THC vs CBD – How Are They Different?


Posted on January 19th, 2021

When talking about cannabis, there are two popular acronyms that you can expect to hear from time to time: CBD and THC. Most people are very familiar with THC by now because of its famed reputation as the cannabinoid that gives you the “high” feeling.

On the other hand, what is CBD exactly? Is there any difference at all between THC and CBD besides their letters? Is CBD remotely similar to weed? All of these are important questions the informed consumers understandably want answers for.

First, you need to understand that there’s a huge difference between these two compounds. Furthermore, CBD isn’t the same thing as marijuana or weed, which are two names that refer to the same variety of cannabis plants. Hopefully, by the end of this read article, you will learn more about the difference between THC vs CBD. With the info provided here, you will be in the best position to make the most prudent decision regarding which cannabis product is best for you. If you are planning on incorporating the advantages of cannabis into your daily routine, you better know this.


Before we even begin to list the difference between the two, let’s learn about each one first.

What Is THC?THC vs CBD - marijuana plant

In the scientific community, THC goes by the name of tetrahydrocannabinol. It’s the most prevalent cannabinoid found in marijuana. It is also present inside the hemp plant, another variety of cannabis different from marijuana, although in very low quantities.

In 1964, Raphael Mechoulam, a pioneering Israeli researcher, isolated and synthesized THC. He found the cannabinoid in Lebanese hashish and tested it with research subjects to learn its effects. He particularly concluded that the psychoactive effect it gives out differed depending on the individual taking it.

Generally speaking, THC is well-known for its psychotropic effect. It usually releases feelings of sleepiness and euphoria, as well as awakening a healthy appetite. If you’ve ever been ‘high’ from marijuana, you can probably certify these feelings. Researchers also have quite a few things to say regarding THC’s effects when it comes to addressing certain medical conditions.

What Is CBD?

CBD, short for Cannabidiol, is a naturally-existing compound found in cannabis plants, both marijuana, and hemp. Researchers first found this cannabinoid in the ’40s but only in the 80s did Dr. Mechoulam study CBD’s potentially therapeutic effects.

He issued CBD to epileptic patients, which yielded promising results. In that small pilot study, 50% of the subjects significantly reduced their seizures after taking CBD.

Since then, many preclinical trials all over the world sought to test for different conditions. One particularly noteworthy case was Charlotte Figi’s, who had epilepsy so severe she experienced multiple seizures every day.

After her parents introduced her to CBD oil, Charlotte’s seizures subdued significantly, even managing to go days without a single episode. A documentary exposing her case and the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill did wonders to get CBD in the public discourse.

THC vs CBD: Chemical Structure

The two compounds share the same molecular structure: 30 hydrogen atoms, 21 carbon atoms, and two oxygen atoms. However, a slight difference in the arrangement of atoms of each one is the reason for the differing effects each gives out. Since THC and CBD are chemically similar to our bodies’ endocannabinoids, they can interact with your CBD receptors just as well.

Generally, said interaction affects the secretion of neurotransmitters in your brain. Neurotransmitters, by the way, are chemicals that send messages between cells. They play a major role in sleep, stress, immune function, pain, and so many more bodily functions.

THC vs CBD: The Psychoactive Component

Most people know about the THC compound because of the high feeling it puts on you. However, the likely impairment resulting from the high has long been a concern for law enforcement, thus, why It’s still illegal in many states.

On the other hand, CBD is a “non-psychoactive” compound. That means you can’t get high from it, unlike with THC. Legally, CBD can only have trace amounts of up to 0.3% THC. That is nowhere near enough to get you high. Another good thing about CBD? It seems to have some health benefits as well.

Cannabis vs Hemp

As you learn the difference between THC vs CBD, it’s also worth understanding the cannabis family. Although confusing, hemp and marijuana are technically almost the same plants; they are both cannabis.  The name “cannabis” is the actual name of the family of plants to which marijuana and hemp belong.

However, besides their evident different looks, the key difference between marijuana and hemp lies in their composition. The hemp plant has no more than 0.3% THC and much more CBD compared to marijuana.

This is why most CBD oil you’ll find come from hemp rather than marijuana. Furthermore, hemp’s also great for manufacturing paper, sails, clothing, fiber, and ideal for rope. Mankind actually has a long history of using hemp as a base material.

THC vs CBD: Are Their Effects Different?THC vs CBD - hemp plant

Mechoulam and his team also discovered the endocannabinoid system (ECS). It is a large network of cell receptor sites found in the immune system, nervous system, and brain. It primarily deals with creating homeostasis in our minds and bodies. The system is responsible for regulating mood, appetite, and sleep, and endocannabinoids, the cannabinoids our bodies naturally produce, are its fuel.

Once consumed, THC and CBD have different effects on the body. THC attaches to the CB-1 receptors of the ECS, which are present in the brain, where it delivers its psychoactive effect.

On the other hand, CBD interacts with the ECS in an entirely different way. Rather than binding with the receptors directly, it both prevents THC from doing so and also inhibits the enzyme that breaks down anandamide, one of the major endocannabinoids.

THC vs CBD: Side Effects

According to Research Trusted Source, any side effects you experience after taking CBD are likely because of drug-to-drug interactions. Thus, consult a doctor before taking CBD if you are on any other medication. CBD’s side effects might include diarrhea, dizziness, weight loss, fatigue, and appetite changes. Yet, they only seem to happen if you take a very heavy dose of it.

On the other hand, THC causes various temporary side effects. Anxiety, memory loss, slower reaction times, red eyes, dry mouth, coordination issues, and increased heart rate are all commonly reported side effects. These part of the cannabinoid’s psychoactive properties.

Neither cannabinoid is fatal. Yet, relatively high THC use might result in long-term negative psychiatric effects. However, there is still no conclusive evidence that consuming psychoactive cannabis leads to psychiatric disorders.

Are THC and CBD Legal?

THC is still a Schedule 1 substance based on the Controlled Substances Act. Thus, it is illegal on a federal level. Nonetheless, some states did legalize it for both recreational and medical purposes.

Having said that, hemp-based CBD is the one that is federally legal under the enacted 2018 Farm Bill. It ruled that hemp is legal as long as it has 0.3% THC or less. As a result, hemp-based CBD is now widely accessible. This means CBD is not a controlled substance anymore but only as long as it’s THC content is 0.3% or less

Can CBD Affect Your Drug Test?

Although CBD derived from hemp should have 0.3% or less THC, you might fail a THC drug test if you take it frequently.  That said, most drug tests do not specifically look at CBD’s presence in your body. Thus, there are high chances you can get clearance from a drug test if your CBD consumption is not sky-high.

This is only possible if the CBD product you are taking comes from hemp and crafted by a high-quality manufacturer. Why a high-quality manufacturer? Because, first, high-quality CBD manufacturers are the ones you can count on keeping the THC levels within legal limits. Second, they use the best methods available for extracting CBD with only the slightest trace amounts of THC

Upon extraction of the full spectrum cannabinoid from hemp’s leaves and flowers, they eliminate any unwanted impurities. The extract then passes through a special chromatography media, which will reduce the THC levels down to within the legal limits. When you buy from a high-quality retailer, you can feel comfortable that you’re purchasing CBD oil that is legally compliant.

THC vs CBD – The Takeaway

THC and CBD are both cannabinoids present in marijuana. They are quite a similar composition, and some of their effects might overlap a bit. However, the key difference is that THC consumption will cause you to get a “high” feeling while CBD will do not. This is why a lot of people go for CBD rather than THC in order to derive from the purported health benefits it offers. Also, one of them is federally legal while the other remains Illegal in quite a few states.

While federally legal, remember that the Farm Bill also states that each individual state might come up with its own laws regarding CBD. This is why you need to familiarize yourself with your local laws before buying and using THC or CBD.

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