Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are two of the best-known cannabinoids found in marijuana plants. There is a common misconception that the only difference between the two is that THC is psychoactive, while CBD is not—but the reality is more complicated than that.
Whether consumers are just beginning to investigate the healing potential of marijuana or they’ve been smoking weed recreationally for years, choosing the right strains to serve a particular purpose requires a little research. This article will outline the key differences between THC and CBD, and their uses, to offer insight among the ongoing debate about the medical and recreational potential of marijuana.
Before discussing the two individual cannabinoids in question, it’s worth looking at what these naturally occurring compounds are and how they work in the human body. Cannabinoids are compounds that interact with endocannabinoid receptors in humans to create physiological effects.
Humans and all other vertebrates produce endocannabinoids naturally. These neurotransmitters bind to pain, appetite, sleep, and other receptors in the brain. Exogenous (or Phyto) cannabinoids are found in marijuana and mimic the effects of endocannabinoids in the human brain and body.
Over 100 cannabinoids have already been identified in marijuana. THC and CBD are just the best-known of them.
THC and CBD have the same molecular structure. They’re both composed of 21 CO atoms, 30 H atoms, and 2 O atoms, but these atoms are arranged differently. This is what accounts for the notable differences in how THC and CBD interact with the human body’s cannabinoid receptors.
The high associated with THC is what makes it a psychoactive compound. It acts on the mind to change perception and produce a sense of euphoria by binding with the brain’s CB1 receptors.
CBD, on the other hand, is non-psychoactive because it does not bind strongly to CB1 receptors. Strains of marijuana that are high in CBD can reduce the psychoactive effects of THC by interfering with the latter cannabinoid’s ability to bind with CB1 receptors.
CBD is better known than THC for its medical benefits, perhaps in part because consumers who are looking for targeted medical treatment are less concerned with getting high. The reality is that both compounds can be used to treat certain medical conditions.
CBD has been proven effective in treating seizures, pain, inflammation, IBD, nausea, migraines, and mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, and psychosis. THC is used to treat chronic pain conditions, conditions that cause muscle spasticity, nausea, low appetite, insomnia, anxiety, and glaucoma.
It is often the case that the best strain of marijuana for treating an illness or ailment contains both CBD and THC. The two compounds interact with each other to produce maximum effects. A strain that contains both THC and CBD can reduce anxiety by reducing psychoactive activity, for example.
Some researchers cite a phenomenon known as the ensemble effect when discussing the beneficial effects of consuming marijuana products created using the whole plant instead of extracts. The entourage effect was popularized in 2011 and basically describes the increased therapeutic benefit of consuming marijuana whole instead of consuming CBD or THC extracts alone.
Terpenes are found in all plants, including cannabis. They affect everything from how the plant tastes and smells to what kind of high it produces if it contains enough THC. Lately, growers have begun to experiment with terpene profiles in addition to crafting high-CBD and high-THC strains of marijuana. While less is known about terpenes than these popular cannabinoids, true cannabis connoisseurs would do well to consider terpene profiles as well as CBD to THC ratios when choosing what to grow and consume.
CBD is generally well-tolerated by consumers, although it may cause drug interactions with some prescription medications. THC, on the other hand, produces some temporary side effects. They include dry mouth, red eyes, increased reaction times, short-term memory loss, coordination and balance problems, and increased heart rate.
Some research has also shown that THC use may be connected to negative psychiatric effects, especially when consumed in large quantities by adolescents. There is some indication that it may increase teens’ risk of developing schizophrenia later in life, although more research is needed for conclusive evidence.
There are no known long-term side effects of CBD use. Even when consumed in large quantities, neither CBD nor THC is fatal.
Only a few decades ago, all components found in marijuana plants were illegal for both recreational and medicinal use in the United States. Today, most US states have legalized some form of cannabis consumption.
A total of 11 states, along with the nation’s capital, have legalized the use of recreational marijuana, with four more states poised to join them in 2020. Impressively, 47 states have already legalized some form of medical marijuana and 26 have decriminalized recreational use.
Even in states with strict laws governing medical marijuana, low-THC/high-CBD concentrates are typically legal. CBD is now legal, at least for medical uses, in every state except South Dakota, Nebraska, and Idaho. In many cases, the CBD is extracted from hemp plants rather than marijuana plants, which helps keep THC content to an absolute minimum.
Most standard drug tests only look for THC and the chemicals it creates as it breaks down. Tests are available to detect CBD, but they’re rarely used. Those who must undergo routine drug testing should note that even hemp-derived CBD contains trace amounts of THC, so they may still have trouble with employment screening, even if they are using only legal products.
THC and CBD are cannabinoids found in cannabis plants, including both marijuana and hemp. They’re both considered safe, but both can create potentially dangerous drug interactions and even legally purchased CBD oil can cause trouble during drug tests. It’s always best for consumers who are interested in using marijuana as a pain-reliever or recreational substance to investigate the laws in their states and, if possible, get the all-clear from their doctors prior to using cannabis products.