What’s the Difference Between CBD vs. THC? (2023)

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CBD and THC are both found in cannabis plants, but the way they interact with your body is different.

As the legal use of hemp and other cannabis products grows, consumers are becoming more curious about their options. This includes cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), two natural compounds found in plants of the Cannabis genus.

Both compounds interact with your body’s endocannabinoid system, but they have very different effects.

Read on to learn more about these compounds. While they may have a lot in common, they have some key differences that determine how they’re used.

CBD can be extracted from hemp or cannabis. Hemp and cannabis come from the Cannabis sativa plant. Legal hemp must contain 0.3% THC or less. CBD is sold in the form of gels, gummies, oils, supplements, extracts, and more.

CBD does not produce the high sensation associated with cannabis.

What is THC?

(Video) Doctors break down difference between CBD and THC

THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces the high sensation. It can be consumed by smoking cannabis. It’s also available in oils, edibles, tinctures, capsules, and more.

Both CBD and THC have the same molecular structure: 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. A slight difference in how the atoms are arranged accounts for the differing effects on your body.

Both CBD and THC are chemically similar to your body’s endocannabinoids. This allows them to interact with your cannabinoid receptors.

The interaction affects the release of neurotransmitters in your brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals responsible for relaying messages between cells and have roles in pain, immune function, stress, and sleep, to name a few.

Despite their similar chemical structures, CBD and THC don’t have the same psychoactive effects. CBD is psychoactive, just not in the same manner as THC. It doesn’t produce the high associated with THC.

THC binds with the cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors in the brain. It produces a high or a sense of euphoria. This high may be greater if the THC is inhaled rather than ingested, according to research.

CBD binds very weakly, if at all, to CB1 receptors. CBD needs THC to bind to the CB1 receptor and, in turn, can help reduce some of the unwanted psychoactive effects of THC, such as euphoria or sedation.

In the United States, cannabis-related laws are evolving regularly. Technically, CBD is still considered a Schedule I drug under federal law.

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Hemp has been removed from the Controlled Substances Act, but the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still classify CBD as a Schedule I drug.

However, 37 states, plus Washington, D.C., have passed cannabis-related laws, making medical cannabis with high levels of THC legal. The cannabis may need to be prescribed by a licensed physician.

In addition, 19 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia have made adult recreational use of cannabis and THC legal.

In states where cannabis is legal for recreational or medical purposes, you should be able to buy CBD.

Before you try to buy products with CBD or THC, it’s important to research your state’s laws.

If you possess cannabis-related products in a state where they’re illegal or don’t have a medical prescription in states where the products are legal for medical treatment, you could face legal penalties.

CBD and THC have many of the same medical benefits. They can provide relief from several of the same conditions. However, CBD doesn’t cause the euphoric effects that occur with THC. Some people may prefer to use CBD because of the lack of this side effect.

CBD

In June 2018, the FDA approved Epidiolex, the first prescription medication to contain CBD. It’s used to treat rare, difficult-to-control forms of epilepsy. (Epidiolex is not currently approved for any of the other conditions listed below.)

CBD is used to help with other various conditions, such as:

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

According to 2020 research, CBD may help with

  • social anxiety
  • schizophrenia
  • sleep disorders
  • post-traumatic stress disorders

It has yet to be approved by the FDA for these uses. More research is needed to determine whether CBD can effectively treat these conditions and others. Current clinical studies are investigating CBD as a possible treatment for:

  • mood disorders
  • chronic pain
  • inflammatory diseases
  • neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases
  • tumors

THC

Two synthetic formulations of THC are approved by the FDA for treating specific conditions.

Nabilone (Cesamet) is FDA approved for treating chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

Dronabinol (Marinol, Syndros) is FDA approved to treat nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy drugs. It is also approved to stimulate appetite in people with AIDS or anorexia.

(Video) THC vs CBD: What's In Your Weed?

THC is often used to help with the following:

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

Recent studies are looking at the potential of THC to possibly treat the following:

  • obstructive sleep apnea
  • fibromyalgia
  • chronic neuropathic pain

CBD is well tolerated, even in large doses. Research suggests any side effects that occur with CBD use are likely the result of drug-to-drug interactions between CBD and other medications you may be taking. This may include liver damage.

CBD’s side effects may include:

THC causes temporary side effects, such as:

  • increased heart rate
  • coordination problems
  • dry mouth
  • red eyes
  • slower reaction times
  • memory loss
  • anxiety
  • tiredness
  • confusion
  • distress
  • low blood pressure
  • seizures and seizure-like activity

These side effects are part of the compound’s psychoactive properties.

Neither compound is fatal.

However, high THC use may be connected to long-term negative psychiatric effects. This may be especially true for adolescents who consume large amounts of THC.

Long-term cannabis use can cause amotivational syndrome in which people experience symptoms of depression along with low motivation, according to 2021 research. The same research notes that cannabis use has also been linked to psychosis, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and substance use disorders.

However, there’s currently no conclusive evidence that using cannabis causes psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia.

Cannabinoids like THC and CBD are stored in the body’s fat. They can show up on drug tests for several days or weeks after you use them.

(Video) Cannabis Confusion: THC vs CBD Explained

Not every drug test will be able to detect CBD, but CBD-sensitive tests are available. Most standard drug tests will look for chemicals related to THC, so THC or cannabis use might appear on a screening.

Likewise, hemp can produce some THC in addition to CBD, so a test could be positive for THC even if you haven’t used it.

It’s important to note that products that claim to be THC-free may not be free of THC, so if you’re drug tested, you should not use any CBD or THC products.

CBD and THC are two of the most prominent cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Both cannabis and hemp produce CBD and THC.

However, cannabis has a higher concentration of THC. Hemp has a higher concentration of CBD.

The average cannabis strain before 2014 contained about 12 percent THC. Current levels may be closer to 15% to 30% and may also vary by location, according to 2020 research. CBD oil may contain small amounts of THC because it’s present at low levels in the hemp plant. CBD can have no more than 0.3 percent THC to be legal at the federal level.

CBD and THC both have medical benefits. They’re also both considered safe, but consider the possibility of side effects and interactions with other drugs you’re taking. Talk with your doctor or a qualified cannabis or CBD clinician before use and if you have any questions.

Want to learn more about CBD? Click here for more product reviews, recipes, and research-based articles about CBD from Healthline.

CBDTHC
Is illegalNo (See below)Yes (See below)
Produces a highNoYes
Interacts with endocannabinoid systemYesYes
Has side effectsSomePsychoactive side effects
Shows on drug testPossiblyYes
Relieves painYesYes
Reduces nauseaYesYes
Eases migraineYesYes
Reduces anxietyYesYes
Eases depressionYesNo
Decreases seizuresYesNo
Is anti-inflammatoryYesYes
Helps with insomniaYesYes
Helps with psychosisYesNo
Increases appetiteNoYes
Is used for various other conditionsYesYes

Is CBD Legal? Hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal on the federal level, but are still illegal under some state laws. Marijuana-derived CBD products are illegal on the federal level, but are legal under some state laws. Check your state’s laws and those of anywhere you travel. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are not FDA-approved, and may be inaccurately labeled.

FAQs

What is the best THC CBD ratio? ›

10:1 | High CBD, Medium THC

Cannabis products in this ratio are ideal for patients who want to maximize the health benefits of CBD while introducing more of THC's therapeutic effects.

How much CBD is enough relax? ›

A 2019 study investigating CBD for anxiety found that 300 to 600 milligrams reduced anxiety symptoms. However, that study was limited to 57 adult males. "For generalized anxiety or sleep disorders, 25 to 75 milligrams per day is recommended, while for PTSD, 33 to 50 milligrams per day is recommended.

What is considered a high level of CBD? ›

When looking at a strain's cannabinoid content, it is quite common to find a THC content ranging from around 12 – 25 percent, with anything at 20 or more being considered very strong. This is not the case when it comes to CBD; any CBD content level that is 4 percent or higher is considered a high CBD strain.

What percentage of CBD is used for pain? ›

CBD Dosage for Different Levels of Pain

The optimal CBD dosage for people with chronic pain ranges between 2.5–20 mg of CBD when administered orally, alongside or without THC. Certain individuals may require higher doses, especially those with a greater body mass.

Will 2 1 CBD get me high? ›

2:1 Ratio – Having twice the amount of CBD as THC can still provide a slight buzz, but it should be minimal compared to 1:1 strains and recreational products. This ratio might be ideal for those looking to combat autoimmune disorders, anxiety, depression, or general aches and pains.

What are cons of taking CBD? ›

Side effects of CBD include nausea, fatigue and irritability, according to Harvard Health Publishing. CBD can also negatively interact with coumadin/warfarin and grapefruit juice. Again, it is crucial to speak with your doctor before starting and CBD products.

How long should it take for CBD to kick in? ›

Generally, you can begin to feel the effects of CBD within 15 minutes of vaping or using it sublingually. Edibles and topical products can take as long as an hour or two to kick in.

How strong of CBD should I take? ›

You can take 40 mg on days when you're in a lot of pain. After a week, you increase it to 45 mg, and after a second week, you use 50 mg. At this point, you might feel that your pain is bearable. It might be wise to keep track of how much CBD you're taking and whether your symptoms are getting better.

How many mg of CBD should I take before bed? ›

What works for some people might not work for others. Most clinical trials on CBD and sleep have involved giving the subjects anywhere between 25 mg to 1,500 mg of CBD per day. It's best to start with a low dosage and gradually increase it until you find something that works for you.

Does CBD reduce inflammation or just pain? ›

CBD may help to reduce pain by acting on a variety of biological processes in the body. CBD has been shown to work as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and analgesic. CBD may also reduce the anxiety that people living with chronic pain often experience.

Is CBD harmful or addictive? ›

As cannabidiol is non-psychoactive, it's not addictive or habit-forming in itself. However, people may smoke marijuana to get medical benefits from cannabidiol and develop a habit. The safest course for getting the medical benefits of marijuana is to use CBD oil by itself.

Is CBD okay to have every day? ›

Studies show doses up to 1,500 milligrams a day have been well-tolerated, but every person is different. Ingesting too much CBD can cause unpleasant side effects, such as dry mouth, nausea, diarrhea, upset stomach, drowsiness, lightheadedness and general disorientation. While rare, liver damage can also occur.

Are there actual benefits to CBD? ›

The evidence for cannabidiol health benefits

Animal studies, and self-reports or research in humans, suggest CBD may also help with: Anxiety Studies and clinical trials are exploring the common report that CBD can reduce anxiety. Insomnia. Studies suggest that CBD may help with both falling asleep and staying asleep.

Can I take CBD and drink alcohol? ›

CBD and alcohol may amplify each other's effects, and taking both together in high doses may cause sleepiness and sedation. However, many human and animal studies show that CBD protects against alcohol-induced cell damage and reduces blood alcohol concentration and addiction and withdrawal symptoms.

Does CBD help with arthritis? ›

Under the guidance of a medical professional, CBD may be helpful in temporarily relieving inflammation and pain associated with arthritis. CBD should not be used as a substitute for disease-modifying treatments or lifestyle modifications recommended by a doctor.

How long does 5mg of CBD stay in your system? ›

About an hour after taking, CBD reaches peak concentration of 10 mg. After the first half-life (3 hours) there's only 5 mg of CBD left in the body. After the second half-life (6 hours) only 2.5 mg of CBD is left in the body. After the third half-life (9 hours) only 1.25 mg of CBD is left in the body.

What type of CBD is most effective? ›

Choose the right spectrum: For many people, full-spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD products are better than CBD isolate products because they may promote the entourage effect, which could make the CBD work better.

How much CBD will relax muscles? ›

One rule of thumb is 1-6 milligrams of CBD for every 10 pounds of body weight based on pain levels. Another is to start with 5-10mg per day and increase by 5-10mg until you feel relief. This isn't perfect and requires trial and error, but it'll help you find a starting point.

Does CBD just relax you? ›

CBD can have several positive effects. Some of these research-backed uses of CBD even suggest it may help you feel relaxed. That can feel a bit like a high, though it's not intoxicating. Research suggests CBD is beneficial for relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Does CBD relax a person? ›

People can use oral CBD products to relieve anxiety throughout the day. It may help to take these products in the morning with some food. Smoking or vaping CBD oil can provide immediate relaxation that may help people during especially stressful events, such as giving a speech.

How much CBD should I take at bedtime? ›

One investigation found that, compared with a placebo, a CBD dosage of 160 milligrams (mg) increased sleep duration. The researchers also concluded that the placebo, 5 mg of the insomnia drug nitrazepam, and 40, 80, and 160 mg of CBD helped the participants fall asleep.

Does CBD help with arthritis? ›

Under the guidance of a medical professional, CBD may be helpful in temporarily relieving inflammation and pain associated with arthritis. CBD should not be used as a substitute for disease-modifying treatments or lifestyle modifications recommended by a doctor.

How long does 10 mg of CBD stay in your system? ›

Since it takes approximately five half-lives to completely eliminate a drug from the human body, it's likely that CBD stays in the system for about 85 hours, or about 3.5 days” says Dr. Johnson-Arbor.

Does CBD make you lose weight? ›

CBD oil is an increasingly popular cannabis product that is often marketed for weight loss. However, current research does not show a clear effect on weight. Though some studies indicate that CBD may boost metabolism while reducing body fat and appetite, others show an increase in appetite.

Can I take CBD and drink alcohol? ›

CBD and alcohol may amplify each other's effects, and taking both together in high doses may cause sleepiness and sedation. However, many human and animal studies show that CBD protects against alcohol-induced cell damage and reduces blood alcohol concentration and addiction and withdrawal symptoms.

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