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What's the Difference Between CBD & THC?

Last updated: November-14,2022

CBD vs. THC: Learn the Difference

A great deal of confusion currently exists among consumers and brand owners alike when it comes to knowing the difference between CBD and THC.

What is CBD and THC?

CBD and THC are only two of about 100 phytocannabinoids we can find in plants. THC is the main compound present in the marijuana plant, and CBD is the main compound present in hemp. Even though they’re both categorized as “cannabinoids”, they act differently when consumed.

The CBD terminology can be confusing since consumers sometimes think it’s the same as THC because both fall under the “cannabinoid” category. Take vitamin A and vitamin C as an example; both are categorized as vitamins, but when consumed, whether via food or supplements, they produce different physiological effects. This same concept applies to cannabinoids where CBD is completely different from THC. From a practical standpoint, this means that CBD can’t get someone "high".

What Do CBD and THC Stand For?

Both CBD and THC have gotten a considerable amount of press coverage as of late, but most people have no idea what they actually stand for. To help clarify things, CBD stands for cannabidiol and THC stands for Tetrahydrocannabinol.

CBD vs. THC: Chemical Structure Differences

CBD and THC are two cannabinoids that are very similar at the molecular level. In fact, both have the same chemical makeup and contain 21 carbon, 30 hydrogen, and 2 oxygen atoms and thus are nearly identical twins - creating another reason that led the public to often believe they’re the same, but CBD is not the same chemical structure as THC. What makes them different is the arrangement of a single atom.

This difference in molecular structure makes CBD and THC interact differently with one of the two cannabinoid receptors (CB1) in our body and makes CBD a ‘good guy’ against THC. This also leads THC to cause a psychotropic effect.

CBD vs. THC Chemical Structure Differences

Taking this a step further, the best approach is to use products with a clinically researched dose of full-spectrum phytocannabinoids, rather than limiting it to just CBD. Not only do full-spectrum phytocannabinoids provide comprehensive support to the body, but they have a good safety profile associated with regular use, which is not necessarily the case with THC.

CBD vs. THC Infographic

We've created a handy infographic so you can easily understand what the difference is between CBD and THC:

CBD vs. THC - What is the difference between CBD and THC? Infographic

Does Hemp Have THC or CBD?

Hemp contains CBD primarily with a very low concentration of THC (0.3% or less). Thus, it is used to produce a wide range of THC-free CBD products.

Benefits of CBD and THC

CBD and THC have many common medical benefits as well as major differences due to their respective effects on the human body.

CBD benefits include helping deal with various medical conditions like inflammation, pain, migraines, nausea, anxiety, depression, inflammatory bowel disease, seizures, and psychotic or mental disorders while THC benefits are seen in alleviating pain, insomnia, anxiety, nausea, muscle spasticity, glaucoma, and low appetite.

What Are the Medical Benefits of CBD?

CBD is used

  • To reduce depressive symptoms in patients with depression.
  • To lower anxiety in individuals with social anxiety disorder.
  • To reduce psychotic symptoms in people with schizophrenia.

What Are the Medical Benefits of THC?

Medical applications of THC include

  • Treatment of glaucoma by reducing pressure inside the eyes.
  • Helping counter side effects of chemotherapy by reducing vomiting and nausea.
  • Stimulates appetite.

Does CBD/THC Get You High?

THC binds directly with CB1 receptors and creates the psychoactive effects of ‘getting high’. CBD, on the other hand, doesn’t bond directly with the CB1 receptor and does not create a psychoactive effect. Additionally, it can even neutralize the stoned effect of THC by negating the bond between THC and CB1.

CBD vs. THC - Effects on the Body

Effects of CBD:

  • Decreases inflammation
  • Anxiety relief
  • Neuroprotective
  • Relief from convulsions and nausea
  • Reduction from psychotic symbols
  • Helps lower blood pressure

Effects of THC:

  • Euphoria
  • Increased appetite
  • Altered senses of smell, sight, and hearing
  • Relaxation
  • Analgesic

What Are the Side Effects of CBD and THC?

CBD side effects are minimal to non-existent. Research suggests that CBD side effects are likely to result from drug interactions between CBD and other medications and involve

  • Dry mouth
  • Reduced appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Drowsiness

On the other hand, short-term THC side effects are part of its psychoactive properties and include

  • Dry mouth
  • Slower reaction times
  • Red eyes
  • Memory loss
  • Increased heart rate
  • Coordination problems

Long-term THC side effects include negative psychiatric effects that can be linked to high THC use in adolescents. THC use increases the risk for some psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia.

Are CBD and THC Legal in the United States?

CBD and THC, both are active ingredients in FDA-approved drugs. The FDA has made it clear that it has been unlawful to market CBD or THC products as or in dietary supplements or to introduce food containing added CBD or THC into interstate commerce, irrespective of whether the substances are hemp-derived. It indicates that CBD or THC cannot be a part of dietary supplements.

Does Hemp Have CBD or THC?

However, plants like hemp contain naturally occurring phytocannabinoids including CBD. There are other plants as well that contain phytocannabinoids or have cannabinoid properties and can lawfully be used in the dietary supplements industry. These include culinary herbs such as cinnamon, basil, cloves, black pepper, etc., medicinal herbs including turmeric (Curcuma spp.), licorice (Glycyrrhiza), etc. and foods including grapes, Theobroma cocoa, Camellia Sinensis (black and green tea), etc.

Farm bill 2018 has legalized hemp by removing it from the controlled substances list and considering it an agricultural product. Legal experts now say that products containing naturally occurring phytocannabinoids from plant sources like hemp are not a problem, provided they are not positioned as CBD products. The legality of CBD is determined largely by its source and thus, hemp-derived CBD is legal in all 50 states.

March 4th, 2019

About the Author:

Gene Bruno

Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, RH(AHG) - Mr. Bruno possesses over 43 years of dietary supplement industry experience. With a Master's degree in nutrition and a second Master's degree in herbal medicine, he has a proven track record of formulating innovative, evidence-based dietary supplements. Mr. Bruno currently serves as both the Senior Director of Product Innovation at Twinlab Corporation and Professor of Nutraceutical Science at Huntington University of Health Sciences.