Often, when people hear someone talking about CBD (or cannabidiol), many are quick to assume that the conversation is about illicit drugs. The misunderstanding surrounding CBD comes from years of belief that it’s no different than THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
CBD and THC have a complicated relationship, but once you understand what they are, how they’re different, and the effects they can have on our bodies, it’s hard to confuse them.
The Difference Between CBD & THC
Both CBD and THC are present cannabis plants (hemp and marijuana plants). Hemp plants are commonly used in the production of CBD products as they contain limited traces of THC, which has been a defining factor in making the planting and growth of hemp plants legal. On the other hand, marijuana plants contain similar cannabinoids, including CBD, but hold higher amounts of THC.
What’s interesting is that both compounds have the exact same molecular formula:21 atoms of carbon, 30 of hydrogen, and 2 of oxygen (C21H30O2). But while they share the same molecular formula, one microscopic difference exists in their structure, which causes each compound to interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in different ways.
The ECS is a network of two main receptors—cannabinoid 1 (CB1) and cannabinoid 2 (CB2)—that interacts with cannabinoids to maintain function. The highest concentration of CB1 receptors are found in our brains, whereas CB2 receptors are found throughout our bodies’ central nervous and immune systems
Knowing this matters because both CBD and THC bind to CB2 receptors the same way, but they do NOT bind with CB1 receptors the same way, affecting our bodies differently.
What Are the Effects of CBD vs. THC?
Thanks to the differing arrangement of the atoms in THC, it has the ability to bind directly with CB1 receptors in our brains. This bond is what gives you that euphoric “high” feeling, and because of this, THC has been deemed to have psychoactive properties.
On the flip side, CBD, while still having the same chemical structure but with a different arrangement of its atoms, does NOT bind directly to the CB1 receptor. Instead, CBD has a weak bond to the receptor and can either inhibit or counteract the psychoactive effects of THC when taken. Instead of binding directly, CBD is known to make your CB1 receptors more efficient at receiving the endocannabinoids your body naturally produces.
Without a similar psychoactive response, the overall effects of the compound still remain relatively unknown. Even without any immediate, noticeable effects like those from THC, CBD is starting to serve a greater purpose within the medical community, and more consumers are buying it each year.
Medical Uses & Benefits of CBD vs. THC
Even as the overall effects of CBD and THC differ, both are used to alleviate the symptoms brought on by numerous conditions. Few studies have been conducted to confirm what bodily ailments are affected—positively or negatively—by CBD and THC, but some benefits have been found by the general public.
CBD is being used to treat symptoms from conditions like:
THC is being used to treat symptoms from conditions like:
Since nearly all of the medicinal uses of both CBD and THC have not been fully researched or approved by the FDA, there are still some unknowns. Neither have been proven to cure conditions.
Legality of Cannabinoids
Using CBD or THC within the rule of the law is a gray area in many cases.. Through the end of 2018, only 33 states (plus the District of Columbia) have passed laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some capacity. Of those 33 states, 10 states + Washington, DC have passed expansive laws regarding recreational use, making THC difficult to come by in order to treat any medical issues.
Even in states where marijuana has been legalized in some form, there are still limitations put on the sale and distribution of items containing THC. As it’s still recognized as a Schedule I substance by the DEA, using THC to treat chronic issues can be tough.
Unfortunately, the same can be said of CBD that’s derived from hemp plants. Arguments have been made that CBD is a legal substance when extracted from hemp plants, which are completely legal to grow (as stated in the 2018 Farm Bill) and don’t include any noticeable traces of THC. But all the Farm Bill has done is put CBD into a gray area where states have to clarify any existing legislation to determine the substance as legal to sell.
Before making any purchase of CBD or THC, be sure to research your state’s laws.