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THC vs CBD – What’s the Big Difference?

THC vs CBD are the new hemp buzzwords in town. They’re increasingly getting legalized for medical use in several states globally, and many people want to know more about the health benefits and potential risks of these cannabis plant derivatives.

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 whether consuming any of them would improve your health.

THC vs CBD: What's the Big Difference?
THC vs CBD: What’s the Big Difference?

What Do CBD and THC Stand For?

CBD stands for cannabidiol. It’s one of the active ingredients of cannabis, a psychoactive drug derived from Cannabis plants. On the other hand, THC is the short form of tetrahydrocannabinol, a chemical compound similar to cannabidiol. 

Both compounds are cannabinoids extracted from the hemp or marijuana plant, and both of these plants are strains of the Cannabis sativa plant. Now, let’s get to the differences.

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Is CBD or THC Better for Pain?

Depending on the exact cause of your pain and its location, either CBD or THC might be recommended for pain relief. For instance, THC is generally preferable for treating central and neuropathic pain. It’s also recommended for 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. 

This doesn’t mean that THC can’t be used to relieve inflammatory pain. It’s just that CBD is a better alternative because it doesn’t have the same psychoactive effects as THC (more on that later). 

It’s also worth noting that THC affects the 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. 

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 CBD is synergized to minimize the psychoactive effects of THC.

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THC vs CBD: The Complete Comparison

CBD and THC aren’t that different in multiple compartments, but they’re by no means similar when it comes to medical uses and side effects. Not to mention, they’re legalized the same way. 

Here’s a quick round-up of some of the core differences between the CBD and THC cannabinoids:

Chemical Structure

Both CBD and THC share an almost identical molecular structure when it comes to chemical 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 can easily interact with your cannabinoid receptors simply because they share many similarities with your body’s endocannabinoids. Such 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 Components

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 receptors. This method is used as an alternative to THC separately because it prevents some side effects of THC, like sedation, for instance. 


According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), CBD is considered a Schedule I drug in the United States, meaning that it has a high potential for abuse. 

On the flip side, around 33 U.S states have passed cannabis-related laws, meaning that it’s OK to use THC medical cannabis for medical use. In some states, it’s legal to use THC and cannabis for recreational purposes, and since CBD is essentially an active ingredient of cannabis, you can use CBD products in these states. 

Just make sure that you inform yourself about where your state stands when it comes to the use of THC or CBD to avoid penalties or even jail.

Also, keep in mind that medical marijuana products are removed from the U.S Controlled Substances Act.

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Medical Benefits

Using either CBD or THC can have a plethora of medical benefits, depending on your case. 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

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

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

Side Effects

Cannabinoids like CBD may cause some mild side effects among patients, including: 

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

Similarly, high THC levels may cause one or some of the following side effects:

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

Nevertheless, both compounds are considered quite tolerable, and in most cases, 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. 

Prolonged cannabis products are also linked with psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, especially 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. 

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

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

  • Vape concentrates
  • A CBD capsule
  • CBD oil and tinctures
  • Gummies

Capsules are the easiest way to take marijuana or hemp-derived CBD or THC products. You can easily add them to your daily vitamin routine. However, oil is usually favored when CBD products are used in treating skin-related conditions. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Does CBD Have THC in It?

There’s a common myth that CBD has THC in it. However, each of them is a different chemical compound, despite having very similar molecular structures.

It’s also worth mentioning that CBD and THC products derived from the hemp plant are sometimes used together for certain medical conditions, but that doesn’t mean that CBD “has THC in it”. It just means that there’s a certain concentration of THC in the oil.

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

Can CBD Oils Help With Insomnia?

Yes, many people have had success in reducing the effects of insomnia using CBD oil. A daily CBD dose of 25-1500mg is recommended; just make sure that you start with a small dose and increase it gradually until you find the right dosage for your needs. 

Most people will need at least 100mg of CBD per day to treat sleep disorders, while mild problems like joint pain may require as low as 50mg.

How Safe Are CBD and THC Products?

Putting the common, usually mild side effects aside, CBD and THC are generally considered safe to use, although cannabis products are sold as supplements, not medications. 

Just make sure that you opt for well-trusted CBD products that don’t use any filler ingredients in the formula to avoid any complications for your own safety. 

What Drugs Shouldn’t Be Taken With CBD?

Data has shown that CBD shouldn’t be taken with prescription medications that cause sleepiness, including: 

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

In addition, depending on your health information and medical history, you may or may not be eligible for CBD. Your case should always be medically reviewed. 

How Long Does It Take for Marijuana or Hemp Products to Work?

It depends on why you’re using CBD or THC. For example, if you’re using a CBD product to relieve joints, the results usually don’t take more than 45 minutes to appear. 

But say you’re using it for treating sleep disorders – in that case, it may take up to a month for you to notice any significant changes.

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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.