CBD and THC are the two best-known cannabis compounds.
They’re both phytocannabinoids: natural substances present in cannabis that can interact with your body’s cannabinoid receptors. There are hundreds of cannabinoids in the plant, including the likes of CBG, CBC, and CBDa.
However, THC and CBD are the two most plentiful, which is why they’ve received the most attention.
Although these two compounds can have similar health effects, they differ in many ways. Most importantly, THC can get you high, whereas CBD is non-intoxicating.
They also differ in their uses, legal status, potential benefits, and other ways. Here’s what you need to know about the two most important components of cannabis.
What are THC and CBD?
The main difference between CBD and THC is that THC is the most abundant cannabinoid in regular, THC-rich cannabis, also known as marijuana. It also happens to have psychotropic effects, which means it can make you feel high.
As a result, marijuana and by extent THC are illegal in the UK and most other countries, with a few notable exceptions such as Canada and certain states in the U.S.
Nonetheless, THC has many beneficial properties and is routinely used as part of medical cannabis and THC-based medications.
Meanwhile, CBD is the most abundant cannabinoid in hemp, a variety of cannabis with low (0.2% or less) THC levels. Unlike its cousin, CBD is non-intoxicating so it doesn’t cause any mind-altering effects.
CBD has numerous beneficial properties and is used by millions of people in the form of hemp-derived CBD oil and other product types, such as capsules, gummies, sprays, creams, balms, bath bombs, and cosmetic products.
Differences Between THC and CBD
Although THC and CBD are both phytocannabinoids and share the same molecular structure, their atoms are arranged differently. As a result, they produce different effects.
How CBD and THC Work
THC and CBD are both capable of influencing your endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system makes endocannabinoids with the help of special enzymes and activates cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) found throughout your body.
The ECS regulates sleep, mood, brain function, immunity, pain, metabolism, stress, and many other processes to help maintain homeostasis, a healthy state of internal balance.
THC and CBD affect the ECS in different ways:
- THC mainly works by binding directly to your CB1 cannabinoid receptors, which is also how it causes its mind-altering effects.
- CBD, on the other hand, doesn’t directly bind to your cannabinoid receptors. Instead, it seems to change how your CB1 receptor functions. This may explain how CBD can counteract THC’s intoxicating effects.
CBD also inhibits one of the main enzymes responsible for breaking down the endocannabinoids made by your body, prolonging their effects.
Different Benefits of CBD and THC
Both THC and CBD have many potential health benefits.
Since they both influence your endocannabinoid system, which is responsible for regulating sleep, brain function, immunity, metabolism, and virtually every other important process in your body, many of their beneficial effects are quite similar.
However, their effects can also differ. For example, CBD seems to lower anxiety, whereas THC can make it worse.
How CBD and THC are used
Another point of difference between CBD and THC are their uses. THC is used in two main ways:
- Recreationally, as the main active component of marijuana
- Therapeutically, in its pure form or as part of whole-plant medical cannabis
CBD, on the other hand, cannot be used recreationally since it doesn’t produce any intoxicating effects. Instead, it’s mostly used as a food supplement for supporting overall health, in the form of CBD oil and other CBD-based products.
Additionally, the CBD-based prescription medication called Epidyolex is approved for the treatment of rare, severe forms of epilepsy.
Legal status of CBD and THC
Before we dive into the legality of THC and CBD, it’s important to reiterate that there are two types of cannabis plants: marijuana and hemp. Marijuana is high in THC, whereas hemp is low in THC and high in CBD.
THC has been a controlled substance in the UK since 1971. Similarly, marijuana is also illegal, since it can contain enough of this cannabinoid to cause intoxication.
However, medical cannabis was made legal in the UK in 2018. As a result, it’s possible, although still difficult, to access THC-based drugs or whole-plant cannabis with a prescription from a specialist doctor.
CBD, on the other hand, is completely legal in the UK. Hemp is also legal to grow as long as you have the proper license from the Home Office.
However, there are some stipulations: CBD products can only be sourced from EU-approved varieties of hemp (which contain no more than 0.2% THC) and can have no more than 1 mg of THC per container.
THC in CBD Products
Despite the name, CBD oil and other CBD products can have small amounts of THC because hemp plants contain low levels of it. It all depends on the type of extract used in your particular product:
- Full-spectrum CBD extracts contain all of the cannabinoids found in hemp, including THC.
- Meanwhile, broad-spectrum or isolate CBD preparations will have no THC because it’s been removed.
THC and CBD: Better Together
In short, while THC and CBD are both beneficial cannabinoids, they have many notable differences. THC can make you high, which is why it’s used both recreationally and medically and considered illegal in the UK.
In contrast, CBD is completely non-intoxicating and mostly used as a food supplement that’s available over-the-counter in many countries.
Still, it’s best to use THC and CBD together whenever possible because they work in synergy.
Researchers call this the “entourage effect” — the evidence-based idea the cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other active compounds in cannabis work best in combination. As a result, whole-plant cannabis preparations seem to offer greater benefits than pure CBD or THC.
When it comes to CBD products, the best way to maximise the entourage effect is to opt for full-spectrum or broad-spectrum hemp extracts, which contain smaller amounts of multiple cannabinoids and other compounds that multiply the beneficial impact of CBD.