Key Differences to Know About CBD vs. THC
Cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are distinct compounds found in cannabis plants that each affect different receptors in the brain.
THC is psychoactive, meaning that it affects your mood, perception, and other mental processes. It produces the “high” effects of marijuana.
CBD is not psychoactive. It won’t get you high, but it can still have side effects, like making you feel relaxed.
In 2018, the Farm Bill was signed into law. It removed hemp (a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant) and derivatives of cannabis with low levels of THC (0.3% or less) from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act.
Read on for more information about CBD and THC, and what to keep in mind about these substances.
There are many misconceptions and much misinformation circulating. When reading about CBD and THC, it’s essential to know what various terms mean. Without knowing what different terms mean, it’s easy to get confused.
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the naturally occurring substance in the cannabis plant that produces the “high” or the effects of marijuana.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a cannabinoid compound found in the cannabis plant. It does not produce a high because it does not have THC in it. It can produce relaxation or sleepiness. It has antioxidant (neutralizes destructive oxygen free radicals in cells) and anti-inflammatory properties.
|CBD vs. THC Chart|
|Source||Aerial parts of the cannabis plant (stalk, leaves, flower), can be derived from low-THC hemp.||Leaves and the flowering part of the cannabis plant|
|Psychoactive Effects||There is no high, but it can promote relaxation and reduce anxiety and depression.||Euphoria, heightened senses, changes in time perception|
|Medicinal Effects||Anti-seizure effect, pain relief, reduces inflammation||Tachycardia (increased heart rate), increased appetite|
|Legality||Technically legal federally, state legality depends on the state||Not legal federally, state legality varies by state|
|Detected on Drug Test||Cannabidiol is not detected, but if the preparation has any THC in it, that could be detected.||Yes|
Hemp vs. Marijuana
Hemp and marijuana are technically the same kind of plant—cannabis. However, hemp plants have no more than 0.3% (by dry weight) of THC. Marijuana has 5%–20% THC. Hemp cannot get you high.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a psychoactive substance is a substance that, when consumed, impacts mental processes (thinking, mood, perception, consciousness). This definition doesn’t necessarily only refer to recreational drugs—it can also include substances like nicotine or caffeine.
Synthetic vs. Natural
Synthetic CBD is made in a lab with chemical or biological ingredients. Natural CBD is taken from cannabis plants.
Both CBD and THC are cannabinoids from the plant Cannabis sativa. They both have the same chemical makeup: 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms. However, the arrangement of the atoms differs. The body reacts to them as two different substances.
Effects of CBD vs. THC
The effects of CBD and THC on the body are quite different. Knowing the difference between the two can help you know what to expect if you use these substances.
CBD can have many different medicinal effects, and has multiple mechanisms of action—at least 20 have been identified thus far. It has been found to:
- Mediate antiepileptic effects: It binds to a protein called GPR55 that triggers seizures.
- Mediate pain signaling and inflammation: It acts on receptors in these pathways.
- Relieve neuropathic pain and have an antidepressant effect: It acts like selective serotonin receptor inhibitors (SSRIs), which are medications used to treat depression.
- Decrease psychotic symptoms: This effect may be seen in people with schizophrenia (a mental health condition in which there is an altered perception of reality). It may have an additive effect when used with traditional antipsychotic drugs (when used together, there may be better control of hallucinations and delusions).
- Reduce anxiety symptoms
More studies are needed to evaluate CBD’s mechanisms of action and whether its effects are clinically significant consistently.
Drugs with cannabinoids (CBD and/or THC) can be helpful in treating nausea and vomiting in people undergoing cancer chemotherapy, and weight loss and loss of appetite associated with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and AIDS. They may also help with chronic pain and symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
CBD is not used as a recreational drug like marijuana is. While it can help you feel more relaxed or less anxious, it doesn’t make you “high.”
Recreationally, effects of THC can include:
- Alteration of the senses
- Alteration of your sense of time
- Mood changes
- Trouble with body movement
- Impaired memory
- Trouble thinking or problem-solving
- Hallucinations or delusions
- Psychosis (losing touch with reality): Risk is highest when regularly using high-potency marijuana.
Industrial and Cosmetic Uses of CBD
CBD can offer relief for various conditions, including skin and cosmetic disorders such as eczema (an inflammatory skin condition) and psoriasis (an autoimmune skin condition).
The human endocannabinoid system (ECS) helps with bodily homeostasis (maintaining a steady state). It helps to maintain skin homeostasis, and when it is dysregulated (out of balance), hyper/hypopigmentation (skin patches with increased or decreased color), atopic dermatitis, hair growth or loss, itch, and acne can occur.
Because CBD has anti-inflammatory properties, it can help with disorders that cause inflammation and/or itching, like atopic dermatitis. More research needs to be done, but CBD may also help with acne because it may inhibit bacterial growth and the production of more oil-making skin cells.
Although CBD shows promise for cosmetic uses for the skin and hair, more studies need to be done to evaluate its effectiveness.
Although CBD is not a psychoactive substance, it isn’t legal in every state. In order for CBD to be legal in your state, it needs to be legal at both the federal and state levels.
While the Farm Bill legalized the production of any part of the cannabis plant with a THC concentration of 0.3% or lower, states have the final say.
CBD Legal States
Even though CBD cannot get you “high,” it is not legal in every state. While some states have no restrictions on CBD, others have legalized CBD only for medical purposes. Some regulate it depending on whether it was derived from hemp or marijuana. Others have not legalized it at all.
Laws continuously change. Before you purchase or use any CBD product, even without THC, it’s best to check your state laws. One resource to do so is the National Conference of State Legislatures, on their State Medical Cannabis Laws page.
THC Legal States
Laws regarding THC are actively changing. It is important to check the most current laws in each state. Some state laws vary in the level of THC that is legal, or for what purpose THC can be consumed.
The National Conference of State Legislatures State Medical Cannabis Laws page may be helpful, as is the state information at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) website.
On a Drug Test
Drug tests specifically look for THC and its breakdown products. CBD should not produce a positive test.
While CBD shouldn’t show up on a drug test, some CBD products do have THC, so it may cause a positive THC result on a drug test. Many CBD products are not regulated, so you don’t know what exactly is in them or how much THC they contain.
The bottom line is that if CBD or THC is illegal in your state or is forbidden in your workplace, it’s best to not use them or limit your usage.
As with any ingested substance, there are potential side effects to both CBD and THC. Additional side effects of CBD than the ones already listed can include:
- Changes in alertness, usually drowsiness
- Gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea or lack of appetite
- Mood changes like irritability or agitation
Side effects of THC (in addition to the recreational ones) may include:
- Changes in blood pressure and heart rate
- Red eyes
- Increased risk of mood disorders
- Lung irritation with chronic usage
Types of CBD and THC
There are different types of CBD and THC. Knowing the differences can help you make a choice about which is best for you.
- Whole plant CBD: Uses all of the hemp compounds but is usually too thick for general use
- Full spectrum CBD: Contains none of the waxes or oils from whole plant CBD, but has traces of THC
- Broad spectrum CBD: Contains no THC but has other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids
- Pure CBD (isolate): Contains only CBD, no THC, and no other compounds
- THC-a: This is the most common type of THC in cannabis, and is the precursor to the other kinds. It does not produce psychoactive effects.
- Delta 9 THC: This is responsible for producing the typical psychoactive effects of marijuana, and also helps relieve bodily tension and increases appetite.
- Delta 8 THC: This makes up less than 1% of the cannabis plant and is supposed to be half as psychoactive as delta 9.
- THCP (tetrahydrocannabiphorol): This is said to have approximately 33% more potency and strength than delta 9 but medicinal benefits are unknown.
- THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin): This is not as effective in binding to receptors. In large doses it can be psychoactive, but not in low doses.
While CBD and THC are from the same plant, the cannabis plant, they are very different. Both can increase relaxation and sleepiness, improve mood, and relieve pain, but CBD does not have the same psychoactive properties that THC does.
There are different kinds of CBD. It’s good to know what kind you are using because some may have traces of THC in them. Knowing more about CBD and THC can help you make informed decisions about what you choose to consume.
A Word From Verywell
While CBD and THC may be legal in some states, in other states there are restrictions on both. Before ordering or using these substances, it’s always a good idea to check the laws in your state about both CBD and THC.
Frequently Asked Questions
Smoking a product containing THC (like a marijuana “joint”) or vaping CBD oil can start relieving pain in a few minutes. Creams and edibles can take a bit longer, even up to a few hours for edibles, since they have to go through the digestive tract.
The effects of delta-8 THC are more potent than CBD. Whereas CBD does not get you high, delta-8 does. It is similar to delta-9, which produces the high and side effects of marijuana than it is to CBD.
Everyone’s experience with THC or CBD is different. While THC in low doses tends to reduce anxiety, THC has been shown to increase anxiety in high doses. CBD has been found to decrease anxiety at multiple doses.
It’s good to let your healthcare provider know if you use CBD or THC. They can interact with certain medications and may cause physical health issues, so your healthcare provider should know if you use these substances.