What’s the Difference Between CBD and THC?
THC and CBD. You probably know that they both come from the cannabis plant, and can have an effect on the way you feel. You might know their full names (tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol), but how much more do you know? What else do they have in common? What about their differences? Keep reading for a better understanding of two of the most important chemicals in the cannabis plant.
First, the Similarities
While CBD and THC are quite different, they also have some similarities. Both are chemical compounds found exclusively in the cannabis plant. They’re part of a group of compounds called cannabinoids. Researchers believe there are at least sixty different cannabinoids in cannabis, probably closer to a hundred. They are most concentrated in the plant’s flowers.
Cannabinoids affect the body by interacting with its endocannabinoid system. While this system is not fully understood, researchers do know that it plays a vital role in keeping you healthy and happy. The endocannabinoid system is thought to help keep everything in your body balanced and running smoothly including your mood, immune system, metabolism, cardiovascular system, and sleep cycle.
Now, the Differences
While CBD and THC both belong in the group of chemical compounds known as cannabinoids, they do affect the body differently. One of the biggest differences is in the way they affect your mind. Specifically, THC can be intoxicating, while CBD is not. To feel the intoxicating effects of THC, you need to smoke or ingest a strain of cannabis with a large enough level of THC. Every strain has a different amount. In the United States, a plant with less than 0.3 percent THC is considered hemp. 0.3 percent is so small that a plant with this amount has no intoxicating effects. A plant with more than 0.3 percent THC is considered marijuana, however if you’re looking for a high, you need substantially more; most marijuana has between 5 and 20 percent. Over time, growers have used selective breeding to increase THC levels in marijuana plants, and some strains now have as much as 30 percent.
In contrast to THC, which is most commonly recognized for the high it causes, CBD doesn’t have an intoxicating effect. In fact, there is some evidence that CBD can actually counteract the intoxicating effect that THC has. However, while CBD is not considered intoxicating, it can affect the way you feel, and some people do report that they feel noticeably mellow and relaxed after using it.
THC and CBD are both thought to have definite medical benefits. Their medical use remains controversial, with experts calling for more research on the topic, however there is a wealth of anecdotal evidence of their effectiveness. THC is widely believed to be an effective way to control pain and reduce nausea, and it is used by thousands of people in the United States, in the form of medical marijuana. For example, many cancer patients use it to relive pain and to reduce the nausea and vomiting that sometimes come with chemotherapy treatment. While medical marijuana is illegal at the federal level, more than thirty states have passed their own laws allowing for its use. Polls show that the majority of Americans support legalization of medical marijuana.
CBD is believed to have medical benefits too, however its medical uses are also controversial, and not yet well supported by clinical research. This compound has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a health supplement, but that hasn’t stopped thousands of people from using it anyway. CBD is used to treat anxiety, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, depression, inflammation, arthritis, pain, and many more ailments. In a 2017 survey of 2,400 people from the medicinal cannabis community, researchers found that 42 percent of CBD users were so happy with CBD that they actually stopped using traditional medications after they started using CBD.
Like all chemical substance though, THC and CBD can have side effects. Too much THC can cause a number of negative reactions including dizziness, vomiting, anxiety, and increased heart rate. Every year, a significant number of people visit the emergency room as a result of the effects of THC. Some research shows that THC-related ER visits have increased in recent years. In addition to negative reactions that can be severe enough to send people to the ER, there is some evidence that THC can have negative long-term effects. For instance, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that marijuana can cause dependence or addiction.
In contrast to THC, CBD isn’t usually associated with serious side effects. Some people report digestive upsets or mild mood changes, however, overall most researchers believe that negative side effects from CBD are rare, and that it is highly unlikely that you will experience any serious harm by taking this substance. In 2017, the World Health Organization reported that CBD does not seem to be associated with any negative health effects, or lead to abuse or dependence.
While THC and CBD seem to get all the attention, they are not the only cannabinoids in cannabis. In fact, researchers have found dozens more of these chemicals. Many of these other cannabinoids are believed to have their own specific health benefits, for example cannabinol (CBN) is thought to increase appetite, and cannabigerol (CBG) is believed to help with pain relief.
In addition, cannabinoids are thought to work better when they are taken together rather than in isolation. This is known as the entourage effect. To get it, experts recommend that you find a whole-plant extract rather than a CBD isolate, and that you look for CBD that has been extracted through a process such as CO₂ extraction, that preserves these various chemicals.
Written by: Andrea C. Nakaya