CBD vs THC: What's the Difference?

CBD vs THC: What's the Difference?

There are a plethora of cannabinoids that are found in the cannabis plant and each has its own characteristics and properties. These cannabinoids are found in both the hemp and marijuana plants, only in different ratios. And similar to how there are differences between the hemp and marijuana plants, there are also differences between each of the cannabinoids that are naturally found in cannabis plants.

In this article, we’ll go over the differences between the most popular and widely researched cannabinoids - tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). The focus will be put on the effects that each cannabinoid produces on consumers, the chemical structure of each cannabinoid, as well as the legality of each cannabinoid, so let’s get into it.

The Chemical Structure of THC and CBD

When we look at THC and CBD from a scientific lens, we notice that both cannabinoids have the same chemical formula and consist of 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. However, the first difference between them is that their atoms are arranged differently. 

As a result, THC and CBD have different chemical properties, and the body recognizes them as different compounds that produce different effects. We experience these effects due to the cannabinoids binding to the endocannabinoid receptors in the body. THC binds to the CB1 receptor, while CBD acts as a modulator of the CB1 receptor that reduces the potency and efficacy of THC.

As a result of the cannabinoids binding to the receptors, they affect the systems that are responsible for maintaining homeostasis or balance in the body and those are systems that are connected to regulating mood, pain, memory, sleep, and other functions.

According to studies, THC can also affect the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine, and alter the levels of serotonin and Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). CBD, on the other hand, can produce anti-inflammatory responses in the body that may reduce chronic pain in the body, improve mood, and help with insomnia.

The Differences Between THC and CBD

Apart from the difference in the chemical structure, there are other differences that every person who wants to try cannabis should be aware of in terms of the origin of the cannabinoid as well as the effects that each cannabinoid produces once they start interacting with the endocannabinoid system.


Even though both THC and CBD are found in hemp and marijuana, there’s a difference in terms of the quantity of each cannabinoid in each type of plant. 

Generally, when people refer to CBD versions of medical marijuana, the plant that the extracts, tinctures, pills, or buds come from is the hemp plant. In order to be classified as hemp, the plant needs to contain more CBD than THC, and the percentage of THC should be no higher than 0.3%.

On the other hand, marijuana plants are abundant in THC and contain smaller amounts of CBD. 


As we mentioned above, each cannabinoid affects the body differently. When we compare these two cannabinoids and the effects they produce after consumption, we notice that:

  • THC is the cannabinoid that provides the intoxicating effects (also known as “feeling high”), and produces feelings such as euphoria and excitement, among others;
  • CBD is the cannabinoid that doesn’t provide intoxicating effects but rather calms and relaxes the consumer, and may relieve stiffness and discomfort in the muscles and joints.

Benefits and Side Effects of THC and CBD

Even though THC and CBD may have some similar effects in the treatment of some medical conditions, there are some differences in the way these cannabinoids are used.

According to the research that’s been done so far, CBD may be used as an option for the following conditions:

According to the research that’s been done so far, THC may be used as an option for the following conditions:

Side Effects of Consuming THC and CBD

As with most things that we consume, the consumption of THC and CBD sometimes comes with side effects, especially if the person has a low tolerance to these cannabinoids, has consumed excessive amounts, or has taken THC or CBD along with other medication.

Common side effects due to CBD consumption include:

  • Nausea
  • Feeling tired and lightheaded
  • Upset stomach and diarrhea
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Feeling irritable

Common side effects due to THC consumption include:

  • Dry mouth (cottonmouth)
  • Red eyes (bloodshot eyes)
  • Overwhelming intoxicating effects that lead to panic
  • Increased heart rate
  • Problems with coordination and concentration
  • Vomiting 
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Risk of developing schizophrenia for people with a predisposition for the condition

Even though the side effects of consuming each cannabinoid aren’t serious nor fatal, remember to start by consuming small amounts and gradually increase the serving size until you find your sweet spot.

Are CBD and THC Legal?

While the laws between US states vary, many states allow consumers to purchase THC or CBD legally, although THC is still illegal on a federal level. CBD, on the other hand, became legal on a federal level with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill. This bill legalized the use and consumption of CBD products that contain less than 0.3% of THC across the US for both medical and recreational purposes.

Because it’s still illegal federally, THC is much more regulated. It can, however, be used for both recreational and medical purposes in 18 US states, and for medical purposes in up to 36 US states. The federal legal status of THC may change in the future due to the changing regulations in each state.

Before you acquire hemp or marijuana, make sure that you double-check the state regulations so you avoid any unnecessary problems with local law enforcement.

How Can You Consume CBD and THC?

There are a number of ways that you can consume THC and CBD and which one you choose will depend on personal preference.

CBD can be found in:

THC can be found in:

  • Cannabis buds
  • THC vape juices
  • THC oils
  • THC tinctures
  • THC softgels
  • THC edibles and drinkables
  • THC concentrates, and other THC products

The serving size may depend on the reason why you’re taking each product (whether it’s for recreational purposes or achieving a wellness goal), the potency of the product, your personal tolerance, and how much you consume.

Final Thoughts on THC and CBD

To sum up, CBD and THC are the most widely researched cannabinoids to date which are predominantly found in the cannabis plant. The former doesn’t produce any intoxicating effects on users, but rather produces calming effects, while the latter is responsible for the intoxicating effects users experience after consuming marijuana.

Even though the research is still in its infancy, both cannabinoids may prove useful in the treatment of certain medical conditions, though it’s best to consult with a healthcare provider if you’re thinking about using one or both of these cannabinoids as a medicine.

Finally, CBD products are legal to use on a federal level if they contain less than 0.3% THC, while THC is still illegal on a federal level and only legal in some states for recreational, medical use, or both. 

If you do decide to try these cannabinoids, it’s always best to start with a lower serving size to minimize the side effects that may occur due to overconsumption or low tolerance to one or both cannabinoids.

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