannabis plants have several other uses. For example, people use them for:

  • hemp fiber,
  • hemp leaves used as vegetables and as juice,
  • hemp seeds and their oils.

Are Hemp-Derived CBD Products Safe?

Current research into adolescent cannabis exposure indicates that CBD is a safe compound to use by humans. While CBD binds to cannabinoid receptors and may cause mild side effects, taking it is not a life-threatening occurrence.

Can You Smoke CBD Oils?

Smoking CBD oil is an ill-advised practice because high temperatures can devoid the oil of its beneficial ingredients. Still, if you want to smoke CBD, you can do so by dabbing. In that case, you will need a dab rig or portable dab pen.



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