The differences between CBD and THC

The differences between CBD and THC

As mentioned in other articles like our CBD 101 post, there is a difference between the chemicals CBD and THC. 

Due to their similarities, among the variety of names for cannabis and the wide array of products, the lines have blurred and the general public have trouble differentiating THC and CBD.

This article is going to go over a few aspects of the two chemicals and compare each to see the differences.

The Chemical Differences between CBD and THC

Fundamentally, CBD and THC are key chemicals that make up the composition of the cannabis plant.

On a chemical level, they are made up of a collection of slightly different elements. Without getting too scientific, they are made with things like carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. 

These chemical structures of CBD and THC interact with your brain slightly different as well: 

There are receptors in your brain that interact with CBD and THC, a process called binding is important for CBD or THC and the receptors of your brain. 

A stronger binding of CBD or THC to the receptor will send a signal to your brain leading to effects like euphoria, calm, pain relief, increase in appetite, to name a few.

In the system in your body, THC binds to your brain receptors much stronger than CBD, which is why people say there is an effect on your state where THC is stronger than CBD; this is commonly known as a “high”.

How your body interacts with CBD and THC

endocannabinoid system

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a system in your body that regulates things like sleep, mood, appetite, memory, reproduction and inflammation. 

There are two main aspects of the ECS, receptors which interact with endocannabinoids and send signals to your body, and endocannabinoids themself which are compounds that interact with the receptors. 

  • Endocannabinoid breakdown

Endogenous endocannabinoids are made in the body

The most well known endogenous endocannabinoids are anandamide and 2-AG

  • 2-AG manages pain response, appetite and immune system functions in the body
  • Anandamide, known as the “bliss molecule” is responsible for the feeling of runner’s high and states of bliss felt from yoga and meditation.

THC and CBD are known as exogenous endocannabinoids

  • Receptors Breakdown

CB1 Receptors exist in the brain and spinal cord working to regulate appetite, memory and to reduce pain.

CB2 Receptors are found all over the body but are most prominent in the immune system, working to reduce inflammation throughout the body.

  • Putting it all together

The ECS gets stimulated and sends signals throughout the body when THC and CBD bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors. 

These signals depending on your body and it’s needs are responsible for uptick in metabolism (increased appetite), reducing pain, reducing inflammation, mental calm, and support with neurological issues like seizures if you struggle with those.

Health Benefits of CBD and THC

psychoactive effects of cbd and thc

CBD and THC similar benefits, but depending on the unique condition people have, they will opt to go with either using cannabis for THC benefits or Hemp for CBD benefits.

Conditions THC help with include:

  • pain
  • muscle spasms
  • glaucoma
  • insomnia
  • low appetite
  • nausea

Conditions CBD helps with are related to:

  • seizures
  • inflammation
  • pain
  • psychosis or mental disorders
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • nausea
  • migraine
  • depression
  • Anxiety
  • Parkinson’s Disease

There has been more extensive research done on health benefits of THC and CBD but this is a brief overview.

CBD vs. THC: Compared Psychoactive and Side Effects

CBD and THC are similar in the way they make you feel, minus a few key distinctions and are present in different ratios of both Cannabis and Hemp.

There are side effects of both, only differing slightly, but it’s important to note however that everyone’s body reacts differently and it isn’t guaranteed that you’ll experience side effects.

While both chemicals are by no means fatal, THC in excess can be characterized by slightly negative side effects like:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Dry mouth
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Red eyes
  • Slower reaction time
  • Memory loss

Studies have shown more negative psychiatric effects on adolescents with excess THC. However, the consensus is that in your mid twenties there is a decreased negative effect on your brain.

CBD on the other hand also has side effects in higher doses, but are generally more manageable symptoms, things like:

  • Appetite Fluctuation
  • Change in energy levels
  • dizziness 

CBD being less potent, it provides an option for people to feel pain relief, mental calm, better sleep, and much more without being as strong as THC.

Legal differences between CBD and THC

Legally there are permitted uses cases per classification of the plant either: Cannabis (THC based) or Hemp (CBD Based).

We have other posts a more detailed lens into CBD legality, but briefly a set of laws set out in the Farm Bill set two distinctions of the cannabis plant. 

Plants with chemical ratios higher in THC are considered cannabis (female plants), whereas plant ratios with a higher CBD makeup are considered hemp(male plants). CBD enjoys less regulations and more legal use cases than THC.


  • Medically legal in a few states, available at discretion of a doctor.
  • Recreationally legal in a few states.
  • Laws regarding cannabis in food generally do not allow it to be in food products because of the FDA regulation, unless you are in a state where recreational cannabis is legal.


  • Legal in most states under the rule that CBD is derived from hemp plants and under .3% concentration of THC.
  • Only illegal in South Dakota, Iowa and Idaho, where state laws leave CBD legality in a gray area.