I. Similarities between CBD and THC

Cannabidiol, or CBD, and tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, are two of the roughly 100 chemical compounds, known as cannabinoids, found in Cannabis sativa plants. Although there are many varieties of Cannabis sativa plants, the two best-known ones are hemp and marijuana. CBD and THC are both found in marijuana plants, but hemp doesn’t contain traceable amounts of THC.

When humans consume CBD and THC, these chemicals interact with our endocannabinoid system. This series of receptors helps maintain biological harmony in response to environmental changes, regulating processes like sleep, pain, memory, mood, stress levels, and more.

Cannabinoids like CBD and THC create different effects based on the type and amount of each chemical consumed. However, there are still many questions about how effective and safe CBD and THC are in treating various conditions.

This lack of research can be attributed to cannabis’ complicated legal history in the U.S. Federal and state governments have begun relaxing laws regulating cannabis, opening the door to more robust research into the therapeutic and medicinal benefits of these chemicals.

II. Where are CBD and THC found?

Marijuana plants produce potent amounts of both THC and CBD. Meanwhile, in hemp plants, CBD is far more dominant than THC. In fact, in the U.S., in order for hemp to be legal, it must contain less than 0.3 percent THC.

Both hemp and marijuana plants grow in similar conditions. Currently, all but a handful of states allow hemp cultivation. Although marijuana is grown in the U.S., because it is still illegal at the federal level, growing locations generally remain undisclosed to avoid unwanted trouble with law enforcement.

III. The effects of CBD vs. THC

Psychoactive effects

The key difference between CBD and THC is that THC is a psychoactive substance. It affects how the brain works, and can change or impair mood, awareness, behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. When you ingest marijuana, the THC is what makes you feel high.

Technically, CBD also affects how the brain works, although not nearly in such an intense way as THC. When consuming pure, hemp-derived CBD with no THC, users should not experience the kind of high that they would with marijuana.

Preliminary research indicates that these divergent effects are caused by the way the two chemicals interact differently with the endocannabinoid system. There is also evidence that CBD may inhibit THC’s effects on the brain.

Depending on which state you live in, you may have access to products with just CBD, just THC, or a combination of both. The product that’s right for you depends on the other effects you are seeking, or what kind of condition you want to treat.

Medicinal and therapeutic uses

Although there are plenty of people who use marijuana recreationally specifically to feel high, advocates are raising the profile of CBD and THC as alternative, all-natural remedies for a variety of physical and mental ailments.

Because the two chemicals are closely related, there is some overlap in their effects, but preliminary research has shown that for certain conditions, one or the other may be more effective.

CBD

  • Epilepsy and neurological disorders. Currently, the only FDA-approved drug containing CBD is Epidiolex, a prescription medication that treats seizures in patients with certain forms of pediatric epilepsy. Although further research is needed, CBD is gaining popularity as an alternative for people with epilepsy and other neurological conditions.
  • Pain relief. Many people have turned to CBD as a way to relieve chronic and inflammatory pain, as well as muscle soreness or stiffness. Based on preliminary research, CBD is effective because of the way it binds to endocannabinoid system receptors, reducing inflammation and disrupting neurotransmitters that signal painful feelings.
  • Sleep issues. There is growing evidence that CBD can help individuals fall asleep, or regulate their sleep stability. Many CBD companies also enhance their products with the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin.
  • Anxiety. Many people find CBD helpful in managing chronic and temporary anxiety, likely because of the positive way it interacts with serotonin. For individuals suffering from severe anxiety and depression, CBD alone may not help, but it can be used to complement other forms of treatment.
  • Pain and nausea related to cancer treatment. For cancer patients, the side effects of cancer treatments can be as debilitating as the disease itself. CBD can help mitigate the effects of chemotherapy, including pain, nausea, and vomiting, without the high of medical marijuana.

THC

  • Glaucoma. One of the earliest known medical uses of THC was for treating glaucoma. Research shows that THC helps relieve ocular pressure, which is a main contributor to the disease.
  • Pain and nausea related to cancer treatment. Medical marijuana has also been championed as a way to treat nausea, loss of appetite, and pain caused by chemotherapy. Preliminary research also shows that THC and other cannabinoids may also help slow the growth of cancer cells, although it is not recommended that people treat cancer solely with medical marijuana.
  • Chronic pain. Individuals who suffer from chronic pain due to inflammatory diseases, neurological disorders, or injuries find THC to be a safe yet effective alternative to opiate-based painkillers or over-the-counter medications.
  • Poor appetite and weight loss. Ever heard of “the munchies”? Studies show that THC triggers hunger hormones, which can actually be beneficial for those who experience appetite loss due to chronic illness.
  • Epilepsy. Like CBD, THC has also been shown to have anticonvulsant properties, meaning that it can be used to reduce the frequency of seizures caused by epilepsy and other neuropsychiatric disorders.

Note: Consult with a physician who knows your health history before using CBD or THC for medicinal or therapeutic uses.

Negative side effects

Despite their many uses, CBD and THC aren’t without their possible negative effects. Because they can both react with certain prescription and over-the-counter medications. you should consult your doctor before adding CBD or THC to your health regimen.

Possible negative side effects of CBD include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Decreased appetite

Besides making users high, which can impair judgement and motor skills, THC can also induce the following negative effects:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety

IV. The legality of CBD vs. THC

U.S. laws surrounding CBD and THC are complicated, and changing rapidly.

The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill made hemp, and hemp-derived CBD products legal at the federal level. However, there are still states which prohibit the sale and possession of CBD.

Conversely, marijuana, and therefore THC, is still illegal at the federal level, even though many states have legalized marijuana for medical and/or recreational use.

There are currently only three FDA-approved medications containing CBD or THC — Epidiolex, Cesamet, and Marinol. Otherwise, the FDA does not regulate products containing CBD or THC. Therefore, the onus is on manufacturers to be truthful in their advertising, and customers must do their homework to choose products from trustworthy companies.

V. How do you consume CBD vs. THC?

CBD and THC users have a few consumption options, some more popular than others.

For CBD, the most common consumption methods include:

  • Orally, in the form of a CBD-oil tincture, or CBD-infused edibles or capsules
  • Vaping
  • CBD-infused topicals, like lotions, creams, and balms

THC is most often consumed in the following ways:

  • Smoking marijuana flower
  • Vaping
  • Orally, in the form of THC-infused edibles

VI. CBD vs. THC Summary Table

CBDTHC
Derived from marijuana plantsYesYes
Derived from hemp plantsYesNo
Psychoactive?NoYes
Legal at the federal levelYesNo
Legal at the state levelYes (certain states)Yes (certain states)
Beneficial for treating insomniaYesNo
Beneficial for treating anxietyYesNo

VII. Additional Resources