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CBD vs THC: The Differences Explained

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This year is shaping up to be a turning point for the cannabis industry. With talk in Washington DC of bills to legalize marijuana nationwide, 2021 could be a pivotal year for CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids.

But for as much as everyone is talking about the health benefits of cannabis, there’s still a lot of misinformation out there. It seems that every website you visit offers conflicting information about:

  • The difference between CBD and THC
  • Where cannabis is (and isn’t) legal
  • If all cannabinoids make you “high”
  • The health benefits of CBD vs THC
  • Current research on cannabis properties 

If you’re lost in a sea of information, you’ve come to the right place. We’re here to set the record straight about CBD vs THC so you can make an informed decision about your health.

Join us as we take a deep dive into the world of cannabinoids to discuss health benefits, legality, molecular structure, and more!

What Are Cannabinoids?

To open our discussion, let’s start with a basic definition of cannabis and cannabinoids.

The cannabis plant comes in three major varieties:

  • Cannabis sativa
  • Cannabis indica
  • Cannabis ruderalis

When the flowers of these plants are harvested and dried, they become one of the world’s most common “drugs.” Marijuana is a long-time term for dried cannabis flowers, although the term is slowly falling out of favor due to its racist roots. Other street names include weed, pot, dope, grass, or reefer.

To be both politically and scientifically correct, we’ll use the term cannabis throughout this article. This also helps us make the connection to unique cannabis properties known as cannabinoids.

There are over 120 chemical compounds in the cannabis plant, each with different uses and effects on the human body. The most commonly known cannabinoids are THC and CBD. They’re also the two compounds that have been studied the most by researchers.

Cannabinoids are unique because of how they interact with the body’s natural endocannabinoid system. This system produces receptors that help to regulate your mood, appetite, sleep, immune response, and more. Certain cannabinoids can enhance (or inhibit) these naturally-occurring functions, but we’ll get to that later.

Now that we have a broad overview of cannabis and cannabinoids, let’s focus on the difference between CBD and THC.

What Is THC?

THC is short for tetrahydrocannabinol (and thank goodness, because it’s much easier to pronounce). It’s the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, the one that creates the “high” people commonly associate with the plant.

There’s a common misconception that THC is used purely for recreational purposes or to get “stoned.” The truth is that THC has incredible therapeutic and medical potential. This is one reason why researchers are eager to learn more about THC and its healthful properties, such as Delta-8 THC.

But we’ll get to the health benefits of cannabis in a moment. For now, let’s look at the chemical makeup of THC. The exact molecular structure of THC is:

  • 30 hydrogen atoms
  • 21 carbon atoms
  • two oxygen atoms

No, this isn’t a science class, but take note of those numbers and molecules. It’s going to make our next section about CBD even more interesting!

What Is CBD?

CBD stands for cannabidiol. It’s a little easier to pronounce than tetrahydrocannabinol, but we’re still grateful for the acronym.

CBD is another component of the cannabis plant, although it’s especially prevalent in the cannabis sativa variety. In fact, industrial hemp (where all those new CBD products are sourced from) is cannabis sativa that’s engineered to contain high amounts of CBD and only trace amounts of THC.

Why would someone want to use CBD but not THC? For starters, hemp-derived CBD is legal in all 50 states, while THC is still federally illegal. Legalities aside, we’ve just come to one of the most important parts of our CBD vs THC discussion.

While THC gets you high, CBD does not.

CBD shares many of the same medicinal and therapeutic properties as THC — without the psychoactive effect. In fact, when THC and CBD are used together, CBD can counteract some of the psychoactive effects of THC.

Based on this information, you might assume there’s a huge chemical difference between CBD and THC. But here’s where it starts to get really interesting. Remember the molecular structure of THC we mentioned earlier?

Here’s the chemical structure of CBD:

  • 30 hydrogen atoms
  • 21 carbon atoms
  • two oxygen atoms

Wait, you might be saying. Isn’t that exactly the same as what’s in THC?

Yes! The difference, though, is the order the molecules are arranged. One of the hydrogen atoms in THC bonds differently within a CBD molecule. This tiny difference in a single atom means THC and CBD produce very different reactions inside the body.

CBD vs THC: How Are They Alike?

We’re halfway through our discussion of CBD vs THC, and you’ve already learned so much! Let’s do a brief recap of how CBD and THC are similar before we dive into their differences.

  • THC and CBD are both derived from the cannabis plant
  • THC and CBD are both cannabis properties known as cannabinoids
  • THC and CBD are composed of the same atomic molecules
  • THC and CBD both work with receptors from your body’s natural endocannabinoid system
  • THC and CBD both offer promising physical and mental health benefits

On the surface, these two cannabinoids appear to have a lot in common. As we dig deeper, though, we’ll learn just how different they really are.

CBD vs THC: How Are They Different?

At last, we’ve come to the highlight of our discussion: the difference between CBD and THC. We’ll break this into bite-sized chunks so it’s easy to understand.

Let’s get started!

1. THC Makes You High, While CBD Does Not

This is perhaps the biggest and most important difference between CBD and THC. Some people hesitate to try CBD products because they’re afraid it will make them high or stoned.

As we explained earlier, a slight change at a molecular level means that CBD does not produce the euphoric high that THC does. This is because they react with the body’s natural CB1 and CB2 receptors in very different ways.

(Just for the record, your body’s endocannabinoid system produces these receptors whether you use cannabis or not.)

To keep it simple, both THC and CBD naturally bind to CB2 receptors. These receptors are part of your body’s natural defense against pain and inflammation. CB2 receptors are part of your body’s peripheral nervous system and exist mainly in the white blood cells and spleen.

In contrast, CB1 receptors are part of the central nervous system, meaning they originate in the brain. In particular, CB1 receptors play a major role in signaling the production of dopamine — one of the body’s most powerful “feel good” hormones.

THC binds directly to CB1 receptors and therefore has a direct effect on the brain and central nervous system. The resulting rush of dopamine is what makes someone feel “high” after using THC.

Interestingly, research shows that CBD does not bond directly with CB1 receptors. Because it doesn’t have a direct effect on the central nervous system, people can enjoy the other benefits of CBD without the psychoactive effects of THC.

2. The Legal Difference Between CBD and THC

We mentioned earlier that CBD derived from industrial hemp is legal in all 50 states. This happened thanks to the US Farm Bill of 2014.

All of those CBD oils, bath bombs, edibles, and other products you see for sale are almost certainly made from hemp. This offshoot of cannabis sativa is permissible because it contains very high levels of CBD and only trace amounts (under 0.3%) of THC.

Why does this matter? Because as of March 2021, THC is still classified as a Schedule 1 illegal substance under US federal law.

But wait, you might be thinking. Isn’t cannabis legal in a lot of different states now? The answer is yes, and here’s where it starts to get tricky.

A total of 36 states (as well as Washington DC, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands) already have approved medical cannabis programs. Fifteen of those states have also legalized cannabis for recreational use, starting with Colorado in 2012.

As mentioned at the outset, big changes are on the horizon for the legal status of cannabis across the US. While we wait to see if THC will become legal at a federal level, many states are expected to make their own decisions about legislation in 2021.

States currently considering legalizing cannabis for medicinal purposes include:

  • Alabama
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Nebraska
  • Tennessee

Meanwhile, these states are considering legalizing the recreational use of cannabis:

  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Texas
  • Virginia

Indiana and South Carolina are moving full-speed ahead with efforts underway to legalize cannabis for both medical and recreational use. If you live in a state where THC and cannabis are not yet legalized, stay tuned. 2021 could be the years when everything changes!

3. Medical Uses of CBD and THC

The health benefits of cannabis are many. But as you can imagine based on our discussion so far, people turn to THC or CBD for very different reasons.

Here’s a brief overview of the main health benefits of CBD:

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anti-seizure
  • Anti-tumor
  • Analgesic
  • Anti-psychotic
  • Antidepressant

Now let’s take a look at some common medicinal uses of THC:

  • Anti-nausea
  • Appetite stimulant
  • Analgesic
  • Anti-anxiety
  • Antispasmodic

What does this mean in plain English? Both CBD and THC offer some of the same health benefits, such as relief from pain and inflammation. Depending on your medical needs or preferences, one type of cannabinoid may be better suited to you.

For example, people with epilepsy can now treat and prevent seizures with Epidiolex, the first FDA-approved prescription drug to contain CBD. CBD may also be useful for anxiety, depression, psychosis, and other mental disorders.

Most people who use CBD products, however, do so for pain relief. CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties can ease pain associated with migraines, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and other ailments.

Meanwhile, interested in THC for medical purposes often suffer from insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or similar conditions. THC may help to decrease nausea and stimulate the appetite in people undergoing chemotherapy or other intense medical treatments. It’s also commonly used to treat glaucoma and eye pressure.

4. How to Use CBD or THC

A final difference between CBD and THC we’ll consider is how to use each type of cannabinoid.

Your brain might automatically jump to smoking or vaping, which remain two popular methods for ingesting these compounds. If you can’t smoke for medical reasons (or choose not to for ethical reasons), does that mean you can’t enjoy some of these health benefits for yourself?

Not at all! There are more options than ever before for safely using both CBD and THC.

These include:

  • Oils and tinctures (taken orally or sublingually)
  • Creams, salves, and lotions (used topically on problem areas)
  • Pills and capsules
  • Edibles such as gummies or candies

Keep in mind that most commercially available CBD products contain no THC. Your access to THC will depend on the laws of your state. If you want to experience the entourage effect of using CBD and THC together, you’ll need to visit a dispensary or obtain a prescription from your doctor.

  Final Thoughts on Cannabis Properties

If you’ve read this far, congratulations! You’re now a well-educated individual on the topic of cannabis.

You understand the similarities and differences between CBD vs THC. You’re familiar with the many health benefits of cannabis and exciting research currently underway. You also understand where CBD and THC are legal (and where they aren’t).

What will you do with all this information? The decision is up to you!

One thing is for certain though: Cannabis is moving into the mainstream and isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, the industry is sure to continue its exponential growth in the years to come.

Now that you know the difference between CBD and THC, what’s next? Our site is full of more weird and wonderful articles like this one, so keep browsing!

The post CBD vs THC: The Differences Explained first appeared on Weirdomatic. Weirdomatic is the place where all weird things come to life through the amazing world of photographs – a corner of our wild imagination or the whimsical face of the reality?


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