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Updated on December 27, 2023

CBD vs THC — Why it's Critical to Understand the Difference

Fact Checked

Key takeaways

  • THC and CBD are the most popular compounds extracted from the cannabis plant. While CBD produce a calming effect on users, THC makes users high.
  • Unlike THC, CBD does not cause intoxication. Users of CBD are most likely to experience a calming effect.
  • CBD is federally legal and described as medicinal while THC is controlled by law. Most laws require that only 0.3% of THC should be present in cannabis products.
  • CBD is safer than THC since it does not make users high.

People are talking a lot about using cannabis for healing, especially with medical marijuana becoming legal in some places. In this conversation, two important parts of the cannabis plant are often mentioned: THC and CBD. Imagine cannabis as a big family, and in this family, there are two siblings named Hemp and Marijuana. While they look similar, their big difference is something called THC or tetrahydrocannabinol. Hemp has a tiny amount of THC (0.3% or less), so it won't make you feel all funny like marijuana can.

Now, let's talk about THC and CBD and how they affect our bodies.

What is CBD?

CBD, short for cannabidiol, is the second most common active compound in cannabis. It is an important part of medical marijuana but is obtained from the hemp plant, a relative of marijuana, or produced in a lab. Unlike many elements in marijuana, CBD alone will not make you "high." According to the World Health Organization, CBD shows no signs of abuse or dependence potential in humans, it is safe and can be used as medicine for several conditions.

CBD is able to make users calm by interacting with an important biological system known as the endocannabinoid system or ECS. This system is involved in controlling important life processes and it determines how our body stays healthy. You can learn about the ECS from our previous blog post.

Pure CBD is so clean that there is no evidence linking its use CBD to public health issues.Take note of the “pure” because there are several fake CBD products in the market with lots of harmful chemicals in them. Although CBD is described as pure and safe, there is another version of CBD known as CBDa, it is the original product created in the cannabis plants and it is 1000 times more active than CBD. You can read about CBD vs. CBDa for more information.

What is THC?

THC stands for tetrahydrocannabinol. It is commonly extracted from the cannabis plant and is responsible for the feeling of highness after taking cannabis. Unlike CBD that makes users calm, THC will connect with ECS receptors in your brain to make you high. This is why most regions of the world don’t like THC.

Aside from making you high, THC also has potential medical benefits. It has been studied for its ability to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and stimulate appetite, among other healing effects.

However, it's important to note that the legal status of THC varies by location, and its use is subject to different regulations in different regions. Some places have legalized it for medical and/or recreational use, while others maintain strict restrictions or prohibit its use altogether.

Difference between CBD vs. THC?

CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) are two of the many chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. While they both interact with the body's endocannabinoid system, they have different effects and properties, primarily due to differences in their interaction with cannabinoid receptors.

Psychoactivity

THC: is psychoactive. This means it can make you high and change the way your brain works. THC achieves this by connecting with special parts of the body known as the CB1 receptors. These receptors are responsible for controlling how the brain works. They control important activities like memory, walking, speech and many more.

CBD: It is not psychoactive. CBD does not produce the intoxicating effects associated with THC, as it has a low affinity for CB1 receptors and doesn't bind to them as strongly. CBD connects with several receptors and that is why it has a higher level of medical benefit to users.

Medical Benefits

THC is known for its potential therapeutic effects, including pain relief, anti-inflammatory properties, and appetite stimulation.

CBD is known for its calming effects and also provides several other medical benefits including anti-inflammatory properties, pain relief, anti-anxiety effects, and seizure control. Scientists have also discovered CBD to work as an antibiotic. It is often used in medical treatments without the mind-altering effects associated with THC.

Legal Status

THC: Its legal status varies globally and is often subject to strict regulations. In some places, THC is legal for medical and/or recreational use, while in others, it remains prohibited.

CBD: In many places, CBD derived from hemp (a variety of cannabis with low THC content) is legal, especially for medical purposes. However, the legal status can vary, and it's important to consider local regulations.

Side Effects

THC: Can cause side effects such as increased heart rate, dry mouth, red eyes, impaired memory, and coordination, and, in some cases, anxiety or paranoia.

CBD: pure CBD is generally well-tolerated by the body. It has little to no side effects unless users take fake products. Some of the common side effects associated with using fake CBD products include mild fatigue, changes in appetite, and diarrhea. It is however important to note that CBDa does not produce these side effects on users.

CBD vs. THC legal differences

The legal status of CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) varies widely and is subject to change as laws evolve. Here are some general legal differences between CBD and THC:

Psychoactivity

THC: It is psychoactive and produces a "high" or euphoric effect. The psychoactive nature of THC has contributed to its classification as a controlled substance in many places.

CBD: It is not psychoactive and does not produce the intoxicating effects associated with THC. In many regions, CBD derived from industrial hemp with low THC content is considered non-intoxicating.

Source

THC: Found in significant amounts in marijuana plants, which are cultivated for both recreational and medicinal use.

CBD: Can be derived from both marijuana and hemp plants. Hemp-derived CBD contains very low levels of THC, typically below the legal threshold.

Legalization

THC: The legality of THC varies widely. In some places, it is legal for medical and/or recreational use, while in others, it remains strictly prohibited. Some regions have decriminalized small amounts of THC for personal use, while others maintain strict regulations.

CBD: The legal status of CBD is generally more lenient. In many places, CBD derived from hemp with low THC content is legal, especially for medicinal purposes. However, there may be restrictions, and the legal status can vary by law.

Regulation

THC: The production, sale, and use of THC-containing products are often subject to strict regulations. Licensing and oversight are common in places where THC is legal.

CBD: Regulations for CBD can also vary, but in many regions, it is subject to less strict rules compared to THC. Some areas may have specific regulations regarding the source, processing, and labeling of CBD products.

Medical Use

THC is recognized for its medicinal properties, and in some places, it is legal for medical use. It may be prescribed to treat conditions such as chronic pain, nausea, and muscle spasms.

CBD is also recognized for potential medical benefits, including its anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties. CBD is often available over-the-counter in various forms, including oils, capsules, and topical products.

Effects of CBD vs. THC on the body

CBD Effects on the Body

1. Non-Psychoactive: CBD is not psychoactive, meaning it does not produce a "high" or euphoric sensation. This is because CBD has a low affinity for CB1 receptors in the brain, where THC binds strongly.

2. Anti-Inflammatory Properties: CBD has anti-inflammatory effects, which may contribute to its potential in managing conditions associated with inflammation, such as arthritis.

3. Pain Relief: CBD may have analgesic (pain-relieving) properties and is being studied for its potential to alleviate various types of pain, including neuropathic pain and chronic pain conditions.

4. Anti-Anxiety and Antidepressant Effects: Some studies suggest that CBD may have anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) and antidepressant effects, potentially making it beneficial for individuals with anxiety disorders or depression.

5. Neuroprotective Properties: CBD has shown promise in preclinical studies for its neuroprotective effects, suggesting potential benefits in conditions involving neurodegeneration, such as Alzheimer's disease.

THC Effects on the Body

1. Psychoactive Effects: THC is psychoactive and binds strongly to CB1 receptors in the brain, leading to the characteristic "high" associated with cannabis use. This altered state of consciousness is a key difference between THC and CBD.

2. Pain Relief: Similar to CBD, THC also has analgesic properties and is used for pain management, particularly in conditions like cancer-related pain and neuropathic pain.

3. Appetite Stimulation: THC is known for its ability to stimulate appetite, commonly referred to as the "munchies." This property is utilized in medical settings to help individuals with conditions like cancer or HIV/AIDS who may experience appetite loss.

4. Anti-Nausea Effects: THC has anti-nausea effects making it useful for individuals undergoing chemotherapy or experiencing nausea due to other medical treatments.

5. Muscle Relaxation: THC may have muscle-relaxant properties, potentially beneficial for conditions involving muscle spasms, such as multiple sclerosis.

Safety of CBD vs. THC

The safety of CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is an important consideration, and both substances have been studied to assess their potential risks and benefits. Here are some aspects to consider regarding the safety of CBD and THC:

CBD Safety:

1. Non-Psychoactive: CBD is not psychoactive, meaning it does not produce a "high" or affect cognitive function. It does not have the same intoxicating effects as THC.

2. Low Abuse Potential: Unlike THC, CBD does not have the same potential for abuse or dependence. It does not activate the brain's reward system in the same way as THC.

3. Few Side Effects: CBD is generally well-tolerated. Common side effects, when they occur, tend to be mild and may include fatigue, changes in appetite, and diarrhea. However, these side effects are not universal.

4. Interactions with Medications: CBD can interact with certain medications by affecting the activity of enzymes in the liver. This is why it is not advisable to combine CBD or cannabis medicine with other medications.

5. Quality and Purity: The safety of CBD products depends on factors such as the source of the CBD, extraction methods, and product quality. This is why Nesas Hemp is keen on producing certified, organic and authentic CBDa products. We focus on CBDa because it is the original compound created by nature, it is 1000 times more active than CBD, produces zero side effects and above all, promotes healthy living. Our products are tested by the best labs in the world. Our products have zero pesticides or additives. See our unique processes for more information.

THC Safety

1. Psychoactive Effects: The psychoactive nature of THC can lead to impairment of cognitive function, coordination, and judgment. This can impact activities such as driving and operating heavy machinery.

2. Potential for Dependence: Regular use of THC-containing products can lead to the development of tolerance and dependence in some individuals. Withdrawal symptoms may occur when use is discontinued.

3. Psychological Effects: In some individuals, particularly those predisposed to mental disorders, THC can worsen anxiety, paranoia, or other mental health issues. It may also have adverse effects on individuals with a history of psychosis.

4. Age Restrictions: The developing brain, especially in adolescents, is more susceptible to the potential negative effects of THC. Many jurisdictions have age restrictions on the use of THC-containing products.

5. Quality Control: The safety of THC products depends on factors such as the source, cultivation practices, and manufacturing processes. Legal and regulated markets often have quality control measures in place to ensure the safety of THC products.

Frequently asked questions

Will CBD make me high?

No, CBD (cannabidiol) will not induce a high. Unlike THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, CBD doesn't produce euphoric effects. It interacts with the endocannabinoid system differently, lacking the intoxicating properties of THC. Legally, CBD products, especially those derived from hemp, contain minimal THC levels (0.3% or less in the United States), insufficient to cause a high. Choosing reputable products with third-party testing ensures quality and compliance. While most users experience relaxation, CBD generally doesn't alter consciousness. Begin with low doses, and if you have concerns, seek guidance from a healthcare professional for personalized advice on CBD use.

Will I fail a drug test after consuming CBD?

While it's uncommon, it is possible to fail a drug test after consuming CBD, especially if the CBD product contains trace amounts of THC. CBD products derived from hemp are legally required to contain no more than 0.3% THC in the United States. While this amount is minimal and shouldn't cause intoxication, it may still be detectable in drug tests.
Individual responses vary, and factors such as the type of drug test, the sensitivity of the test, and the frequency and amount of CBD consumed can influence the results. To reduce the risk, choose CBD products from reputable sources with clear labeling and third-party testing, ensuring compliance with legal THC limits.

How long does THC stay in the body?

From 3 days to several months. This is however determined by several factors including dosage, frequency of use, body metabolism, health status and more.

Is THC from bad cannabis?

No, THC is just another compound in the cannabis plant that primarily makes users high.

Want to Learn More?

  1. An Interview with Our Founder and CEO
  2. How Heavy Metals And Pesticides Are Getting Into CBD Oil
  3. Hemp History Timeline (CBD History)
  4. What is CBD? FAQ and 101 Guide
  5. What Are Hemp Oil Benefits?

Sources

1. Lafaye G, Karila L, Blecha L, Benyamina A. Cannabis, cannabinoids, and health. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2017 Sep;19(3):309-316. doi: 10.31887/DCNS.2017.19.3/glafaye. PMID: 29302228; PMCID: PMC5741114.

2. Ng T, Gupta V, Keshock MC. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) [Updated 2023 Nov 12]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK563174/

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