What Are The Differences Between CBD & THC? The Most Comprehensive Guide Ever!
With cannabis legalisation in full swing in many countries, almost everyone wants to know the differences between CBD and THC. The good news is that people are finally embracing cannabis for what it really is — an extraordinary medicinal herb — but the bad news is that the misinformation surrounding the plant refuses to die.
For instance, some believe that CBD is the best thing since sliced bread while THC is evil, but they couldn’t be further from the truth. They are quick to pit the two against each other and compare, but you’ll find out soon that it isn’t necessary.
Whether you want to use cannabis for its THC or CBD, our aim is to help you make educated decisions. Read on to know the differences between CBD and THC and how both or either of them can enhance your life.
Millions of users have used cannabis for its potency for decades now. The demand for THC — tetrahydrocannabinol — is now at an all-time high (no pun intended) and breeders try to keep up by producing high-THC strains one after the other. THC is a cannabinoid derived from the cannabis plant and is responsible for generating psychoactive effects.
Although some people love the effects, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s why others prefer high-CBD strains. Now, CBD — cannabidiol — is also a cannabinoid just like THC sans the psychoactive effects. Both the cannabinoids are beneficial medicinally, but none of this would make sense if you aren’t familiar with the ECS, which brings us to the next question…
What Is The Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is an indispensable physiologic system regulating the human body. Surprisingly, you’re unlikely to hear about it unless you’re trying to understand the medicinal benefits of marijuana. Even at school, children are taught about other systems in the human body, and many people including your local physicians are clueless about the ECS.
Well, that’s because a scientist, Dr. Matsuda, discovered the ECS recently in the 90s. Ironically, they stumbled upon the ECS when they were trying to explore how THC affected the human body. They found a vast network of receptors located in the brain and other parts of the body.
Without these cannabinoid receptors, the point of understanding the differences between THC and CBD would be moot because the human body would be incapable of interacting with CBD and THC. The ECS regulates the most important functions of the body including fertility. It balances the equilibrium, otherwise known as homeostasis.
To explain the ECS in layman terms, think of how you drink your coffee. You don’t want it extremely hot or cold, but you prefer a temperature somewhere in between. The ECS performs in the same way — it prevents cells from going out of control and regulates a much-needed balance.
Impact Of CBD & THC On The ECS
When scientists discovered the ECS, it was shocking to know that the cannabinoid receptors interacted primarily with THC. Later, the discovery of another receptor led to the same findings. The association between these receptors — CB1 and CB2 — and the ECS is synonymous to a lock and key. What’s the point of a lock when there’s no key? Similarly, if the ECS is the lock, THC receptors work as keys to unlock them.
No matter how special we humans imagine we are, note that these receptors are found not only in humans but in animals as well. As researchers worked further to discern the relationship between the receptors found in cannabis and in the human body, they found they communicated through signals.
While the receptors found in the body are called endocannabinoids, the ones found in cannabis are called phytocannabinoids. And, since this entire network was discovered due to cannabis, it was aptly named as the endocannabinoid system.
The discovery revealed that our systems were designed intricately to interact with cannabis. Scientists had found the keys to the locks, after all. To understand the role of THC, it’s important to analyze the receptors.
CB1 Receptors — These receptors are found in abundance in the spinal cord and brain. They are highly concentrated in areas associated with behavior such as the hypothalamus. They also regulate appetite and other key functions like fertility.
CB2 Receptors — These receptors are typically concentrated in the immune and nervous system. They work like the body’s defense against diseases and other issues that may affect health.
So, how does THC play a role in all this, you ask? Well, THC binds with the CB1 receptors — a perfect key to the lock, indeed. In fact, the human body produces its own cannabinoids known as endocannabinoids. A deficiency or reduction of endocannabinoids results in a disorder known as endocannabinoid deficiency. No prizes for guessing that the deficiency can be averted by supplementing the body with cannabinoid medicines.
The natural endocannabinoids — neurotransmitters — produced by the body are called Anandamide and 2-AG (2-arachidonoylglycerol). While Anandamide (named after Ananda, meaning bliss in Sanskrit) is found in other areas of the body, 2-AG is found primarily in the brain.
Cannabinoids naturally generated by the body are called endocannabinoids, but the ones produced by other sources like cannabis are called exogenous cannabinoids (THC and CBD). The big difference between endo and exogenous cannabinoids is that THC and CBD are present for longer durations, unlike Anandamide that’s short-lived.
Impact Of THC On ECS
THC activates the ECS much better than the endocannabinoids produced by the body itself. The ECS gains strength to work better and maintain homeostasis. THC binds with both CB1 and CB2 receptors and mimics natural endocannabinoids.
Although THC is mostly known for producing psychoactive effects, it has many more benefits. THC is not meant only to get you “high” but it helps with severe issues like asthma, nausea, appetite reduction and other problems. Research also shows its potential to relieve side effects of cancer.
Impact Of CBD On ECS
The biggest difference between CBD and THC is the fact that CBD does NOT bind to receptors in the way THC operates. Instead, it binds with other non-cannabinoid receptors. And, remember that Anandamide is short-lived? Well, it’s because fatty acids like FAAH break them down as soon as they are released.
Incredibly, CBD inhibits the fatty-acid-amide-hydrolase (FAAH) to slow down the process. To put it simply, CBD indirectly extends the life span of adenosine and anandamide. It is also known to activate serotonin receptors to produce anti-anxiety effects.
CBD vs THC: Chemical Structure
A single look at the molecular formula of both THC and CBD will tell you that they are very similar. With the same formula, C21H30O2, it looks like they are identical to each other, but a closer look will display the evident differences. THC shows a cyclic ring whereas CBD displays a hydroxyl group.
CBD vs. THC: Chemical Properties
You’re now aware of the CB1 receptor found in the peripheral and central nervous system and the brain. THC binds very quickly to these receptors while CBD does not. THC not only binds to it but also stimulates the receptor, leading to psychotropic effects. However, CBD, with a low affinity to bind to it, changes the shape of the receptor. To explain this simply, it means that CBD counteracts the side effects of THC.
It also comes in the way of other endogenous cannabinoids stimulating the CB1 receptor. Therefore, it doesn’t have the tendency to generate any psychoactive effects.
A similarity both the cannabinoids share is that they are activated only when induced to heat. For instance, if you bake cannabis edibles without heating marijuana first, you’re bound to end up with something that tastes like grass. It’s like baking cookies with any plant, and you’re likely to taste the green matter present in the plant.
However, heating the herb — known as decarboxylation — activates the cannabinoids and the process not only makes the edibles tastier but effective as well. THCA is broken down to THC, and CBDA is reduced to CBD. Not that raw cannabis is completely ineffective, but that’s a topic for another day.
Coming to the chemical properties, both CBD and THC aren’t very soluble in water. However, they display good solubility in other organic solvents. They also dissolve in fat quickly, which is why butter or other fats work well in combination with both cannabinoids in edibles. THC has the ability to bind to plastic and glass as well. Thus, the way you store THC really matters, especially if you don’t want it to break down quickly.
What Happens If THC Is Used Separately?
With all this talk about THC and CBD, you’re probably wondering as to what happens if you consume only THC. In the 90s, THC levels of marijuana strains weren’t as high as they are today. On a good day, you’d probably find cannabis with only 3–5 percent THC. While some cannabis enthusiasts love the feeling of a “high” or the psychotropic effects of THC, it’s not appealing to everyone. For such people, the best option is to consume CBD.
One can consume THC not only by smoking or ingesting marijuana edibles but also through concentrates. Concentrates — extracts as they are commonly known — are derived from the buds of the cannabis plant.
Typically, modern cannabis strains contain anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of THC, but extracts consist of more than 60 percent THC. Some extracts go as far as 90 percent!
While THC is medicinally effective and high concentrations relieve pain immediately, one must remember that a little goes a long way. A sudden onslaught of THC on the body can be accompanied by side effects such as paranoia and anxiety. It also makes the user drowsy since THC is known to alleviate insomnia.
What Happens If CBD Is Used Separately?
Research on cannabis is progressing quickly now, thanks to the legalization movement spreading worldwide. A lot of it has to do with CBD, and even recreational users that loved the psychoactive effects of THC are flocking in droves to use CBD-rich products.
Today, there are a variety of ways to consume only CBD without even the slightest hint of THC. As explained in detail above, THC is certainly not the evil it’s purported to be. However, some people cannot stand THC regardless of the dosage. To consume only CBD, you can ingest CBD products such as gels, capsules, oils, and strains with only CBD in them.
When you use CBD, it generates several effects through various molecular pathways. According to studies, it is confirmed that CBD boasts of about 65 pathways! What this means is that it has the potential to improve several processes in the body without getting you high.
CBD is known to reduce anxiety. It operates mainly by triggering the serotonin receptor (5-HT1A) that is known to improve several neurological and biological processes including vomiting, nausea, sleep reduction, and reduce addiction. Serotonin is also a neurotransmitter meant to transmit chemical messages to the brain and it can be both inhibitory and excitatory, depending on the message.
CBD works exceptionally well by activating this particular receptor, but what’s incredible is that works even better when it’s in a raw form. This means that even CBDA (raw cannabis before decarboxylation) contains properties that inhibit nausea and anxiety.
CBD also works miracles by interacting with TRPV1 receptors to induce therapeutic effects. TRPV1 receptors enhance the effects of many medicinal herbs, and CBD successfully activates the receptor to increase its analgesic properties.
Can You Use CBD & THC Together?
Considering the medicinal benefits of both the cannabinoids, it makes sense to use both of them in tandem. Naturally, it’s apparent that the effects are enhanced when they are both combined. But, how do they work together?
Research suggests that CBD and THC work hand-in-hand to heal the body.
From the brain to the immune system, the medicinal effects are multifold. When combined, it works in a way known as the entourage effect. This means that if you combine both THC and CBD equally, they work to increase the effects together.
Ingesting or smoking only THC can be great, but it has some unappealing effects such as paranoia. Consuming only CBD is amazing, but you lose out on the benefits of THC. However, if they are both present, CBD inhibits THC’s effect on the CB1 receptor and reduces the psychoactive high.
For this reason, CBD is known as a negative allosteric modular because it limits THC’s ability to induce harsh psychotropic effects. CBD interacts more with CB2 receptors found in the skin and peripheral organs of the body and since it contains calming properties it reduces conditions including anxiety and inflammation.
It also negates THC’s side effects. The entire combination works to balance the experience. THC is wonderful to relieve pain, and CBD improves THC’s performance to a great extent. CBD may not do everything directly, but the benefits are amazing considering that they occur as a consequence of its mechanisms.
CBD vs THC: Medicinal Benefits
- Pain Killer
- Stimulates Appetite
- Works As A Neuroprotectant By Protecting Brain Cells
- Alleviates Insomnia
- Reduces Anxiety
- Works Against Seizures
- Blocks Cancer Cells By Starving Their Food Supply
- No Psychoactive Effects
- Improves Memory And Focus
Side Effects of THC
Like everything else in life, overdoing or abusing anything might backfire in the future. Similarly, high doses of THC can be detrimental if you’re not used to it. Beginners should be cautious while experimenting recreationally with high-THC strains or extracts because it might interfere with the natural endocannabinoids produced by the body. High levels of THC may also induce paranoia and anxiety although the effects last only for a while.
Side Effects of CBD
It may be hard to believe but even CBD can have a few side effects. Of course, it differs from one individual to another. It may also be possible due to the fact that some people cannot tolerate marijuana in any form. Regardless of why it happens, CBD can impart side effects including diarrhea, anxiety and sleep deprivation for some people.
THC and CBD are cannabinoids with similar characteristics, but CBD doesn’t affect you psychologically like THC.
No matter how they help, it’s important to start with low doses initially, as even natural substances can have consequences if they are abused. It’s recommended that you consult your physician before consuming both of the cannabinoids.
Despite the fact that both CBD and THC work best when combined, there’s a huge interest in products containing only CBD or THC. Many people still believe that THC should be eliminated completely to enjoy the medicinal benefits, but evidence proves that it’s very unlikely to work. It’s incredible to realize that the human body is designed to receive cannabis, so why not gain the benefits as a whole instead of trying to separate the components? It just creates an imbalance that puts everything else in jeopardy.