CBD vs. THC: What’s the Difference?

Overview

As the legal use of marijuana and other cannabis products grows, consumers are becoming more curious about their options. This includes cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), two natural compounds found in plants of the Cannabis genus.

CBD can be extracted from hemp or from marijuana. Hemp plants are cannabis plants that contain less than 0.3 percent THC, while marijuana plants are cannabis plants that contain higher concentrations of THC. CBD is sold in the form of gels, gummies, oils, supplements, extracts, and more.

THC is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana that gives the high sensation. It can be consumed by smoking marijuana. It’s also available in oils, edibles, tinctures, capsules, and more.

Both compounds interact with your body’s endocannabinoid system, but they have very different effects.

Read on to learn more about these compounds. While they may have a lot in common, they have some key differences that determine how they’re used.

CBD vs. THC: Chemical structure

Both CBD and THC have the exact same molecular structure: 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. A slight difference in how the atoms are arranged accounts for the differing effects on your body.

Both CBD and THC are chemically similar to your body’s own endocannabinoids. This allows them to interact with your cannabinoid receptors.

The interaction affects the release of neurotransmitters in your brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals responsible for relaying messages between cells and have roles in pain, immune function, stress, sleep, to name a few.

CBD vs. THC: Psychoactive components

Despite their similar chemical structures, CBD and THC don’t have the same psychoactive effects. In fact, CBD is a nonpsychoactive compound. That means it doesn’t produce the “high” associated with THC.

THC binds with the cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors in the brain. It produces a high or sense of euphoria.

CBD binds very weakly, if at all, to CB1 receptors. In fact, it can interfere with the binding of THC and dampen the psychoactive effects. CBD vs.

THC: Legality

In the United States, cannabis-related laws are evolving regularly. Marijuana and THC are on the list of controlled substances, so they’re prohibited under federal law.

However, many states and Washington, D.C. have passed cannabis-related laws making medical marijuana with high levels of THC legal. The marijuana may need to be prescribed by a licensed physician.

In addition, several states have made recreational use of marijuana and THC legal.

In states where marijuana is legal for recreational or medical purposes, you should be able to buy CBD.

Before you try to buy products with CBD or THC, get information about your state’s laws. If you possess cannabis-related products in a state where they’re illegal or don’t have a medical prescription in states where the products are legal for medical treatment, you could face legal penalties.

CBD vs. THC: Medical benefits

CBD and THC have many of the same medical benefits. They can provide relief from several of the same conditions. However, CBD doesn’t cause the euphoric effects that occur with THC. Some people may prefer to use CBD because of the lack of this side effect.

In June 2018, the Food and Drug Administration approvedTrusted Source Epidiolex, the first prescription medication to contain CBD. It’s used to treat rare, difficult-to-control forms of epilepsy.

CBD is used to help with other various conditions, such as:

  • seizures 
  • inflammation
  • pain 
  • psychosis or mental disorders
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • nausea
  • migraines
  • depression
  • anxiety

THC is used to help with conditions such as:
  • pain
  • muscle spasticity
  • glaucoma
  • insomnia
  • low appetite
  • nausea
  • anxiety

CBD vs. THC: Side effects

CBD is well-tolerated, even in large doses. Research Trusted Source suggests any side effects that occur with CBD use are likely the result of drug-to-drug interactions between CBD and other medications you may be taking.

THC causes temporary side effects, such as:
  • increased heart rate
  • coordination problems
  • dry mouth
  • red eyes
  • slower reaction times
  • memory loss

These side effects are part of the compound’s psychoactive properties.

Neither compound is fatal.

However, high THC use may be connected to long-term negative psychiatric effects. This is especially true for adolescents who consume large amounts of THC. The effect on the brain is more profound for teens. Using the compound increases the risk for some psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia.

 

CBD vs. THC: Drug testing

Cannabinoids like THC and CBD are stored in the body’s fat. They can show up on drug tests for several days or weeks after you use them.

Not every drug test will be able to detect CBD, but CBD-sensitive tests are available. Most standard drug tests will look for chemicals related to THC, so THC or marijuana use might show up on a screening.

Likewise, hemp can produce some THC in addition to CBD, so a test could be positive for THC even if you’ve not used it.

Why do people talk about THC content in CBD oil if THC and CBD are two different compounds?

CBD and THC are two of the most prominent cannabinoids found in the Cannabis plant. Both marijuana and hemp produce CBD and THC.

However, marijuana has a higher concentration of THC. Hemp has a higher concentration of CBD.

The average marijuana strain today contains about 12 percent Trusted Source THC. CBD oil may contain small amounts of THC because it’s present in the hemp plant. CBD can have no more than 0.3 percent THC to be legal at the federal level.

Takeaway

CBD and THC both have medical benefits. They’re also both considered safe, but consider the possibility of side effects and interactions with other drugs you’re taking. Talk with your doctor if you have any questions.

 
CBD THC
Hemp-derived YES NO
Marijuana-derived YES* NO
Illegal NO (See below) YES (See below)
Produce a “high” NO YES
Interact with endocannabinoid system YES YES
Side effects Almost none Psychoactive side effects
Shows on drug test Possibly** YES
Pain reliever YES YES
Reduces nausea YES YES
Eases migraines YES YES
Reduces anxiety YES YES
Eases depression YES NO
Decreases seizures YES NO
Anti-inflammatory YES YES
Helps with insomnia YES YES
Helps with psychosis YES NO
Increases appetite NO YES
Used for various other conditions YES YES