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The Difference Between CBD and THC:
A Detailed Guide


CBD and THC have seen exponential market growth in recent years. This is due to the ongoing legalization debate over marijuana and the numerous studies on the health benefits of both substances released in the past three to five years. However, despite how closely linked they are, CBD and THC are not the same substance.

What's the difference between CBD and THC? What can these substances treat, and how do they function differently from one another? This is what you need to know.

What You Need to Know About THC

In order to establish the differences between THC and CBD, we need to discuss each substance separately. THC is a unique psychoactive compound with a variety of effects that make it a helpful treatment for multiple conditions. That covers the basics, but let's dig a bit deeper.

What Is THC?

THC is an abbreviation for tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the primary chemical compound that gives marijuana its many effects. There are many different strains of THC available in the marijuana plant, like Delta-8 and Delta-9. You can find more information regarding these strains through resources like Leafly and 3chi.

THC binds with the body's endocannabinoid receptors, allowing it to produce the euphoria associated with being high. Endocannabinoids are some of the body's naturally produced chemicals responsible for improving memory, reducing pain, and stimulating blood flow.

The Drawbacks and Benefits of THC

The benefits of THC are clear to see in those who regularly consume marijuana. As mentioned above, it's effective at reproducing the body's calming hormones and augmenting its response to sensory stimuli. Its calming effects help to treat insomnia and anxiety, as well as relaxing the muscles and preventing convulsions.

However, THC is not without its drawbacks. In excess, it can cause delusional thinking and lead to hallucinations, even exacerbate the anxiety it's given to treat. Additionally, in many states, THC an illegal drug, which carries fines or jail sentences if it's discovered in your system.

Where You Can Find THC

THC, as marijuana's main psychoactive component, can naturally be found in the plant itself. As such, in any state where marijuana has been legalized, you'll be able to purchase the source of THC without issue. You can also purchase weed or THC-based products online, though if you live in a state where it isn't legal yet, you may face some criminal consequences.

How You Can Take THC

As we've mentioned, the most common method of taking THC into your system is as a byproduct of any marijuana consumption. This means that THC can be smoked, cooked into baked goods, compounded into a topical or sublingual oil, or formulated into gummies.

Conditions That THC Can Treat

Due to how THC binds to the brain's neurotransmitter receptors, it can be used to treat a variety of conditions. THC has been shown to improve cancer outcomes, reduce migraine frequency and severity, help heal glaucoma, assist with muscle spasticity, and reduce chronic pain.

Much of this is due to THC's anti-inflammatory and antioxidizing characteristics, as well as its psychoactive effects.

What You Need to Know About CBD

While THC does much of the heavy lifting in marijuana, CBD is another cannabis-based compound with strong physical effects. However, unlike THC, CBD is currently legal in most states.

CBD comes from a slightly different source and affects different systems than THC. Let's dig a bit deeper and find out why.

What Is CBD?

CBD is an abbreviation for cannabidiol, which is the second most prominent compound present in cannabis plants. CBD has been around for ages since it was first discovered in the 1940s, but it didn't leap into public prominence until a few years ago. It's recently become the center of many naturopathic treatments.

Like THC, CBD affects the body's endocannabinoid receptors. However, it does not have any psychoactive effects, and therefore cannot get you high. In addition, while the two molecules have similar structures, their molecular structure has been rearranged enough that they affect your body's receptors differently, and thus, have divergent effects.

The Drawbacks and Benefits of CBD

As the boon in CBD-based products and businesses would imply, CBD has a host of physical and mental health benefits. Like THC, CBD has many anti-inflammatory benefits which make it ideal for treating chronic pain and autoimmune conditions. These same properties may also make it effective in treating mental health disorders, though this connection requires further study.

In addition, while THC binds to endocannabinoid receptors, CBD stimulates them. This means they facilitate the body making more of its own natural stress and pain-relieving hormones.

CBD is not without its drawbacks. While it doesn't have the psychoactive effects of THC, it can make you drowsy. It's also been known to cause headaches, dry mouth, diarrhea, and reduced appetite.

Where You Can Find CBD

As mentioned above, CBD is legal in most states, so you can find CBD products online and in stores with relative ease. However, be warned: CBD can be pulled from different sources, any of which can contain trace amounts of THC.

CBD can be sourced from either marijuana or hemp. Hemp-based CBD won't likely make you fail a drug test, but marijuana-based CBD very well could. Be sure to research which type you buy if you have a drug test coming up in the near future.

How You Can Take CBD

Since CBD is a chemical product of marijuana, in states where weed has been legalized, you can get some CBD in your system from weed products. However, you can also purchase CBD as a topical or sublingual oil, infused in lotions and soaps, in gummies, and in various pills.

As with any drug or supplement, you should consult with your doctor before beginning any regimen with CBD. Since CBD stimulates receptors that other medications may bind with, you could end up worsening some conditions when taking it.

Conditions that CBD Can Treat

CBD can treat a variety of physical and mental conditions. It's most often used to treat insomnia, digestive issues, psychosis, seizures, pain, and migraines. While it's not as effective in reducing convulsions or calming the mind as THC, it can still calm down the worst of your symptoms.

As with THC, much of CBD's effectiveness in treating these conditions stems from its anti-inflammatory characteristics.

The Difference(s) Between CBD and THC

Now that we've discussed both CBD and THC separately, let's get down to brass tacks. Here's how these two similar chemicals differ from one another when placed side by side:


The biggest difference between CBD and THC is, obviously, their legal status. As we've mentioned above, CBD is legal in almost any state of the US. THC, on the other hand, is only available where marijuana has been legalized.

As of writing, that means you can only legally acquire THC for any reason whatsoever in fifteen states. If you have some form of medical condition where THC is often prescribed, you can obtain it in thirty-four.

If you attempt to get your hands on THC in a state where marijuana isn't legal, the consequences you face could be severe. You may have to pay a fine of a thousand dollars or more and serve a year's sentence in jail. Whether that risk is worth the potential health benefits is up to your personal discretion.


While CBD and THC both come from cannabis plants, the chemicals can be pulled from different sources. THC only comes from marijuana, while CBD can be pulled from both marijuana and hemp plants. This, in addition to the issues over legalization, is part of the reason why CBD products have greater availability than THC-based ones.

Methods of Intake

Since CBD and THC share similar molecular structures, they're able to get absorbed into the body in pretty much the same ways. However, THC is the only one of the two you can properly 'smoke' without working it into a vape pen or other means of delivery.

Additionally, while THC-based lotions and other topicals exist, you're more likely to find CBD-based topicals available online and in stores.

Psychoactive Effects

As we've mentioned before, between CBD and THC, only one compound has psychoactive effects. THC, since it can bind with your endocannabinoid receptors as opposed to stimulating them, allows you to get high. CBD does not.

All strains of CBD, no matter how thoroughly they've been processed, contain trace amounts of THC. We should note, however, that the trace amounts (less than a third of a percent) in CBD are too small to produce any meaningful high.

Conditions They Can Treat

THC and CBD both have proven to possess strong anti-inflammatory and calming effects. However, of the two, only THC has shown promise in treating cancer.

The science behind this claim bears further research. However, early studies have illustrated that THC can starve tumors of oxygen and influence them to begin apoptosis.

Apoptosis, for those not in the know, is the cell's self-destruct sequence. This means that the compounds in THC can tell cancer cells to kill themselves, preserving the main body.

Drug Test Concerns

It should go without saying that if you work any job where marijuana appearing on a drug test will be a problem, you should avoid any contact with THC. If you use CBD products, make sure you do your research before you purchase. Any CBD products sourced from marijuana may contain enough THC to cause a false-positive on a drug test.

Failing that drug test could damage your ability to gain employment in certain states. So, make sure to time your usage carefully.

Differing Side Effects

The good news with both CBD and THC is that the side effects of both compounds are minimal compared to other drugs used to treat the same conditions. However, as we've mentioned before, they aren't without their potential issues, and the side effects will differ depending on whether you've used CBD or THC.

Common CBD side effects include:

  • Drastic changes in appetite
  • Sleepiness and fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhea

On the other hand, common side effects of THC include:

  • Faster heart rate
  • Loss of coordination
  • Slowed reaction time
  • The trademark 'red stoner eyes'
  • Dry mouth
  • Memory loss
  • Anxiety

It should also be noted that, of the two, only THC has been observed to cause long-term psychoactive side effects. While the evidence backing this claim is inconclusive at best, some experts state that long-term use of marijuana can cause schizophrenia and other mental disorders.

Why the Legalization Debate Matters for Both Compounds

Here's the thing: on a federal level, both THC and CBD are considered illegal substances.

State laws legalizing either of the compounds for medical or recreational use take precedence over the federal government's mandate. However, until the federal government legalizes both substances, regulation over these compounds will remain inconsistent.

Inconsistent regulation can lead to dangerous combinations and formulations. This also allows individual sellers to hike their prices to account for changing laws across state lines.

Additionally, until both compounds become legalized, research on their beneficial effects will remain limited. It's hard to conduct proper scientific research about what a compound can do to treat a condition when state law prohibits that chemical's use.

This means that, while scientific research offers some insight, most of the benefits of CBD and THC we hear about in-person and online are anecdotal. Whether or not you trust anecdotal research in addition to peer-reviewed research is down to your personal discretion.

CBD vs THC: Similarities and Differences

It can be hard to discern the difference between CBD and THC since both compounds are present in marijuana. However, each works differently once inside the body, and different legislation governs the legality of both. While each can be used to treat various chronic and acute conditions, only THC has psychoactive effects.

Did you find this elaboration on the differences and similarities between CBD and THC educational? Would you like to read more articles and other content like it? Then take a look at the Health and Wellbeing section of our blog every day for further information!

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