THC and CBD are different compounds that are found in marijuana.
Marijuana contains over 113 different chemical compounds known as cannabinoids. These compounds interact with our bodies via the endocannabinoid system.
The two most well-known cannabinoids are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). For decades, researchers have known that THC is responsible for the famous cannabis high.
But until recently, very little was known about the effects of CBD. We now know that CBD can serve to balance the effects of THC, and provides a range of symptom relief and medical potential.
Here, we explore the major differences between THC and CBD.
The Psychological High
While THC is known to get you “high”, CBD is valued for its non-psychoactive medical benefits.
THC is responsible for the euphoric, mind-altering effects of the cannabis plant. The reason for this is that THC binds to CB1 (cannabinoid 1) receptors, which are mostly found in the brain. This changes how the brain functions, and leads to the “high”.
CBD does not bind to CB1 receptors, so it doesn’t have the same psychoactive effect. However, CBD has many other effects on the physiology of the body and mind.
Scientists have found that CBD operates in more than 60 different molecular pathways, and there is some debate as to whether it’s truly non-psychoactive.
THC and CBD interact with the body differently. THC activates CB1 and CB2 receptors, while CBD exerts its effects more indirectly.
Cannabinoids interact with cannabinoid receptors throughout the body in the endocannabinoid system. This is why topical cannabis works, as even the skin and muscles in a given spot on the body have cannabinoid receptors.
Because THC binds with CB1 receptors so easily, it stimulates the body in a specific way. The results are general relaxation, altered senses, fatigue, and hunger. The “munchies” are a direct side effect of THC.
Unlike THC, CBD does not directly stimulate CB1 and CB2 receptors. Instead, CBD can interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors indirectly — what scientists call modulation.
In addition to its less direct interaction with CB1 and CB2 receptors, CBD can increase the levels of the human body’s own naturally-produced cannabinoids (known as endocannabinoids) by inhibiting the enzymes that break them down.
Part of why CBD’s therapeutic effects are so widespread is its ability to influence a wide range of receptor systems throughout the body.
THC and CBD each have many benefits and uses. THC is often used for its euphoric, relaxing, and pain-relieving effects. CBD can be used to treat anxiety, epilepsy, and in some cases even psychosis. Here are just some of the different uses for the two cannabinoids.
Common uses for THC:
- Euphoria and relaxation
- Sleep and drowsiness
- Appetite stimulant
- Muscle relaxant
Common uses for CBD:
While most countries and regions have strict laws surrounding marijuana and THC, the legal status of pure CBD is sometimes less clear.
CBD is classified as a Schedule I drug and is technically illegal under federal law. A pharmaceutical form of CBD, called Epidiolex, was only recently cleared by the FDA to be tested in children with severe epilepsy.
On the other hand, CBD is also found in hemp, which can be legally imported and sold in the U.S. Some companies have taken advantage of this loophole by importing high-CBD hemp extracts from other countries where hemp is produced.
While cannabis laws are evolving everywhere, THC’s legal status tends to be cut and dry. Meanwhile, CBD’s legal status is complex and can be confusing.