THC vs. CBD: What is the Difference and Why Does it Matter?


Most people who know anything about marijuana know that it’s made up of both THC and CBD and that these two chemicals have different effects on the mind and the body. However, their knowledge may not go much deeper than that. To dig deeper into THC and CBD and the different between the two, we first have to learn about cannabinoids, which are the chemical compounds naturally found in the cannabis plant. These compounds interact with receptors in the human body and brain, collectively known as the endocannabinoid system, to produce various types of effects. There are actually more than 100 different types of cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. However, the two that have been the most studied and publicized are THC and CBD because of their strong effects both in altering the mind and in treating a variety of illnesses and ailments. 

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Cannabinoids in marijuana work by mimicking the body’s own natural cannabinoids and attaching to certain receptors. Only specific types of cannabinoids can attach to specific receptors, which explains why THC and CBD have different effects on an individual. Here’s more about the difference between the two cannabinoids, their effects and side effects, and how they can work together to produce enhanced results. 

What is THC?


THC in Marijuana


Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the chemical in marijuana that is responsible for the psychological or “high” effects. THC binds to endocannabinoid receptors in the brain and some throughout the body. This produces the many different types of effects that THC is known for. Because each person’s body and the endocannabinoid system is slightly different, THC does not have the same effect on every person who ingests it. 

What is CBD?



CBD in Medical Marijuana


Cannabidiol (CBD) is the other well-known cannabinoids in marijuana. It also binds to receptors, but it binds to those in the body more than those in the brain, which explains why CBD does not have the psychoactive effects that THC does. CBD does not have a strong effect on brain activity and there is no “high” involved when CBD is taken alone. 

What are the differences between THC and CBD?

As mentioned above, the major difference between THC and CBD is the way they bind to endocannabinoid receptors. While THC binds well with CB1 cannabinoid receptors, CBD has a low binding affinity with these receptors. Because they are the receptors that most affect brain activity, THC causes the psychoactive “high” while CBD has more of a therapeutic effect. 

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Major effects of THC vs CBD

THC stimulates cells in the brain to release dopamine, which causes euphoria. Some may experience a strong feeling of peace and calm when they ingest THC, while others actually experience an increase in anxiety. Other known effects of THC are pain relief, sedation, hunger, drowsiness, dry mouth, slower perception of time, laughter, dizziness, or the feeling of being heavy. This can be due to the individual using the THC or it can be due to the specific strain that is being used. 

CBD, on the other hand, does not affect the brain and instead is used mostly for its therapeutic effects. CBD is known to treat pain and discomfort, calm anxiety, increase restful sleep, and reduce the severity and number of seizures in those who have conditions such as epilepsy. THC can also have a beneficial effect on many different types of conditions such as PTSD, insomnia, nausea, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, migraines, appetite loss, and inflammation. 

It should also be noted that using products with THC is only legal in certain states and is then sometimes even further limited to those who have a medical marijuana card. The only states where THC can be consumed without a card is those that have legalized recreational use of marijuana. CBD is currently legal throughout most of the country as long as there is no or only trace amounts of THC in the product. 

Side effects of THC vs CBD

If THC is not tolerated well by the individual taking it or if their dosage is too large, negative side effects such as hallucinations, paranoia, loss of memory, psychomotor impairment, and delusions can occur. These are temporary and will pass after a certain amount of time. 

CBD typically has far fewer side effects than THC. However, it can still cause fatigue, irritability, and nausea in some individuals. In addition, CBD can also increase the level of Coumadin (a blood thinner) in your blood and can raise levels of certain other medications. If you are on prescription medication, it’s always a good idea to speak to your physician before using CBD or THC

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How do THC and CBD work together?

You can take CBD or THC by themselves by ingesting oils or tinctures or by smoking strains that are very high in one chemical or the other. Many people who use medical marijuana use CBD only to avoid the ‘high’ effect and so they can continue to work and do daily activities such as drive cars or operate heavy machinery. Some want only the psychoactive effect, so they use strains that are very high in TCH with little to no CBD present.

However, THC and CBD can work together to create even more beneficial results. These can be even further enhanced by the smaller organic compounds known as terpenes or terpenoids that are present in the marijuana plant. The combined effect of CBD, THC, and these terpenes is known as “the entourage effect.” 

For those who use marijuana for medical purposes, the entourage effect can help treat conditions like Crohn’s disease that have multiple symptoms including pain, reduced appetite, and inflammation. Others who like THC either for the psychoactive properties or because it treats a medical condition may not like certain side effects such as hunger, anxiety, or sedation the chemical causes. CBD can tone down these negative side effects, making the THC more effective and with fewer down sides. Choosing the right strain or product that has the right ratio for the individual can be a process of elimination, but is well worth it once the right balance is found. 

Knowing the difference between THC and CBD, how they affect the body and the brain, and how they can work together to produce an entourage effect is important for all those interested in using marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes. Finding the right balance and strain for your unique needs is the best way to increase the effectiveness of cannabis.

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