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The Difference Between THC and CBD Explained

There is no doubt you’ve heard of both THC and CBD (unless you live under a rock). But if you are not the proverbial THC-toker or have just found out about CBD, you may not be entirely sure what differentiates the two. 

Yes, THC is the controversial cannabinoid associated with the ’70s, hippies, peace-love-and-happiness, and CBD is the newbie cannabinoid craze that everyone’s Grandma seems to know about. But both of these compounds are so much more than the hype surrounding them.

In this article, we will dive deep into the intricate differences between THC and CBD.

THC and CBD

THC and CBD are both powerful cannabinoids that originate from the psychotropic cannabis plant. Cannabis is the genus name for both the hemp and marijuana plants. Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) contains larger amounts of CBD than marijuana and only trace amounts of THC.

Marijuana CBD Vs THC Poster with Scientific Formula

Marijuana has high THC with only 1 to 4% CBD, but it may have more if it is a high-CBD strain. Both THC and CBD have psychoactive properties, though their effects can be quite different.

Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has become popular due to both its many recreational and medical benefits. Not only does it provide pleasurable effects, but it can also benefit people medicinally.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is used expressly for its medicinal purposes. For this reason, it has been quickly implemented in a broad range of health and wellness products since it has recently become federally legal.

Both of these cannabinoids are available today in a variety of applications, though are each more suited to specific forms depending on their purpose. THC and CBD can both be found in the following forms:

  • Flower: This is one of the most popular ways to consume THC. It is affordable and has a high bioavailability. There are also strains of hemp flower that may be consumed for their rich CBD content, though this is less common.

  • Concentrates: Both CBD and THC are available in concentrated form. Kief can be sprinkled on a bowl of cannabis, or the concentrate could be used in a vape or dab rig. This gives a powerful and potent effect, which makes it a popular option among heavy marijuana users. CBD vaping is becoming more popular due to its fast absorption. This makes it an attractive option for those who want quick relief from their ailments. However, vape users must be aware of unwanted chemicals in their CBD products like PG, VG, or Vitamin E acetate, which may have  harmful effects on the lungs.

  • Edibles: A discreet way of consuming CBD or THC is through the use of edibles. Edibles can include cannabis-infused baked goods, chocolate bars, popcorn, cooking oils and butters, gummies, mints, and beverages. These take a little longer to take effect, due to being metabolized differently through the liver. Gummies are probably the most popular edibles on the market.

  • Oils/Tinctures: Tinctures are cannabis-infused CBD or THC products that are administered sublingually. They include a hemp extract mixed with an alcohol solvent or carrier oil. Tinctures have a quick onset of effects, possibly around 15 minutes. This is probably the most popular way of consuming CBD due to its precise dosage that can be administered with a dropper.

  • CBD oil typically comes in three varieties: Full-spectrum oil, broad-spectrum oil, or CBD isolate. A full-spectrum CBD oil contains cannabinoids and terpenes including THC. Broad-spectrum oil contains the same cannabinoids and terpenes minus THC. A CBD isolate only contains CBD. Full-spectrum oil is the most adequate product for getting the full effect of the hemp plant through the power of the  entourage effect.

  • Topicals: Topicals are cannabis-infused products like lotions, balms, sprays, transdermal patches, or salves that are applied directly to the skin. Unlike cannabis products that produce a psychoactive effect, THC topicals can only provide localized effects to the specific area of the body where they have been applied. But, CBD is absorbed better by the skin making it so that a CBD topical can deliver a more full-body effect. Topicals are less attractive to THC users because there is no intoxicating experience.

Molecular Structure

You may be surprised to know that CBD and THC have the same molecular structure:

  • 21 carbon atoms
  • 30 hydrogen atoms
  • 2 oxygen atoms

However, these atoms are arranged a bit differently, which explains their different effects. Both CBD and THC interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in our bodies. These phytocannabinoids are chemically similar to the endocannabinoids of our bodies that are a part of this system.

Due to this similarity to endocannabinoids, CBD and THC can interact with the cannabinoid receptors within the ECS, which then can affect the release of neurotransmitters in your brain. These neurotransmitters relay messages between cells that work in the functioning of processes like pain, mood, immune system, stress, sleep, appetite, and more.

THC binds with the CB1 receptor in the brain, which can produce a high or sense of euphoria. CBD does not bind very strongly to CB1 receptors, if at all. The differences in the way these cannabinoids interact with the ECS are what causes the varying effects experienced by the user. What are some of these effects?

Effects of THC

As we’ve mentioned, THC produces a high caused by its interaction in the ECS. So what exactly is a THC high like?

  • Euphoric
  • Relaxed
  • Amused
  • Giggly
  • Creative
  • Hungry
  • Red eyes
  • More sensitive to light, color, sound, touch, taste, and smell

These psychoactive effects make marijuana use attractive to those who enjoy it for recreational use. However, marijuana use can also lead to unpleasant effects. These negative reactions are more likely to occur when you are inexperienced or have taken too much. Some of these negative side effects of THC may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • High blood pressure
  • Confusion 
  • Panic
  • Dry mouth
  • Memory loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Psychosis
  • Racing heartbeat

Effects of CBD

CBD can be mood-altering which technically means it is psychoactive. However, unlike THC, CBD is not intoxicating. Instead, you can experience the following effects:

  • Relaxation
  • Calmness
  • Sleepiness
  • Cessation of pain

Though it's often well-tolerated, CBD can cause side effects, such as:

  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Reduced appetite
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue

Factors Influencing Effects

The variety of different effects you experience with either THC and CBD depends on the type of product, the total dosage you take, and individual-specific factors. Some of these individual-specific characteristics may be the following:

  • Weight
  • Diet
  • Metabolism
  • Other medications
  • Genetics
  • Medical conditions
  • Formulation and quality of the product

Long-Term Effects

When it comes to marijuana use, long-term users can experience  substantial adverse effects such as:

  • Addiction
  • Effects brain development of younger users
  • Possible role as a gateway drug
  • May exacerbate illnesses like schizophrenia
  • May affect lifetime achievements
  • Raises risk of motor vehicle accidents
  • Increased risk of respiratory infections among weed smokers

As for CBD, there are not a lot of clinical studies done on its long-term effects. But the research that has been conducted so far does seem to show that CBD is  safe for lifelong use.

Not only can CBD be taken daily, we believe it should be taken daily. You can’t overdose on CBD. Also, it is fat-soluble, meaning it compounds in your body over time, which may add to the potential health benefits.

We believe it is best to have the attitude “less is more” when it comes to CBD. This is because it is metabolized in the same pathway in your liver as many medications. A full-spectrum CBD oil like Balance may be more beneficial than a CBD isolate because it is a lower potency of CBD and might prevent some drug interactions.

Regardless, we urge you to talk to your doctor about which CBD might be best for you. He or she can also determine the correct dosage for you and what possible drug interactions may occur.

Benefits

CBD and THC have a lot of the same medical benefits, most specifically regarding their  analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. Research into these particular benefits is still ongoing.

Because CBD doesn’t produce an intoxicating high, people are more likely to use it for their daily maladies. The application of CBD may help with the following conditions:

Medical marijuana may be used to alleviate symptoms of several conditions. It may be helpful for conditions such as:

  • Glaucoma
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea; may be helpful for the alleviation of nausea caused by cancer treatment
  • Pain associated with conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, and migraine headaches
  • Poor appetite; including appetite problems caused by cancer treatment
  • Tremors

Legality

While the two cannabinoids may share a lot of the same effects and benefits, they certainly do not share the same legality. If you are interested in one or the other, you must be aware of the laws in your area, because they are as varied as a patchwork quilt.

Both marijuana and THC are included in the U.S. Controlled Substances Act and are therefore considered federally illegal. However, you may have heard of plenty of states who have legalized medical and/or recreational marijuana and THC products.

This is because states can make their laws. Even though federal law has yet to legalize marijuana, you may legally be able to use it if it has been legalized in your state.

CBD is on a somewhat opposite spectrum of legality. CBD is considered federally legal due to the passing of the Farm Bill of 2018. This bill stated that hemp and its derivatives were to be excluded from the list of controlled substances, including CBD that comes from hemp. The catch is that hemp derivatives must not have an excess of 0.3% THC to be considered legal.

Therefore, any CBD product on the market today must have 0.3% THC or lower to maintain its legality. But despite this win in the federal courts, states still make their own rules. Some states have their own rules regarding CBD, which contributes to another US patchwork quilt of rules.

That is why you must research the laws in your state before purchasing any products containing CBD or THC.

Drug Tests

If you’ve ever been drug tested, you know that THC is one of the main substances tested for on standard drug tests.

Drug test blank form with pen

Typically, THC is detectable:

  • Up to 90 days in hair
  • Anywhere between 3 days to a month or longer in urine (depending on how often the person uses), 
  • Up to 48 hours in saliva
  • Up to 36 hours in blood

But does CBD show up on drug tests?

Well, since CBD is not psychoactive, it is often overlooked on tests, even though it may be detectable. However, full-spectrum CBD products often have small amounts of THC in them. So what does this mean for drug tests?

It means that even CBD products with low THC levels can be detected on a drug test. The bottom line is that it is possible you could fail a drug test simply from consuming full-spectrum CBD products. This is especially true if you:

  • Consume large amounts of these products
  • Your CBD product contains more THC than is stated

Consuming a higher amount of THC is entirely possible since as many as 70% of CBD products are misrepresenting the amounts of THC than what is suggested on the label. This is a direct cause of the lack of regulation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in this industry.

That is why it is a good idea to only buy CBD products that have been third-party tested to ensure the potency that is indicated on the label. Both THC and CBD are stored in body fat, which means that both can potentially be detected on drug tests for some time after you have stopped using them.

But in which trace amounts can THC pop up on a drug test? Consuming unusually large doses of CBD, such as 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams per day, could theoretically trigger a positive for THC on a urine test. But really, who does that?

Certain cannabinoids can trigger false positives during an initial urinary screening in rare circumstances, but confirmatory testing would prove the result to be inaccurate after more analysis of the cannabinoids. Studies also show that daily dosages of three to five servings of CBD products containing 0.5 milligrams of THC could cause a positive result, but at less than a 0.2 percent rate.

So, when it comes down to it, you are much less likely to get busted on a drug test for full-spectrum CBD than for THC. And of course broad-spectrum and CBD isolate would be completely safe from drug test detection.

CBD vs THC

So which is better, CBD or THC? The answer depends on what is best for you. As you have learned, CBD and THC may have some similar applications, effects, and benefits but the legality and drug test detectability vary greatly.

What you need to know is that CBD is more accessible because it doesn’t produce a high. This makes it much easier to get your hands on some more CBD products

 

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only. It is not provided to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or ailment. It is not meant to constitute legal advice. It should not be interpreted as instruction or medical advice to displace the advice of your doctor or other medical professionals. We recommend talking to your doctor to prepare a treatment plan for any disease or ailments. 

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