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THC vs CBD: What’s the Big Difference? 7 Facts You Need to Know

THC and CBD, two compounds derived from the cannabis plant, are hot new buzzwords in the world of health and wellness. Their legal status is changing in many jurisdictions, and their potential health benefits are becoming more widely understood. But when it comes to THC vs CBD, what’s the different and which comes out on top?

In this THC vs CBD comparison, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about THC and CBD, including their medical uses, side effects, and potential benefits.

CBD Questions

What Do CBD and THC Stand For?

CBD stands for cannabidiol. It’s one of the active ingredients of cannabis, a drug derived from cannabis plants, but CBD itself does not induce a “high.” THC is the short form of tetrahydrocannabinol, another compound found in cannabis that has psychoative properties.  

Both compounds are cannabinoids extracted from either hemp or marijuana, both of which are strains of the Cannabis sativa plant. Now, let’s get into the THC vs CBD similarities and differences.

THC vs CBD: Which is Better for Pain?

Depending on the exact cause of your pain and its location, either CBD or THC (in areas where it is legal) might be recommended for pain relief. For instance, THC is generally thought to be preferable for treating central and neuropathic pain. It has also shown some promise in relieving pain related to AIDS, fibromyalgia, and cancer treatment (chemotherapy).

On the other hand, people usually use CBD to ease inflammatory pain. It does a great job at minimizing inflammation by blocking inflammatory mediators and strengthening the immune system. 

It’s also worth noting that THC affects your levels of dopamine, serotonin, and glutamate, which can significantly improve your mood and enhance intercellular connections. In other words, THC helps your brain “ignore” the feeling of pain as a substitute to managing the actual cause of pain. 

The Entourage Effect: THC and CBD Together

Sometimes, your doctor might recommend combining both THC and CBD to relieve pain. This technique may induce what’s known as the entourage effect, where the two compounds work together to strengthen the benefits of both.

THC vs CBD - what's the difference and what are the similarities?

THC vs CBD: The Complete Comparison

CBD and THC are different in many ways. Here’s a quick round-up of some THC vs CBD comparisons and 7 of the core differences between the two.

Chemical Structure

Both CBD and THC share an almost identical molecular structure, with 30 hydrogen atoms, 21 carbon atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. However, there’s a slight difference in how the atoms are arranged, which is why THC and CBD have different effects on your body’s endocannabinoid system.

It’s also worth noting that both compounds easily interact with your cannabinoid receptors simply because they share many similarities with your body’s endocannabinoids. This interaction is the main trigger that encourages the release of neurotransmitters in your brain, which directly affects your stress levels, immune response, pain, and sleep.

Psychoactive Effects

You’ll often hear it said that CBD is non-psychoactive, but this is a bit of an oversimplification. While it’s true that CBD won’t get you high, both CBD and THC have psychoactive effects to varying extents. The effect is much stronger with THC because it binds with the cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors in your brain, inducing a “high” sensation. In contrast, CBD binds weakly with the CB1 receptors.

Sometimes, THC is added to CBD to form a stronger bond with the CB1 receptors. This method is used as an alternative to taking THC separately because it prevents some side effects of THC, such as its sedative effect

Legality

In the USA, the legal status of THC vs CBD is quite different. THC is federally illegal, categorized as a Schedule I controlled substance. However, several states have legalized marijuana for medical use, recreational use, or both, allowing THC use within their borders.

CBD, on the other hand, is federally legal if derived from hemp and contains less than 0.3% THC. The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp cultivation, leading to a surge in CBD products. However, some states still have their own more restrictive laws. And in other countries, the legal status of THC vs CBD can be very different again. Always check the laws in your location before purchasing or using CBD products

Medical Benefits

Both CBD and THC can have a plethora of potential health benefits. The most common medical uses of CBD include:

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antipsychotic
  • Depression
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Anti-tumor 
  • Anti-seizure
  • Analgesic
  • Arthritis
  • Anti-anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Pain relief
  • Epilepsy

THC, meanwhile, can be used for the following medical purposes:

  • Analgesic
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Anti-anxiety 
  • Paranoia
  • Glaucoma symptoms relief
  • Muscular spasticity
  • Appetite stimulation
  • Pain relief

It’s important to understand that THC and CBD have not been scientifically proven to be effective for all these purposes. In understanding the differences and benefits, we must also understand that research into cannabinoids is still in its infancy.

Side Effects

Cannabinoids can cause side effects. Specifically, the following potential side effects have been linked to CBD use:

  • Sudden weight loss
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Changes in appetite 
  • Dizziness
  • Frequent diarrhea
  • Seizures

Similarly, THC may cause or exascerbate the following side effects:

  • Elevated heart rate
  • Dry mouth
  • Reddish eyes
  • Problems with coordination
  • Anxiety
  • Memory fade

Both of these compounds are tolerated well by the majority of adults, and many side effects happen due to unintentional interactions with other medications. That’s why it’s recommended to tell your doctor about any medications you’re currently taking and ask their advice before using CBD or THC.

Prolonged use of cannabis products has also been linked with psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, particularly at a young age. 

Drug Testing

Both CBD and THC use can show up on drug tests, depending on the testing kit used. Not all drug testing kits are capable of detecting CBD, but almost all kits can detect the presence of THC in your body. This means that, if you are subject to drug testing at work or for other reasons, the THC vs CBD distinction can be the difference between a pass and fail.

CBD and THC are stored in your body’s fat deposits, meaning that they can potentially show up on any drug test that’s performed within days or weeks of using any products containing them.

Dosage

CBD and THC can be taken in several forms, including:

Capsules are the easiest way to take CBD or THC products. You can easily add them to your daily vitamin routine. However, you may prefer to use other methods. Experiment to see what works for you.

While taking too much CBD can be harmful, the body generally tolerates it well in quite high quantities. You will need to be much more careful with the dosage when using THC, though, as it has psychoactive properties and its side effects can be more severe. In both cases, it is best to start with a low dosage and work your way up slowly.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does CBD Have THC in It?

There’s a common myth that CBD always has THC in it. However, each of them is a different chemical compound, despite having very similar molecular structures. CBD and THC products derived from hemp are sometimes used together, but that doesn’t mean that all CBD “has THC in it”. It just means that there’s a certain concentration of THC present in that particular oil.

Keep in mind that the THC content must be less than 0.3% for hemp-derived CBD products to be legal in the US, according to the FDA and DEA.

CBD products containing trace amounts of THC are called full spectrum. Those with no THC at all are called broad spectrum.

Can CBD Help With Insomnia Alone or Do I Need to Use THC Too?

Yes, many people have had success in reducing the effects of insomnia using CBD. A daily CBD dose of 25-1500mg is recommended; start at the lower end of this range and increase it gradually until you find the right dosage for your needs. You do not necessarily need to use THC alongside your CBD to enjoy the former’s insomnia-fighting effects.

How Safe Are CBD and THC Products?

Putting the common and usually mild side effects aside, CBD and THC are generally considered safe to use and are well tolerated by most adults. However, remember that cannabis products are sold as supplements and not medications in most cases, and be aware that they can interact with other medications.

Ensure you buy from reputable retailers to keep yourself safe and healthy.

What Drugs Shouldn’t Be Taken With CBD or THC?

Data on CBD usage is still in its infancy. However, we do know that CBD shouldn’t be taken with prescription medications that can cause sleepiness, including: 

  • Opioids
  • Benzodiazepines (ex: Xanax and Ativan)
  • Antipsychotics
  • Antidepressants 
  • Antihistamines

In addition, depending on your health information and medical history, CBD may or may not be suitable for you. Always ask your doctor if you’re unsure and make sure to specify if you’re using THC vs CBD products as their profiles are somewhat different.

How Long Does It Take for Cannabis Products to Work?

It depends on why you’re using CBD or THC and what effects you’re looking to see. For example, if you’re using a CBD product to relieve joints, the results usually don’t take more than 45 minutes to appear. If you’re using to to treat a sleep disorder, on the other hand, it may take up to a month for you to notice any significant changes.

Always wait at least an hour after taking CBD or THC before taking any more, and stick to safe daily dosages.

In Conclusion

To recap, both CBD and THC can be your only way out of a stubborn medical condition. And while CBD or marijuana products might induce some undesired side effects, the benefits far outweigh the cons, provided that you abide by the recommended dosage and treatment timeline.

On a final note, remember to educate yourself about your location and state’s law regarding the use of cannabinoids like CBD and THC.

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About the Writer

Shelley W.

Shelly is Saha's Head of the Editorial Team. In addition to personally contributing blog articles, Shelly is responsible for sourcing new writers and editing their work. Shelly is driven by her passion to educate about cannabinoid relief while finding ways to support those most impacted by the industry. Shelly has a degree in Media Communications and is currently working on a Masters in Digital Media and Integrity.
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