You have probably heard of THC. That’s because it stands for tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical responsible for marijuana’s euphoric high. It might not have been until recent years, however, that you’ve heard of another three-letter acronym derived from the cannabis plant: CBD.
Cannabidiol (CBD oil) products have been exploding in popularity as of late. That newfound fame owes a lot to the long list of reported CBD oil benefits. But what is CBD, exactly? And what makes this new cannabis kid on the block so different from medical marijuana plants and THC?
Despite CBD’s relative anonymity until recent times, both CBD and THC were first identified as individual components of the cannabis plant all the way back in 1940. More specifically, the pair were grouped together under a class of compounds called cannabinoids.
Like most botanical compounds not essential to the growth and metabolism of a plant, cannabinoids are believed to have evolved as natural pesticides and environmental defense mechanisms. And like all cannabinoids, CBD and THC affect the body’s endocannabinoid system, interacting with specialized receptors that control the way your brain transmits messages between your body’s cells.
It’s long been known that both CBD and THC share the same molecular formula, C21H30O2. In layman’s terms, that means simply that both compounds contain 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. But because of variations in the way these atoms are arranged between CBD and THC, these two cannabinoids end up having very different effects in the human body.
Both CBD and THC can be absorbed by the body in a number of similarly inventive ways. Either compound can be inhaled as a smoke or vapor, consumed in edible food products, swallowed as a supplement, or ingested in liquid form. It’s only after the chemicals are in your system that the differences really kick in:
Virtually all varieties of cannabis contain some CBD and some THC, but they tend to show up in varying proportions among different strains.
While marijuana boasts relatively high levels of THC, industrial hemp plants, by definition, only contain the compound in extremely low amounts. Instead, since CBD and THC naturally occur in inverse proportions, low-THC hemp tends to be jam-packed with high amounts of CBD—the non-psychoactive, therapeutic cousin to THC. Products that are made from hemp CBD flower extracts contain no more than 0.3 percent THC by dry weight.
Both CBD and THC can be packaged and sold to consumers in a wide range of forms. From raw flower and CBD gummies, to the best CBD oil and CBD creams there are products available to meet every palette. Beyond this similar variety in forms, however, CBD and THC products have very different purposes.
As you can see from this brief comparison of CBD and THC, though the two compounds share some overlap, their profiles are truly distinct and they are often used for very different purposes.
Remember to seek the advice of a medical professional before using cannabis products of any kind. And since laws regulating cannabis and its byproducts vary widely across the U.S., be sure to research your state’s laws on hemp, CBD, and marijuana before purchasing or using these products.
The chart below breaks down some of the most widely reported medicinal benefits of CBD compared to THC:
|Psychoactive?||Non-psychoactive; well-tolerated by most individuals, including children||Strongly psychoactive; may cause side unwanted side effects, such as paranoia; not for use by minors|
Since CBD and THC are both derived from cannabis plants and share a similar molecular composition, they also have a similar list of benefits. However, CBD is unlikely to cause any of the negative side effects of THC. Since THC is psychoactive, it can sometimes worsen anxiety and paranoia, impair cognitive functioning, and promote lethargy. Because of this, many people prefer CBD for its relaxing effects without any of the high.
Medical marijuana that contains THC is prescribed to patients with various conditions, including:
However, this kind of treatment is limited across the United States. CBD products, on the other hand, offer some therapeutic possibilities—with no prescription necessary. While scientific research and clinical studies on the benefits of CBD to treat specific medical conditions are limited , many people have found relief from symptoms such as:
When it comes to cannabis, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Some people may enjoy the mind-altering effects of THC, while others are more keen on the non-psychoactive effects of CBD. With that being said, THC is much more heavily regulated, and is still considered as a federally illegal substance. This means that it is difficult to obtain medical marijuana or other products containing THC if you don’t live in a state that has legalized recreational or medical marijuana use. But hemp derived CBD is legal across all 50 states, and is much easier to obtain for relaxation, stress relief, pain management, and various other health advantages.