Cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) both come from cannabis plants, but they have very different effects on your brain and bod.
These days, most likely even your mom’s friends, your doctor, or your neighbor is lighting up or noshing on some gummies.
Though there are more than 100 cannabinoids in the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plants, the main players are THC and CBD. While there are many diffs between the two compounds, for starters, THC is primarily responsible for psychoactive properties, and CBD isn’t.
But here’s what else to know about the ways these compounds interact with your bod’s endocannabinoid system.
Wait, what’s the diff between cannabis and hemp?
So if you’re looking to get even a fraction as high as the stoners in Dazed and Confused, opt for some Mary Jane – because hemp’s not gonna cut it.
When CBD is isolated from cannabis or hemp plants, it won’t cause the same “high” feeling as THC. It also prob won’t cause you to stare at a single blade of grass for 20 mins. This is because THC activates receptors in your noggin that get you high – CBD doesn’t.
THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. It’s what gives your body and mind that feeling of being high or intoxicated that’s traditionally associated with weed use. It can cause feelings of relaxation, euphoria, altered perceptions, and mood changes.
This high can vary a lot in intensity depending on the concentration of THC in the flower. Lower ends of the spectrum may cause you to feel a little buzzed, while formulas over 30% might make you feel like you’re smoking the mystical Pineapple Express strain and have successfully entered another dimension.
Like CBD, THC comes from either the Cannabis indica or Cannabis sativa plant. Cannabis indica tends to have higher levels of CBD, and sativa tends to have higher levels of THC.
There’s also a commonly-held belief that indica strains are calming, while sativa strains are uplifting. But according to some experts, this idea is difficult to scientifically prove.
But ultimately, it will impact everyone differently.
These two cannabis strains are not one in the same: And by the end of this section, you’ll be able to say that now you know your CBDs and THCs. ✅
CBD vs. THC chemical structure
Despite their differences, THC and CBD share the same molecular structure: 2 oxygen atoms, 21 carbon atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. Why do they have such diff effects on your bod, then? The way the atoms are arranged ever so slightly differently makes all the difference.
Both CBD and THC are chemically similar to your brain’s natural endocannabinoid system (ECS). In this way, they’re able to impact your brain’s endocannabinoid receptors.
Wait, what’s the endocannabinoid system?
The ECS affects communication between neurons in your brain and many biological functions. It impacts eating, learning, memory, anxiety, reproduction, metabolism, and lots of aspects of growth and development.
The interaction between the endocannabinoids in CBD/THC and your neurotransmitters (AKA chemicals that send messages between cells and impact things like stress, pain, sleep, and immune function) are what produces the effect on your brain and body.
CBD and THC: Same atoms, different impacts on your body.
Even though both CBD and THC are technically psychoactive, CBD doesn’t produce the traditional high feeling associated with THC.
THC binds mostly to the cannabinoid (CB1) receptors in your brain, which lends a high or euphoric feeling. (Or like you’re flying when you’re listening to music. Or like you’re witnessing a work of art in a water droplet.)
Meanwhile, CBD doesn’t bond strongly with CB1 receptors. In order to stick to it at all, it needs a little help from THC. Together, THC curbs some of the potential psychoactive effects of THC like euphoria, anxiety, or sedation.
It kinda seems like just yesterday that people were getting locked up for smoking weed – but at least if you live somewhere where it’s legal, it’s easy to forget.
In the U.S., adult recreational cannabis/THC use is legalized in 22 states and decriminalized in 9. Thirty-seven states and Washington D.C. have also passed laws that make medical cannabis with high THC levels legal. In some states you may need a prescription from a doc.
And pretty much anywhere where you cannabis is recreationally or medically available, you should be able to buy CBD with ease. Since CBD doesn’t produce a traditional high, it’s much less strictly regulated.
Wait, is CBD legal, then?
CBD that comes from hemp (and has less than .3 percent THC) is federally legal in the U.S. It’s still illegal in some states, however.
Meanwhile, CBD that comes from marijuana is federally illegal but is legal in some states.
Still, under U.S. federal law right now, CBD and THC are still considered Schedule 1 drugs. That means the DEA considers it to have no verified medical use and a high potential of being abused. Other schedule 1 drugs include cocaine, heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and peyote. Hemp has been removed from the Controlled Substances Act, though, which means the DEA thinks it’s pretty much A-OK.
But heads up: Since cannabis laws are changing so fast, we’re prob gonna need our editorial team to update this section on the reg. (Thanks, team.) It’s worth noting that an estimated 88 percent of U.S. adults say that Mary J should be legal for both medical and recreational use by adults.
If you live in the U.S., you can check your state’s laws online.
If you’re in possession of cannabis or related products in a state where they’re illegal, you could get into some trouble. You also can face penalties if you use cannabis without a prescription in states where you need one.
Since they’re derived from the same plant, CBD and THC share many of the same benefits, such as:
- sleep disorders
CBD is also specifically known to help treat conditions including:
CBD may also help treat:
- social anxiety
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Further research is also scoping out whether CBD might be able to treat:
- chronic pain
- mood disorders
- inflammatory diseases
- neurogenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s
In 2018, the FDA approved the first prescription med to contain CBD. It’s called Epidiolex and is used to treat a rare form of epilepsy.
But though these benefits are backed by some pretty solid research, CBD isn’t yet approved by the FDA for any of the other above uses.
THC is often ingested to help with:
- muscle spasms
- low appetite
It also may potentially be a treatment for:
- chronic neuropathic pain
There are two synthetic forms of THC approved by the FDA to treat specific conditions:
- Nabilone is approved to treat chemo-related nausea and vomiting
- Dronabinol is approved as an appetite stimulant for those with eating disorders or AIDs. It’s also approved to treat chemo-related nausea and vomiting.
According to a 2022 review, CBD is well-tolerated even in high doses. That said, side effects may occur, mostly due to interactions with other drugs or supplements. These side effects may include:
Even though it’s known to help treat anxiety and depression, there’s also some limited research from 2019 that has associated CBD use with an increase in suicidal thoughts.
The side effects of THC are generally temporary due to the drug’s psychoactive effects. These may include:
- a faster heart rate
- problems with coordination
- slower reflexes
- dry mouth or dehydration
- issues remembering things
- stress or racing thoughts
- low blood pressure
- seizure-like activity
- red eyes
Unlike say, alcohol or painkillers, neither THC nor CBD can kill you.
According to 2022 research, some long-term tokers may experience depressive-like symptoms coupled with low motivation. The same study also linked cannabis use to psychosis, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and substance use disorders.
We need more research to prove causation, however. There’s currently no evidence that cannabis use causes issues like schizophrenia. And again, there’s also some evidence that paradoxically, it can help treat schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression.
Even though we need more research to know for sure, cannabis (either CBD or THC) may interact negatively with:
- the blood clot medication warfarin (may cause excessive bleeding)
- CYP2C9 inhibitors like fluoxetine (may increase THC exposure/psychoactive effects)
- the seizure medication clobazam (increased risk of benzo toxicity)
- central nervous system depressants (may cause additive effects)
- the asthma medication theophylline (may reduce its efficacy)
- the antipsychotics olanzapine and clozapine (may reduce their efficacy)
Due to potential drug interactions with THC or CBD, it’s a good idea to check with your doc before consuming THC or CBD, just in case.
That said, most tests will be detecting THC-related chemicals. There are some tests that can detect CBD as well – but it’s much less likely that your employer, etc. is going to care about CBD use.
Heads up, though: Since many CBD-centric products contain traces of THC, even your CBD tea may cause you to test positive for THC on a drug test. (Just check the reviews on CBD products and see complaints for yourself.)
The best way to avoid THC showing up on your drug test, then, is to avoid cannabis altogether. (Sad!) But the next best way is to purchase a product that is specifically advertised as a CBD isolate. This means that the company has done its best to isolate the CBD from the other compounds in the plant. Full-spectrum CBD still contains small amounts of THC.
Keep in mind that CBD regulation is still a bit of a Wild West, since it isn’t highly regulated by the FDA like other drugs. So, there’s not always a guarantee about product quality or contents.
CBD and THC are both derived from the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plants. Research suggests that both compounds have a host of potential benefits like reducing anxiety, pain, nausea, and sleep disorders.
CBD in particular may be effective for treating conditions like seizures and depression, while THC appears to treat issues like glaucoma and muscle spasms.
In the U.S., CBD is federally legal but may be illegal in some states. Recreational THC is legal in over 20 states. Since CBD or THC may interact with certain drugs including anti-seizure or anti-psychotic medications, it’s a good idea to talk to a pro before rolling that joint or downing that tincture.