CBD vs. THC: Main Differences

Jessica Lewis
July 12, 2017

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are both natural compounds which are found in the cannabis plant. The chemical compositions of both elements might be the same, but to put it in the simplest form possible, THC is psychoactive, while CBD is not. This difference among many others has led to the mislabeling of THC as the “wrong” cannabinoid and the CBD as the “safe” cannabinoid. Things are very far from being this simple, and through this article, we will explain as detailed and as simple as we can the differences between the two compounds of the cannabis plant.

Medicinal cannabis and its benefits for the body. Hemp and medicinal cannabis

cannabis-plant-marijuana-350x206When the flowering plant called cannabis is grown for medical purposes, its flowers also known as buds and the leaves of the female plant are cured, and the result is in what we generally regard as cannabis or marijuana which is the more common pejorative term. Hemp and medicinal cannabis are in the same genus namely cannabis (Cannabis sativa, indica, and hybrids) and they both have psychoactive effects. The difference between them lays in the growing methods.

Hemp is grown for the fiber which is used for making clothing, paper, rope and so on, and the medicinal cannabis is bred in such a way that it will have larger buds and more psychoactive compounds in its composition.

Cannabis is a highly versatile plant and, it features relief for various ailments and symptoms with a very high degree of safety. The reasons for which marijuana benefits so many health issues boils down to the fact that some of the active pharmaceutical compounds of the plant mimic an internal harm reduction system in the human body that keeps our health balanced – this is the Endocannabinoid System – ECS.[1]

ECS and Cannabis

The ECS is controlled by substances that are produced by our body and are called endocannabinoids. The endocannabinoids are the ones responsible for keeping our most essential even vital functions in balance, and these include the following: sleep, the immune system, appetite, pain and much more. When our bodies get out of balance and move in a state of high stress, the endocannabinoids will get to work and fix those problems. The pharmaceutically active compounds in the cannabis plant mimic the endocannabinoids, and therefore they can be useful in helping the organism to manage crisis and to restore itself after a particular trauma when the body’s endocannabinoids are not able anymore to restore the body’s balance alone.


In case you have been asking yourself why does the cannabis plant benefit so many different ailments, well you should become aware of the fact that cannabis is indeed highly effective in treating inflammation and pain. It is able to do this by working along with the endocannabinoid system which is the one that controls both inflammation and pain. Most diseases revolve around these two symptoms.

The cannabis plant is one of the most – if not even the most – pharmacologically active plant from the planet and it contains more than 400 active chemicals in its composition. The unique active components of cannabis are called cannabinoids, and these are found alongside active chemicals called terpenoids and flavonoids. These substances work together to offer a vast variety of therapeutic benefits four our body.

There are various levels of combinations of cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenoids that offer benefits to the human body such as the following: dilating blood vessels, protecting damaged brain cells, stimulating bone growth, killing certain kinds of cancer cells, controlling muscle spasticity, preventing seizure, killing viruses and bacteria. And there are just a few of their benefits for the body.

The combination of the varying levels of cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenoids seems to make the most efficient medicine for particular symptoms and diseases. On the other hand, the isolated components appear to be less effective but still therapeutic.

Cannabis has been proven to ease general pain, nausea, chemo-induced neuropathy and it also increases appetite and reverses wasting. It is also very efficient in healing damaged brain cells, controlling muscle spasms and seizures, and protecting against the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s and it’s also a very effective antioxidant.

There are more than 100 cannabinoids that can occur in the cannabis plant the two most popular ones, and also the most studied compounds in the cannabis plant are THC and CBD.[2]


When most people think of marijuana, they will probably jump right to the psychoactive effects of using it. Even if this is not entirely wrong, and marijuana really is most commonly used for its mind-altering effects, you should be aware of the fact that it features other chemicals that cause different (and sometimes even opposite) effects.

There are dozens of chemicals in the cannabis flower that have very different effects; some of them have no real effect, but others can, and we hope that they will change your perception on the way medical marijuana is used.

These two substances are the most popular known cannabinoids which form a group of chemical compounds that are naturally produced only by cannabis plants. Both CBD and THC exist in the crystalline resinous trichomes that cover the mature cannabis flower, and both of them are the cannabinoids that we find most abundantly in marijuana. But each strain produces different amounts of the compounds. They share the same chemical formula – with the only difference that their atoms are arranged in a variety of ways – but they have widely different effects on our body because they interact with our endocannabinoid system differently.

Like all other cannabinoids, these two compounds must be heated to convert the cannabinoid acid to the active cannabinoid. THC used in conjunction with CBD helps dampen the psychoactivity and more side effects that some people consider to be undesirable. Both compounds have an impressive list of ways that they support the human body.


What is THC?

Tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC, is the chemical from the cannabis plant that had made pot both illegal and famous through time. The compound produces mind-altering effects that will commonly go with weed as well as beneficial effects which are not usually discussed so much.


While it does indeed alter your state of mind, THC is also said to help with a number of ailments such as tumor growth and cancer, but we will discuss them later. This may be the reason for which medical marijuana is currently legal in most of the United States of America.

There are also other benefits that THC possesses and CBD does not. For instance, THC can act as a sleep aid and CBD may have the exact opposite effect.

It is understandable that THC gets the most attention worldwide when people are discussing the subject revolving around marijuana, but CBD might offer more strong advantages for some users.

What is CBD?

cbd-oil-syringe-350x284Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, is another essential chemical that is found in the cannabis plant, but it doesn’t get as much attention as THC does. This happens because CBD doesn’t affect the mind the same way as THC. CBD does not cause the psychoactive side effects of THC or any mind-altering side effects.

CBD helps with various health conditions including nausea, inflammation, cancer, and also pain relief, and from this point of view, it is similar to THC. On the other hand, CBD can also fix depression, anxiety, and other severe mental illnesses. This is only one of the strongest reasons for which patients choose CBD over THC. In the end, depending on each patient’s needs, CBD is really able to offer more health benefits from the marijuana plant.

CBD is also extremely famous for its ability to reduce the side effects of THC. Taking the two compounds together can yield the medicinal value of THC with dulled psychoactive side effects.

Thanks to the high and rapid advancements in the field of medical marijuana, CBD is now available in all kinds of forms such as capsule, oils, flowers, lotions and more.

THC vs. CBD: how do they really work?

How CBD works?

Despite the fact that there are all kinds of studies and intense research is being performed about the ways that CBD works in the body, this is not entirely clear yet. What scientists do know for a fact is that CBD, just like THC, causes a broad range of effects in our bodies by interacting with the endocannabinoid system which includes two types of cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2 receptors.

CB1 receptors can be found in many areas of the brain, and they play an essential role in functions such as mood, memory, sleep, pain sensation, and appetite.

CB2 receptors are usually found in the immune system are they are responsible for marijuana’s anti-inflammatory effects.

Endocannabinoids typically activate both CB1 and CB2 receptors, and the main endocannabinoids that are found in our body are anandamide and arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG).

THC mimics the effects of the body’s endocannabinoids by also activating both CB1 and CB2 receptors. But, unlike THC, CBD doesn’t seem to act directly on cannabinoid receptors. Instead, it works indirectly on cannabinoid receptors, and it boosts the levels of endocannabinoids in the body. CBD can stimulate the release of endocannabinoids, and it also interferes with their natural breakdown.

How THC works?

When THC penetrates the brain, it stimulates the cells to release the substance called dopamine, and it also activates the cannabinoid receptors which affect the brain in various ways. The initial state will be a relaxed one combined with a mellow feeling. The eyes may dilate, and other senses will be enhanced. More reported effects include a mix of emotions such as happiness and elation, unease and anxiety, relaxation and pain relief.

THC will also change the way of thinking, the memory and the perception of time. It can cause hallucinations and delusions, and the immediate effects start within 10 to 30 minutes after THC consumption.

Sources, Benefits, Side Effects, Medical Applications,

and Legal Status

We’ll present you some honest information regarding both compounds, so you will be able to see the main differences between them easier.

After comparing THC and CBD, it’s quite self-evident that the two compounds are vastly different. While they both interact with the receptors in our bodies, they will produce different effects.

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is a psychoactive substance while CBD, or cannabidiol, does not affect the mind in the same capacity.

Natural Sources

THC is found in cannabis plants: Indica (high quantities) Sativa (moderate to low amounts) and Ruderalis (near zero). Hemp features only small amounts of THC.

CBD is found in both cannabis plants and industrial hemp plants.

Main Effects of THC

  • Analgesic: It relieves pain and inflammation.
  • Relaxation: It creates a state of relaxation and well-being.
  • Drowsiness: It induces sleep.
  • Euphoria: It causes the state of “high.”
  • Appetite stimulant: It creates the urge to eat.

The psychoactive/psychological effects of THC include the following: time distortion, intensified sensory experiences, increased socialization.

Main Effects of CBD

  • Anti-depressant: It combats anxiety and depression.
  • Anti-convulsant: It suppresses seizure activity.
  • Anti-oxidant: It fights neuro-degenerative disorders.
  • Anti-psychotic: It combats psychosis.
  • Neuro-protective: It protects the neurons in the brain.
  • Anti-emetic: It reduces nausea and vomiting.
  • Anti-inflammatory: It combats inflammation and also the pain.
  • Anti-tumoral: It combats tumor and cancer cells.

Primary medical applications of THC

THC helps to combat the following health issues: pain, nausea, sleep apnea, stress disorders.

It also helps in fighting the symptoms and the side effects of the following: chemotherapy, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, AIDS, and spinal injuries.

Primary medical applications of CBD

CBD helps to combat the following health issues: inflammation, stress, depression, anxiety, cancer, epilepsy, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, migraines, arthritis, the side effects of cancer treatments.[3]

Main Side Effects of THC

Anxiety and paranoia are the main well-known potential side effects of the compound.

THC has also been proven to have both acute and long-term adverse effects on the parts of the brain which are extremely important for learning and the memory, as well.

The common side-effects of THC include the following: anxiety, panic attacks, increased heart rate, dizziness, dry mouth, red/bloodshot eyes, sedation, cognitive impairments, motor impairment. In severe cases or during overdose the effects include agitation, vomiting and nausea, psychosis, paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations.

Unfortunately, THC features some serious potential long-term effects including the following:

Lung issues

Pot smokers may suffer from a cough, phlegm, constant cold, and bronchitis. Smoking can also compromise the lung’s immune system, and it can increase the risks for infection. Smoking marijuana leads to enlarged bronchial passageways on the lungs and irritations of the airways.

Heart risks

After using marijuana, the heart rate will increase dramatically, and it will stay elevated for around three hours. Cannabis smoking is able to increase the heart rate by 20-100%, and it will also increase blood pressure while sitting and it will decrease blood pressure while standing up. For any patient with high blood pressure or heart arrhythmia and other cardiac diseases, marijuana consumption will worsen these issues.

More long-term effects include altered social behavior, impairments of attention, memory, and decision-making.

THC is also potentially addictive, and the addiction is based on feelings of craving or seeking out marijuana even in the cases that may result in negative social consequences.

Severe side-effects such as unease, shaking, and psychotic reactions may result from ingesting too much THC and may require immediate treatment in the emergency room.

Main Side Effects of CBD

Immediate and long-term side effects of CBD appear to be minimal or inexistent. This is still being studied.

Not only CBD is non-psychoactive, but research has shown that it is non-toxic and there is no risk of lethal overdose.

A 2011 review on the safety and side-effects of CBD managed to show that large doses had no effects on embryonic development, digestion, food intake, motor activity, movement, blood pressure, body temperature and heart rate.[4]

Legal Status

Most countries have stringent laws surrounding marijuana and THC, the legal status of the CBD is still less clear. For instance, in the US, CBD is technically illegal since it is classified as a Schedule I drug under the federal law. On the other hand, there is one pharmaceutical form of CBD that is called Epidiolex, which was only recently cleared by the FDA to be tested in children who have severe epilepsy.

As CBD can also be found in hemp which we already know can be legally imported and sold in the US, there are plenty of companies that have taken advantage of this existing loophole, and they keep importing high-CBD hemp extracts from other countries where hemp is being produced.

Why is CBD used more than THC for medical treatments?

THC is classified in most parts of the world as an illegal drug with very significant immediate and long-term cognitive side effects which include impaired reasoning and thinking, reduced ability to make plans and to organize, altered decision-making, and also reduced control over impulses. More than this, chronic use of THC is associated with major abnormalities in the brain and heart.


CBD lacks all these harmful cognitive effects featured by THC, and in fact, it can even counteract the psychoactive effects of THC both when administered from the extract and in plant form.

Taking into consideration the increasing popularity of medical marijuana, new breeders are currently creating various strains that feature higher CBD to THC ratios in order to minimize the psychoactive side effects.

As a conclusion, the lower health risks of CBD combined with its high efficiency in treating various health conditions make it a better candidate for medical applications than THC.[5]