What is the difference between CBD and THC?

CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) are a couple of related compounds and despite being very close in terms of use and effects, they also share a lot of differences. Both CBD and THC are part of the huge group of cannabinoids – chemical compounds found in cannabis. 

What is CBD (cannabidiol)

Cannabidiol is extracted from hemp and cannabis. In order to be legal, hemp must contain 0.3% or less THC. CBD, as a subproduct aimed at the market, can be found in the form of gels, gummies, oils, extracts, and other forms of supplements. Unlike THC, cannabidiol does not cause the feeling of high but is linked to a feeling of well-being. 

CBD is commonly used to treat anxiety, cognition, and movement disorders, and as pain relief. 

What is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol)

Tetrahydrocannabinol is the psychoactive compound in cannabis and its sub-products. THC is the one responsible for the high. Just like CBD, it can be found in oils, tinctures, edibles, and any form of supplements. 

THC can be a popular remedy for neuropathic pain, spasticity, overactive bladder, and other symptoms.

Chemical Structure of CBD and THC

The two compounds share the same molecular structure of 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms. The difference between CBD and THC is in their arrangement and the arrangement is what gives them different properties. 

CBD and THC are similar to endocannabinoids – metabolites that have juxtracrine and paracrine roles in intercellular communication. In simple words – these compounds take care of the development of the central nervous system.  

Due to this similarity, CBD and THX have a powerful effect on the human brain, affecting important processes like sleep, pain relief, stress, and immune functions. 

Psychoactive components

CBD and THC have significant differences when it comes to effects, with the major difference being the aforementioned lack of “high” in cannabidiol. 

This difference comes from the ability of THC to bind with the CB1 receptors, which CBD doesn’t have. Cannabidiol requires tetrahydrocannabinol for this to happen. THC’s reaction with CB1 (cannabinoid 1 receptors) gives users the popular high sensation and is responsible for CBD’s lack of high. 

Cannabidiol, however, can have balancing proprieties and can reduce the euphoria or the sedation caused by tetrahydrocannabinol.

Medical benefits

Due to their different chemical proprieties, CBD and THC are used to treat different conditions. 


Many studies point out that CBD can be beneficial for several conditions:

  • seizures
  • inflammation
  • pain
  • psychosis or mental disorders
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • nausea
  • migraine
  • depression
  • anxiety


Ongoing researches aim to prove CBD useful for conditions like mood disorders, inflammatory diseases, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, tumors, and chronic pain relief. 


Just like CBD, THC has been the subject of multiple studies. Tetrahydrocannabinol is often used to treat conditions like: 

  • pain
  • muscle spasticity
  • glaucoma
  • insomnia
  • low appetite
  • nausea
  • anxiety

Side effects

The side effects are the major difference between CBD and THC. Besides the lack of high that we mentioned several times, there are several major differences between the two compounds. 

CBD’s side effects can include appetite changes, weight loss, fatigue, dizziness, diarrhea, and sleepiness. These side effects are often associated with interactions with other drugs.

THC has a lengthier list of side effects like memory loss, coordination problems, slower reaction times, seizures, and seizure-like activity. These side effects are contributed to tetrahydrocannabinol’s psychoactive properties. 

Both CBD and THC are not lethal. However, THC is linked to some long-term negative effects. Users can often develop symptoms of depression and low motivation. Long-term cannabis abuse can be linked with psychosis, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and substance use disorders. However, further research is needed for this. 


In the US, federal law still considers CBD a Schedule I drug, even in the context of the constantly evolving cannabis legislation. Medical cannabis with high doses of THC is legal in 37 states and DC, while DC and 19 more states have legalized the recreational use of high-THC cannabis legal. 

In all these states is legal to purchase CBD and THC products. However, be careful with the legislation, for these products are illegal in states with no such legislation.

Drug testing

Both CBD and THC are stored in the user’s body fat, showing up on drug tests for a few days or weeks after use. 

There are CBD-sensitive tests on the market, however, those testing for THC are far more common. That is why testing after the use of hemp can show signs of THC, as it is hemp’s product. So, be careful with products branded as THC-free. 

CBD and THC products

There are a number of CBD and THC products on the market. Both compounds can be consumed in different forms. Smoking marijuana is probably the most popular form, but there are a few different ways like consuming the following products:

  • Oils
  • Tinctures
  • Sprays
  • Vape products
  • Edibles including gummies and chocolates
  • Beverages containing marijuana oil


Both CBD and THC can be consumed by vaping. However, this method is not especially popular due to vaping’s negative health effects. They can also be added to skin lotions, and orally as tinctures, oils, capsules, and sprays. Edible products are also super popular.

Does CBD work better when combined with THC?

A few pieces of research suggest that CBD is dependent on the Entourage effect of THC. These researches suggest that cannabinoid activity is higher when more compounds are present at the same time. 

On the other hand, CBD balances THC, regulating the negative effects of tetrahydrocannabinol.

The difference between CBD and THC – bottom line

Cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol share a lot of chemical and structural similarities, as well as a lot of shared benefits. What makes CBD and THC different are their side effects and how they’re treated by different legislations. 

Both of them are relatively safe, especially in terms of being non-lethal, but keep these side effects in mind. Consult your doctor or a certified cannabis specialist for any further questions. 

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