CBD vs. THC: What Are The Real Differences?

Gone are the times when cannabis was associated only with THC. Now that the legal use of marijuana and other cannabis products is undergoing a renaissance, more people are becoming curious about their options.

This includes the choice between CBD vs THC, two natural compounds found in the cannabis plant.

Both CBD and THC are similar to your body’s own cannabinoids. This feature allows them to interact with cannabinoid receptors and thus produce a wide range of both therapeutic and recreational effects [1].

But despite this similarity, CBD and THC have different ways of interacting with the endocannabinoid system. Let’s join the CBD vs THC debate and showcase the most striking differences between these two cannabinoids.

CBD vs. THC: A Brief Overview

Both CBD and THC have the exact same molecular structure; they are comprised of 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. However, a slight difference in how these atoms are arranged determines the way each of the two cannabis compounds impacts your body.

If you’re new to the world of cannabis, and you’ve only heard about the herb on the grapevines, below you will find a brief introduction to CBD and THC. This will help you get a good grasp of the differences between them.

A Short Introduction to CBD

CBD, short for Cannabidiol, was one of the first cannabinoids discovered by scientists. It is also one of the most researched compounds in the cannabis plant.

We can summarize the current body of scientific evidence into two simple points – the most important features of CBD.

First, Cannabidiol is a non-intoxicant, meaning that it won’t make you feel high or stoned. This, in turn, makes CBD derived from hemp available for those living in countries where marijuana is prohibited. In the U.S., hemp is protected by the 2014 Farm Bill, but it doesn’t mean that hemp-derived CBD is entirely legal in all 50 states under federal law.

Second, a vast majority of people, especially those who are new to cannabis, recognize CBD as the medical compound in the plant. That’s because CBD comes with a myriad of significant health benefits.

Most of the time, when talking with CBD users, you will hear people praising it for health and wellness rather than for recreational purposes.

A Short Introduction to THC

You don’t have to use cannabis to be familiar with THC. Tetrahydrocannabinol is the chemical that induces the euphoric, stimulating, and analgesic sensations from cannabis use – yes, you’ve just read the definition of the marijuana “high.”

While THC is not the only cannabinoid to produce such effects, it is the only one that occurs in concentrations sufficient enough to get a customer high. For this reason, THC has long been associated with recreational cannabis use.

Nonetheless, there’s more to THC than meets the eye. Contrary to the reefer madness rhetoric, the medical uses of THC are well documented. As a matter of fact, the cognitive and mood-altering effects, combined with changes in perception and thought, have an impressive array of therapeutic applications.

CBD vs THC: Highlights

It’s not that easy to put CBD and THC in a nutshell, but here’s a quick breakdown of what you need to know about the differences between CBD vs THC:


  • CBD is not intoxicating; it won’t make you feel high or stoned;
  • CBD operates on over 60 different molecular pathways, but it doesn’t interact directly with any of two cannabinoid receptors;
  • CBD helps your body maintain higher levels of its endocannabinoids by slowing their breakdown.
  • CBD can counter the psychoactive effects of THC;
  • More emphasis is put on medical, health, and wellness benefits when people talk about Cannabidiol;
  • CBD doesn’t cause toxicity, no matter the dose;
  • CBD is safe for animals;
  • CBD can be sourced from both hemp and marijuana;
  • Hemp-derived CBD is legal in the U.S. and in over 40 countries.


  • THC will definitely get you high;
  • THC is often associated with recreational cannabis use, although it comes with numerous medical benefits, too;
  • In low doses, THC can reduce anxiety, but higher doses of Tetrahydrocannabinol can elevate this sensation due to its biphasic nature;
  • THC binds to cannabinoid receptors and sends signals to the brain through neurotransmitters. This is how the cannabinoid produces its effects.
  • Significant levels of THC exist only in marijuana plants.
  • THC is illegal in most countries. Only Canada and Uruguay have fully legalized marijuana. In the U.S., 9 states allow both medical and recreational use of cannabis, with 30 states having medical marijuana programs.

CBD vs THC: What Recreational Users Need to Know

It’s important to know that the above differences are only useful as a quick point of reference. The reality is that you can use CBD and THC for both medical and recreational purposes, depending on the effects you want to achieve.

Now, let’s dig deeper into the debate on CBD vs THC, shall we?

How do CBD and THC Affect the Mind?

Most cannabis consumers describe the psychoactive effects of THC as an enjoyable sensation. They often report euphoria, sensory stimulation, a clear and relaxed state of mind, and even signs of improved cognition. In low-to-moderate doses, these feelings aren’t overwhelming. However, sometimes they can be, especially if you overindulge in cannabis. This refers to anxiety and paranoia caused by very high doses of THC [2].

CBD, on the other hand, doesn’t produce euphoria, and its palette of emotional effects is created less directly. CBD can calm your mind, reduce anxiety, and – this is the best part – counter a strong reaction to THC. Recreational cannabis users are recommended to use CBD as a counterweight to tone down THC’s psychoactive effects.

This specific interaction works the other way round, too. For people who like to get the most of THC, choosing low-CBD strains can effectively elevate their experience; that’s the point behind THC concentrates.

Physiological Effects of CBD and THC

If you prefer a more body-centered experience, CBD-rich strains & products from them will come in handy. CBD has a relaxing effect on the body. It alleviates pain, staves off stress, reduces inflammation, and helps patients combat anxiety.

High-THC cannabis strains, on the other hand, produce a more cerebral high, so adding more CBD to your treats can even highlight the positive effects that THC has on your body.

CBD vs THC: What Medical Cannabis Patients Need to Know

THC and CBD affect different parts of the body. THC is a CB1 and CB2 receptor agonist, meaning that it taps to them and then produces the whole spectrum of its effects. CBD, on the other hand, has little effect on both. Instead, it operates on numerous receptor-independent routes to modulate the endocannabinoid system.

Health Benefits

When it comes to their health benefits, THC and CBD can support one another, but as we said, they have a completely different way of interacting with your body.

CBD produces strong anti-inflammatory effects, which strengthens the immune system and can help patients put an end to a variety of ailments. Many diseases involve inflammation, so its reduction can contribute to the effectiveness of one’s treatment [3].

THC, in turn, has neuroprotective properties and its benefits are mostly linked to a person’s mental health. Moreover, Tetrahydrocannabinol can reduce pain and anxiety, help patients fight insomnia, eating disorders, and cause the regression of cancer cells in various cancer types.

CBD vs THC: Mental and Emotional Effects

In terms of the mental benefits, CBD has been proven to effectively reduce anxiety and the symptoms of mild depression. Further, Cannabidiol is often used to fight stress and relax the body after a long and challenging day, which promotes better sleep. On top of that, CBD has been shown to have neuroprotective properties that improve cognition and keep the brain in good shape.

Studies suggest that THC has neuroprotective qualities as well, which has given rise to the research on preventing and treating Alzheimer’s Disease with Tetrahydrocannabinol [4]. THC can also elevate mood and improve a person’s focus – of course, as long as you use it in moderation.

THC vs CBD: Physical Effects and Therapeutic Benefits

Both THC and CBD are known as potent, natural pain relievers. They can reduce pain caused by inflammation, injuries, and migraines. In addition, CBD brings up a soothing sensation to your body, but it doesn’t produce a mellow body high associated with using THC.

Long story short, both cannabinoids can benefit your body, but they do it through different channels.

Treatable Conditions


  • Pain;
  • Anxiety;
  • Inflammation;
  • Psychosis;
  • Nausea;
  • Seizures;
  • Muscle spasms;
  • Bone density loss;
  • Bacterial growth;
  • Neurodegeneration;
  • Blood sugar imbalances;
  • Eating disorders linked to binge eating.


  • Pain;
  • Insomnia;
  • Nausea and vomiting;
  • Lack of appetite;
  • Inflammation;
  • Chronic stress;
  • Seizures and convulsions;
  • Neurodegeneration;
  • PTSD;
  • Tumor growth

CBD vs THC: Possible Side Effects

The side effects of CBD are almost non-existent. Some people report dry mouth, dizziness, or slightly lowered blood pressure, but on the scale of side effects entailed by the use of pharmaceutical drugs, it’s a ridiculously small price to pay. If you take CBD with other drugs, the interaction between them may inhibit your liver’s ability to break down most of these pharmaceuticals. But this is not a problem if you give up on one medication in favor of CBD [5].

As for THC, the psychoactive “high” is not an inherently undesired effect. However, high doses of THC are well known for causing anxiety and paranoia. Besides, consuming too much THC can make you feel sleepy and hungry like a hog – whether these effects are good or bad, it’s a very individual case.

Finally, here’s the good news to wrap it all up: it’s impossible to fatally overdose on either CBD or THC, so there you go, cannabis prohibitionists – right in your face.

CBD vs THC: Legality

Most countries have harsh laws surrounding THC and marijuana in general. Like we said, only two countries (Canada and Uruguay) have fully regulated the use of the plant.

The U.S. has a bit more complicated history with cannabis. Even though more and more states allow either recreational or medical use of marijuana (or both), THC and CBD fall under the Controlled Substances Act and are classified as Schedule I Drugs. This makes cannabis illegal on the federal level.

According to the above classification, CBD is technically illegal. On the other hand, the FDA has recently approved one pharmaceutical form of CBD that is called Epidiolex, which has been tested on children with severe epilepsy.

CBD can also be sourced from hemp which can be legally imported and sold in the United States. Many CBD companies have taken advantage of this legal loophole by importing CBD-rich hemp extracts from other countries where hemp is grown and manufactured.

CBD vs THC? Why not CBD Plus THC?

As you may have guessed, the CBD and THC have many similar benefits despite their vivid differences. This is why the “vs” in our article is not aimed at finding a winner in this battle. Instead, we would like you to think of CBD and THC as of two synergistic compounds that can compliment some of each other’s effects.

This is not the result of two contradictory chemicals – it is the result of their mutual interaction.

In the same way that CBD can mitigate the potential side effects of THC, some of the effects of Cannabidiol are more potent if the two cannabinoids are consumed together.

This complementary relationship between CBD and THC is referred to as the “entourage effect” or “ensemble effect”. It is based on the concept that cannabinoids, along with terpenes and other compounds in the cannabis plant, can exhibit their full potential when they operate with one another [6].

CBD vs THC: How to Personalize Your Cannabis Experience

There is no doubt that the differences between CBD vs. THC are real, and the ratio between the two cannabinoids can impact on your cannabis experience. Whether you think of using the herb solely for THC or CBD, you might want to reconsider your way of thinking. Try to see the bigger picture, in which these two compounds are ‘good friends’ rather than ‘competitors’. This will allow you to make more mindful, planned choices about the way you consume cannabis and what products you use to get the desired effects.


  1. Zou, Shenglong, and Ujendra Kumar. “Cannabinoid Receptors and the Endocannabinoid System: Signaling and Function in the Central Nervous System.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences 19.3 (2018): 833. PMC. Web. 18 Sept. 2018.
  2. Tambaro, Simone, and Marco Bortolato. “Cannabinoid-Related Agents in the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders: Current Knowledge and Future Perspectives.” Recent patents on CNS drug discovery 7.1 (2012): 25–40. Print.
  3. Booz GW. Cannabidiol As An Emergent Therapeutic Strategy For Lessening the Impact of Inflammation on Oxidative Stress. Free Radical Biology & Medicine (2011): 1054-61. Epub 2011.
  4. Cao C., Li Y., Liu H., Bai G., Mayl J., Lin X., Sutherland K., Nabar N., Cai J. The Potential Therapeutic Effects of THC On Alzheimer’s Disease. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease: JAD (2014): 973-84. Published in 2014.
  5. Iffland, Kerstin, and Franjo Grotenhermen. “An Update on Safety and Side Effects of Cannabidiol: A Review of Clinical Data and Relevant Animal Studies.” Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research 2.1 (2017): 139–154. PMC. Web. 18 Sept. 2018.
  6. Russo, Ethan B. “Taming THC: Potential Cannabis Synergy and Phytocannabinoid-Terpenoid Entourage Effects.” British Journal of Pharmacology 163.7 (2011): 1344–1364. PMC. Web. 18 Sept. 2018.
James Reed

James Reed

James is our in-house cannabis expert and foodie. He earned a Bachelor of Health Sciences with a focus on pharmacology several years ago and has since been working as a writer and editor for cannabis-related blogs and e-commerce brands. In his spare time, he enjoys exploring the landscape around his Crescent City home with his dog Gus.

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