The medicinal properties of the cannabis plant have been known for millennia. As far back as 2800 BC, cannabis was used to treat a vast array of health problems and was listed in Emperor Shen Nung's pharmacopoeia.
Therapeutic indications of cannabis are mentioned in the texts of the Indian Hindus, Assyrians, Greeks, and Romans. These texts reported cannabis to treat a vast array of different health problems, including arthritis, depression, amenorrhea, inflammation, pain, lack of appetite, and asthma.
However, our understanding of the two plant compounds (CBD and THC) is still evolving today as scientists continue to study them, learning more about their characteristics and medical benefits.
Improved education about the cannabis plant and its two main compounds boosted their popularity. Below, learn more about the similarities and differences between CBD and THC, how they can benefit you, their potential side effects, when it comes to CBD vs. THC, which is the better choice for you?
Your CBD education starts now, so keep reading for the answers to these important questions!
CBD vs. THC: At a Glance
CBD and THC are two of over 100 different chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant.
Why is there suddenly so much interest in a plant that's been around for ages? These compounds of the cannabis plant are chemically similar to your body's naturally-occurring endocannabinoids. As a result, CBD and THC both interact with your body's cannabinoid receptors.
In plain English, this means that CBD and THC can enhance your body's natural functions and processes. This includes mood regulation, anxiety reduction, and relief from pain and inflammation — to name just a few.
Many products have emerged recently that contain CBD, THC, or both compounds. Before you can understand why and how to take CBD or THC, you first need to understand their differences.
What Is CBD?
CBD is short for cannabidiol. It's the second-most prevalent compound in the cannabis plant, second only to THC.
Two common types of cannabis include marijuana and hemp. We'll discuss their similarities more later, but for now, it's good to know that most CBD products today are made from industrial hemp. Hemp contains large amounts of CBD and only trace amounts of THC.
Why does this matter? Because, as similar as CBD and THC are, CBD is not psychoactive. Unlike THC, CBD will not make you feel "high."
What Is THC?
The scientific name for THC is Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. It's the most prevalent compound in the marijuana plant, while hemp contains negligible amounts of THC.
THC signals the brain to release a higher-than-normal amount of dopamine, one of your body's feel-good hormones. This spike in dopamine results in that euphoric "high" that people associate with marijuana use.
CBD vs THC: Key Differences
Chemical Structure of CBD and THC
Now that you have a basic overview of CBD vs. THC, let's dig a little deeper and look at their chemical structures.
Interestingly, CBD and THC have exactly the same molecular structure. Both compounds are made of:
- 21 carbon atoms
- 30 hydrogen atoms
- 2 oxygen atoms
This explains why both compounds react well to your body's natural cannabinoid receptors. Why, then, does one compound make you high while the other doesn't?
Psychoactive Components of CBD and THC
The difference lies in how the individual atoms are arranged. Each compound binds with different receptors inside your body, producing beneficial (but very different) results.
The composition of THC allows it to bind to your brain's cannabinoid 1, or CB1, receptors. CB1 receptors control many functions of your central nervous system. This chemical reaction produces that rush of dopamine we discussed earlier, which produces feelings of euphoria.
CBD, on the other hand, binds very weakly (or not at all) to CB1 receptors. Instead, it binds well to TRPV1 receptors, which control pain and inflammation. It also regulates the 5ht serotonin receptor, which may help to treat psychotic disorders.
Legal Issues: The Legality of CBD and THC
Before purchasing any products, it's a good idea to check the latest legislation in your state to see if anything has changed.
Regardless of how you feel about getting high, it's important to note that marijuana and products containing THC are still illegal at a federal level (as of November 2021). Some individual states have legalized the use of marijuana and THC products for medical or recreational purposes.
- 19 states allow for adult recreational and medical use of cannabis
- 17 states allow for the medical use of cannabis
- 11 states allow for low-THC/CBD products
- 3 states do not allow any cannabis use
Generally, drug tests are designed to detect THC—not CBD—in a person’s system. However, depending on who orders a test and what type they order, a drug test can detect low levels of THC that have built up over time.
So it’s important to note that THC can still be detected on a drug test if you’re using hemp-derived CBD products that contain a legal amount of THC (no more than 0.3%). If you want to use CBD products without worrying about failing a drug test it is suggested to use broad spectrum CBD or CBD isolate, both of which exclude THC entirely.
You may also want to consult a medical professional about CBD use or learn more about the specific drug test you’ll be taking.
Potential Health Benefits of CBD and THC
Our discussion of CBD vs. THC wouldn't be complete without mentioning why people seek to use it in the first place: for the health benefits!
Both CBD and THC provide many of the same benefits to your body. Keep in mind, though, that THC will also produce those euphoric "high" feelings in users. If you want to experience the healing benefits without the high, be sure to choose hemp-based CBD products.
Health Benefits of CBD
CBD and THC have similar effects on treating medical conditions. However, there is some variation in why people use each substance.
The majority of people who use CBD, however, use it for the reasons listed below. Some studies suggest that CBD can help with:
- sleep quality
- inflammatory bowel disease
Depending on your needs, you can take CBD orally or topically. CBD gummies are most popular as a sleep aid, while topicals are best for targeted pain relief. However, it's worth doing some more research to see which type of CBD products (edibles, tinctures, salves, etc.) will be best for you.
Health Benefits of THC
People who seek prescriptions for medical marijuana (or otherwise choose to use THC products) often do so for the following reasons.
- chronic pain management
- multiple sclerosis
- lessen tremors in spinal cord injuries
- increase appetite
- nausea and vomiting
- inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis
CBD is well-tolerated and considered safe for most people. Research suggests that side effects if any, are rare and usually a result of an interaction with other drugs or medications.
However, cannabis (marijuana) should not be considered completely harmless. Marijuana has several physiological effects, such as rapid heart rate and dilation of the blood vessels, that in limited cases could be hazardous, particularly for those with pre-existing cardiac conditions.
Of course, before you try CBD, THC, or any other health products, it's always a good idea to talk to your doctor first.
Is CBD better than THC?
It depends on a few different needs and wants. If you're looking for a more stoned, relaxed feeling then THC will give you that. It does come with side effects: memory impairments, lowered reaction time, increased heart rate, dry mouth, and bloodshot eyes.
On the other hand, CBD lacks the psychoactive effects of THC, it won't get you high. But there have been some reports of dry mouth, light-headedness, and drowsiness.
All in all, the lower health risks of CBD, combined with its efficacy, make it a better candidate for a natural, safer method than THC.
Final Thoughts: CBD vs THC
Both products offer potential health benefits that could improve your quality of life. CBD products derived from hemp are legal in all 50 states, while products containing THC may (or may not) be legal in your state.
Before you make your final decision, be sure any product you're considering is in full legal compliance with your state's laws.
Now that you're well-versed in the subject of THC and CBD, what's next? If you've decided to try CBD, you'll want to choose only the best products that are backed by expert research and reviews.
We recommend not using any CBD product during pregnancy or breastfeeding. If you have a medical condition or take pharmaceutical drugs, please consult your physician before use. And just as importantly keep it out of reach from children and pets.
Click here for our unbiased reviews of some of the best THC Free CBD products on the market today.