CBD vs. THC: What’s the Difference Between the Two? (2023)

CBD is just one of over 100 cannabinoids found in cannabis plants. It’s also the second major active compound besides THC.

Consumers are getting more interested in the differences between CBD vs. THC. There’s a large group of users who combine these two molecules to maximize the effects of their cannabis extracts.

CBD and THC have a similar molecular structure to the cannabinoids produced naturally in your body by the endocannabinoid system. (ECS) — hence the wide range of their therapeutic properties.

This guide covers all-important differences between CBD vs. THC, explaining their benefits, uses, safety profile, legal status, and more. We’ll also discuss the mechanisms both cannabinoids use to regulate essential processes in your body.

CBD vs. THC: A Brief Overview

CBD and THC have almost identical chemical makeup. They consist of 30 hydrogen atoms, 21 carbon atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. That being said, these atoms are arranged differently, which means CBD and THC ultimately have different qualities.

If you’ve never used cannabinoids before, here we explain the basics:

What Is CBD?

CBD is the acronym for cannabidiol, a non-intoxicating cannabinoid synthesized by cannabis plants.

The lack of psychoactive properties means that CBD won’t give you the high associated with marijuana. However, if you take hemp-derived CBD oil, you don’t need to worry about getting high because such products contain 0.3% THC or less.

CBD extracts that meet the THC limit are legal on a federal level, thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill.

CBD has a wide range of therapeutic properties. However, when you hear people talking about CBD, they usually praise it for health and wellness rather than recreational use.

What Is THC?

THC — or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol — is the main active ingredient in marijuana plants. It is responsible for the deeply relaxing and euphoric sensations associated with getting high.

It also has analgesic, appetite-stimulating, and sedating properties. While THC isn’t the only cannabinoid capable of inducing intoxication, it’s the only one that occurs in concentrations significant enough to produce a high. That’s why THC has long been associated with recreational use.

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Nevertheless, CBD has a lot of documented therapeutic benefits as well. In fact, its cognitive and mood-altering properties can aid patients in an array of physical and mental conditions.

CBD vs. THC: Major Differences

CBD vs. THC: What’s the Difference Between the Two? (1)

It’s actually difficult to summarize the differences between CBD vs. THC in a nutshell, but here are the most vivid ones:

CBD

  • CBD won’t make you feel high in the way THC does because it’s a non-intoxicant.
  • CBD has more than 65 molecular targets, but it doesn’t directly bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain.
  • CBD helps the body achieve and maintain higher levels of endocannabinoids in the bloodstream.
  • CBD can dampen the high from THC.
  • CBD is mostly associated with medical, health, and wellness benefits.
  • CBD doesn’t cause toxicity, even in large amounts.
  • CBD is safe for animals.
  • CBD can be extracted from hemp and marijuana.
  • Hemp-derived CBD products are legal on a federal level.

THC

  • THC can get you high because it has intoxicating properties.
  • People often link THC to recreational cannabis use, although it has many therapeutic benefits too.
  • Lower doses of THC can reduce stress and anxiety, but higher doses can aggravate these feelings in sensitive users due to its biphasic nature.
  • THC sends signals to the brain by binding to cannabinoid receptors CB1.
  • THC can be extracted only from marijuana plants.
  • THC is fully legal in Canada and Uruguay. In the USA, 16 states have legalized its recreational use.

CBD vs. THC: How They Work

You can use the above bullet points as a quick reference point, but the differences between CBD vs. THC are more complex than that. When it comes to their use, bot cannabinoids have several recreational and medical benefits.

Let’s focus on the effects of CBD and THC on the brain.

CBD vs. THC: How They Affect the Brain

Most cannabis users consider the high from THC as a pleasurable sensation. They often report a relaxed state of mind, reduced physical tension, bouts of euphoria, giggliness, and even signs of improved cognition.

Low and moderate doses of THC are well-tolerated by humans and can effectively reduce stress and anxiety. But, as we mentioned earlier in the article, high doses of THC can worsen these feelings in sensitive users.

On the other hand, CBD doesn’t get you high, and the range of emotional effects uses a less direct mechanism. CBD can improve your response to daily stressors, making it easier to manage situations that would otherwise drive you nuts.

Even better, CBD can mitigate a strong reaction to THC by binding to the sites of the CB1 receptors to which THC tries to bind. As a result, many people mix marijuana with CBD hemp flower to counterweight the intoxicating effects of THC.

But, since both compounds affect your mind in some way — does it mean they’re both psychoactive?

According to the definition of the word “psychoactive,” yes, they are.

Even your laundry machine can be psychoactive if it makes you angry when it glitches.

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Your colleagues at work are psychoactive because they make you feel either good or bad around them.

A better way to describe the differences between CBD vs. THC is to use the word “intoxicating” instead of “psychoactive.” Intoxication refers to an altered state of mind, exactly what happens when THC enters your body.

CBD doesn’t induce euphoric sensations, so it’s not intoxicating. It is, however, psychoactive because it can help you regulate mood and improve emotional stability.

CBD vs. THC: How They Affect the Body

CBD products may work better if you’re searching for more of a body-focused experience. They can reduce inflammation, relieve physical discomfort, speed up regeneration processes, and improve your resilience to stress.

The effects of THC, on the other hand, depend on the cannabinoid profile of the product, as well as its terpene content and ratios. Some marijuana strains produce more cerebral effects, while others ensure more of a physical high. You can use both types to moderate or amplify the therapeutic effects of CBD without getting too high from your cannabis.

CBD vs. THC: Health Benefits

CBD vs. THC: What’s the Difference Between the Two? (2)

THC and CBD interact with different parts of the endocannabinoid system. For example, THC is the stimulant of CB1 and CB2 receptors, while CBD has little effect on both. Instead, CBD exerts its actions by working on multiple receptor-based and receptor-independent pathways throughout the body.

THC and CBD can have complementary effects on each other when it comes to their health benefits. However, they use completely different mechanisms to manifest them.

For example, CBD has remarkable anti-inflammatory properties; it can support the immune system and help consumers alleviate a wide range of ailments. Many health conditions start with chronic inflammation, which would explain why so many people benefit from consistent CBD supplementation.

THC has neuroprotective properties, and its positive effects are mostly attributed to mental health. However, it can also reduce pain, increase appetite, assist people with insomnia, and reduce cancer cells throughout the body.

Physiological vs. Physical Effects of CBD and THC

Both CBD and THC can alter pain transmission to the brain. This, in turn, reduces physical discomfort deriving from inflammation, injuries, migraines, and fibromyalgia.

The difference between CBD vs. THC is that the former offers a relaxing sensation to your body without producing a mellow physical high.

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CBD has been mentioned in numerous studies for its ability to reduce anxiety and help individuals manage stress. Moreover, some researchers claim that CBD can also support healthy sleep cycles. In addition, CBD can also protect cells in the brain against oxidative damage and prevent degeneration.

Studies suggest that THC can produce the same neuroprotective effects. Medical researchers have started to investigate these effects concerning Alzheimer’s disease prevention and treatment. The cannabinoid can also improve your focus and elevate your moodif you take it in doses that produce mild intoxication or keep you on the verge of it.

Potential Medical Use of CBD and THC According to Studies

CBD

  • Addiction
  • Anxiety
  • Bacterial growth
  • Blood sugar imbalances
  • Bone density loss
  • Eating disorders
  • Inflammation
  • Muscle spasms
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Pain
  • Psychosis
  • Anxiety
  • Chronic stress
  • Inflammation
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of appetite
  • Muscle spasticity
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Pain
  • PTSD
  • Seizures and convulsions
  • Tumor growth

THC

  • Anxiety
  • Chronic stress
  • Inflammation
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of appetite
  • Muscle spasticity
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Pain
  • PTSD
  • Seizures and convulsions
  • Tumor growth

CBD vs. THC: Safety and Side Effects

The side effects of CBD are nearly nonexistent when taken in regular doses. Some people experience dry mouth, dizziness, and changes in appetite. On rare occasions, when you ingest too much carrier oil, diarrhea might occur. However, even daily amounts as high as 1500 mg have been well-tolerated by humans (1). That being said, CBD may cause drug interactions by preventing your liver from metabolizing most pharmaceutical medications (2).

The side effects of THC include short-term memory impairment, confusion, dizziness, and mental discomforts such as feelings of anxiety and paranoid thinking patterns. However, THC can also lead to a huge appetite boost; whether you consider this a negative effect or not depends on your relationship with food and overall physical health (3).

Neither CBD nor THC can lead to a lethal overdose because they don’t interact with the brain stem area regulating respiratory functions.

CBD vs. THC: Legal Status

CBD vs. THC: What’s the Difference Between the Two? (3)

Last but not least, let’s cover the legality of both compounds.

Hemp-derived CBD is legal in all 50 states because it meets the conditions set out by the 2018 Farm Bill. Such products contain 0.3% THC or less, so they won’t get you high.

You can buy hemp-derived CBD products all over the U.S., from pharmacies to specialty stores, vape shops, and wellness centers. A lot of high-quality CBD oils can be found online too. It’s actually better to look for CBD online than somewhere near you because you have more options for researching your potential vendors, such as reading third-party lab reports, user reviews, and expert blogs with the rankings of the best companies.

Long story short, your CBD products are legal as long as they contain 0.3% of THC or less.

The laws around THC and marijuana are harsh in most countries in the world. To date, only Canada and Uruguay have legalized marijuana in the entire spectrum.

The United States has a love-hate history with marijuana. However, since the prohibition in 1937, 16 states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and 48 states have some medical marijuana programs for patients. Still, marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance according to federal law, making any activity connected with marijuana a felony — including possession of small amounts for personal use.

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When shopping for CBD oil online, make sure it comes from hemp unless your country or state allows marijuana for recreational use.

CBD vs. THC: Drug Testing

CBD alone won’t show up on a drug test because these tests are interested only in detecting intoxicating substances, including THC. To be precise, drug tests look for the metabolite of THC known as THC-COOH. The detection threshold for this byproduct has been set at 50 ng/mL, although some tests can yield positive results once the 20 ng threshold has been breached.

But, the question is, can you fail a drug test using full-spectrum CBD oil?

No, as long as you have a legitimate product that has been tested for its THC content. Unfortunately, the problem with many CBD oils found online is that they are contaminated with significant THC levels due to the lack of regulation and third-party testing.

If you want to make sure you don’t fail a drug test after taking full-spectrum CBD oil, always look for a Certificate of Analysis that lists the product’s potency, THC content, and results for purity.

Broad-spectrum CBD oils and isolates are a good alternative if you want a THC-free product.

Still, even if you use a lab-tested full-spectrum CBD oil, you shouldn’t get a false-positive result for THC on a drug test unless you take around 1900 mg of CBD daily.

Benefits of Taking CBD and THC Together

By far, you’ve probably noticed that many of the health benefits of CBD and THC are overlapping despite some obvious differences in their properties. Instead of focusing on “CBD vs. THC,” consider this couple as two synergistic molecules that can mutually enhance their benefits and mitigate some potential unwanted side effects.

Similar to how CBD can dampen the intoxication from THC, some of the effects of CBD are more pronounced when you add a little bit of THC to the mix. This mutual relationship is known as the “entourage effect” or “whole-plant synergy.” Neuroscientists created a concept where all compounds in cannabis — cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids — can only show their full potential when they occur in one extract (4).

That’s why full-spectrum CBD oils are the preferred format instead of broad-spectrum CBD and isolates. Capturing the entire phytochemical profile of the plant allows the manufacturer to maximize the therapeutic value of the end product.

Key Takeaways on the Differences Between CBD vs. THC

To wrap it up, CBD and THC are different yet complementary compounds that can effectively support the functioning of your endocannabinoid system. Instead of looking at them as competitors, try to see a bigger picture. Each of them has unique health benefits, but when used together, they allow you to revel in the full therapeutic potential of cannabis.

If your state doesn’t have a legal marijuana market, you can still enjoy the benefits of full-spectrum CBD oil from hemp. Hemp-derived products are legal in all 50 states as long as they contain less than 0.3% of THC — which isn’t enough to get anyone high but still evokes the entourage effect.

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What are your preferences toward CBD and THC? Do you focus on one of them or use both in your routine? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Reference links:

  1. Iffland, K., & Grotenhermen, F. (2017). An Update on Safety and Side Effects of Cannabidiol: A Review of Clinical Data and Relevant Animal Studies. Cannabis and cannabinoid research, 2(1), 139–154. https://doi.org/10.1089/can.2016.0034
  2. Brown, J. D., & Winterstein, A. G. (2019). Potential Adverse Drug Events and Drug-Drug Interactions with Medical and Consumer Cannabidiol (CBD) Use. Journal of clinical medicine, 8(7), 989. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6678684/
  3. MedlinePlus. (2020). Marijuana Intoxication. Available from: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000952.htm
  4. Russo E. B. (2011). Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. British journal of pharmacology, 163(7), 1344–1364. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01238.x

FAQs

How much CBD is enough relax? ›

A 2019 study investigating CBD for anxiety found that 300 to 600 milligrams reduced anxiety symptoms. However, that study was limited to 57 adult males. "For generalized anxiety or sleep disorders, 25 to 75 milligrams per day is recommended, while for PTSD, 33 to 50 milligrams per day is recommended.

Whats a good CBD percentage? ›

When looking at a strain's cannabinoid content, it is quite common to find a THC content ranging from around 12 – 25 percent, with anything at 20 or more being considered very strong. This is not the case when it comes to CBD; any CBD content level that is 4 percent or higher is considered a high CBD strain.

What is the best CBD THC ratio for pain? ›

WHAT IS THE BEST THC:CBD RATIO FOR PAIN? Most studies that look at the effectiveness of THC and CBD for pain use a 1:1 ratio. This is a great place to get started. If you haven't tried THC or CBD to alleviate your pain before, a 1:1 ratio can help you get used to the effects of both compounds.

What does CBD percentage mean? ›

The percentage of the CBD found within the bottle is marked on the label. Most often CBD oil is 5% or 10% CBD. A 5% oil has half the amount of CBD per drop as a 10% CBD oil so it is cheaper. It's also worth noting that with a 10% CBD oil you would need to take fewer drops to get the same desired effect as a 5% CBD oil.

What are cons of taking CBD? ›

Side effects of CBD include nausea, fatigue and irritability, according to Harvard Health Publishing. CBD can also negatively interact with coumadin/warfarin and grapefruit juice. Again, it is crucial to speak with your doctor before starting and CBD products.

How long does 10 mg of CBD stay in your system? ›

Since it takes approximately five half-lives to completely eliminate a drug from the human body, it's likely that CBD stays in the system for about 85 hours, or about 3.5 days” says Dr. Johnson-Arbor.

Is CBD good for back pain? ›

Studies suggest it may help relieve inflammation, which is often a factor in chronic back pain. CBD is available in many forms; topical creams and gels have shown promising results for inflammation and neuropathy, which may make them a good option for back and neck pain.

What type of CBD is most effective? ›

Choose the right spectrum: For many people, full-spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD products are better than CBD isolate products because they may promote the entourage effect, which could make the CBD work better.

What percentage of CBD is used for pain? ›

CBD Dosage for Different Levels of Pain

The optimal CBD dosage for people with chronic pain ranges between 2.5–20 mg of CBD when administered orally, alongside or without THC. Certain individuals may require higher doses, especially those with a greater body mass.

Can CBD give you anxiety? ›

You might be wondering whether CBD can actually increase your anxiety instead of relieving it. Studies suggest this isn't likely. CBD has been shown to decrease anxiety or have no effect on anxiety even at high doses, while THC decreases anxiety at lower doses and increases it at higher doses.

Does CBD affect your eyes? ›

cannabinoid in marijuana. pressure of the eye (IOP) and risk of glaucoma. (THC) showed CBD spikes the pressure in the eye. Ciliary muscle involved in the flow in and out off fluid, influencing pressure.

Does CBD gummies damage liver? ›

CBD products do not cause liver damage when taken orally, according to a new study from Validcare. The seven-month analysis evaluated the impact of CBD on liver health through clinical trials involving 839 participants.

Will CBD show up in blood tests? ›

Cannabidiol (CBD) shouldn't show up on a drug test. However, many CBD products contain trace amounts of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana's main active ingredient. If enough THC is present, it will show up on a drug test. This means that in rare cases, using CBD might lead to a positive drug test.

Does CBD show up on drug tests probation? ›

The urine test most commonly used doesn't even look for CBD but instead a compound created by the body when it metabolizes THC, says Barry Sample, senior director of science and technology at Quest Diagnostics, the largest administrator of drug tests in the U.S. “There isn't going to be a laboratory analytical false ...

Can I drink water after taking CBD oil? ›

if you vape cbd, consume it orally, or use it topically, it is completely fine to drink water normally without disrupting absorption. however, if cbd is consumed sublingually via a tincture, you should give the tincture at least 30-60 seconds for full absorption before drinking anything.

Is CBD good for arthritis? ›

Should You Use CBD for Arthritis? Under the guidance of a medical professional, CBD may be helpful in temporarily relieving inflammation and pain associated with arthritis. CBD should not be used as a substitute for disease-modifying treatments or lifestyle modifications recommended by a doctor.

What kind of CBD gummies are best for pain? ›

Dive into our list below of the 5 best CBD gummies for pain and stress to relieve your discomfort today.
  • #1 – Smilz Broad Spectrum CBD Gummies for Pain Relief.
  • #2 – Jibe Wellness – High Strength CBD Gummies for Stress.
  • #4 – BloomHemp – Daily Extra-Strength CBD Gummies for Stress.
19 Jul 2022

Does CBD help with joint pain? ›

Effectiveness of CBD for joint pain

Early research supports the idea that CBD may help with joint pain in some cases, such as joint pain due to inflammatory arthritis. A 2020 study found that CBD has anti-arthritic activity and may help symptoms by targeting the cells that drive inflammation.

Which is better CBD oil or gummies? ›

If you're looking for a fixed-dose per serving and a bit longer-lasting effects, CBD gummies may be a better option. On the other hand, if you aim for dosage precision and higher bioavailability, you may consider choosing CBD oil as your go-to product type.

Does CBD reduce inflammation or just pain? ›

CBD may help to reduce pain by acting on a variety of biological processes in the body. CBD has been shown to work as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and analgesic. CBD may also reduce the anxiety that people living with chronic pain often experience.

Where can I get CBD oil in Walmart? ›

Unfortunately, Walmart doesn't sell real CBD oil. You will find it neither in-store nor online, although Walmart is home to many hemp products and proudly displays them on the shelves. However, these hemp products are made from cold-pressed seeds, which have great nutritional value but contain no CBD at all.

How much CBD should I take at bedtime? ›

One investigation found that, compared with a placebo, a CBD dosage of 160 milligrams (mg) increased sleep duration. The researchers also concluded that the placebo, 5 mg of the insomnia drug nitrazepam, and 40, 80, and 160 mg of CBD helped the participants fall asleep.

Does CBD relax a person? ›

People can use oral CBD products to relieve anxiety throughout the day. It may help to take these products in the morning with some food. Smoking or vaping CBD oil can provide immediate relaxation that may help people during especially stressful events, such as giving a speech.

How much CBD do you feel? ›

If your doctor doesn't provide a recommendation, it's best to start with a smaller dosage and gradually increase it. This could mean starting with 20 to 40 mg a day. After a week, increase this amount by 5 mg. Continue this until you feel that it's effectively treating your symptoms.

Does CBD make you lose weight? ›

CBD oil is an increasingly popular cannabis product that is often marketed for weight loss. However, current research does not show a clear effect on weight. Though some studies indicate that CBD may boost metabolism while reducing body fat and appetite, others show an increase in appetite.

Does CBD help with arthritis? ›

Under the guidance of a medical professional, CBD may be helpful in temporarily relieving inflammation and pain associated with arthritis. CBD should not be used as a substitute for disease-modifying treatments or lifestyle modifications recommended by a doctor.

Is CBD good for back pain? ›

Studies suggest it may help relieve inflammation, which is often a factor in chronic back pain. CBD is available in many forms; topical creams and gels have shown promising results for inflammation and neuropathy, which may make them a good option for back and neck pain.

How much CBD should I take at bedtime? ›

One investigation found that, compared with a placebo, a CBD dosage of 160 milligrams (mg) increased sleep duration. The researchers also concluded that the placebo, 5 mg of the insomnia drug nitrazepam, and 40, 80, and 160 mg of CBD helped the participants fall asleep.

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