CBD vs THC – Is There A Difference?
An increasing number of people are using cannabis preparations such as CBD oil to support their health and wellness. Despite this, much confusion remains about CBD and THC: the two main compounds responsible for the medical benefits of cannabis.
What is CBD? What is THC? How are they used? How do they differ? Let’s take a closer look at these often-misunderstood substances.
What are Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are a class of compounds found in the Cannabis sativa plant. Although most people are only familiar with CBD and THC, there are well over 100 cannabinoids in existence.
These compounds are largely responsible for the health benefits of cannabis.
Cannabinoids work by interacting with the body’s endocannabinoid system, a biological network of receptors and cannabinoids that helps our bodies maintain homeostasis: a healthy state of balance.
What is THC?
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most abundant cannabinoid in regular varieties of cannabis.
Most people have heard of THC because it’s the compound responsible for the psychoactive effects of the plant.
As such, THC is the main reason cannabis remains illegal in many parts of the world.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is another prominent cannabinoid. It’s the main cannabinoid in hemp — a variety of cannabis plants that contain extremely low (0.3% or less) THC levels.
Unlike its psychoactive cousin THC, CBD is completely non-intoxicating. However, it maintains many of the same medical benefits.
CBD allows people to reap the health benefits of cannabis without any of the intoxications.
This helps explain why CBD oil and other CBD-rich preparations have grown incredibly popular over the past several years.
What’s the Difference Between CBD and THC?
Although CBD and THC are both cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant, they do have slight differences in their molecular structure.
These differences account for their varying health effects. Let’s explore these in more detail.
CBD vs THC: Intoxication
The biggest difference is that THC causes the mind-altering euphoria and intoxication associated with cannabis use.
By comparison, CBD is completely non-intoxicating, which means you can take it and go about your day without worrying about any psychoactive effects.
Many people prefer CBD over THC for this exact reason.
CBD vs THC: Health Benefits
CBD and THC share many of the same therapeutic effects.
This means CBD and THC can be utilized for many of the same symptoms and conditions, such as insomnia and chronic pain.
Meanwhile, some of THC’s unique benefits include stimulation of appetite and reduction of eye pressure in glaucoma.
CBD vs THC: Side Effects
Research indicates that CBD is remarkably safe, prompting the World Health Organization to report in 2018 that “CBD is generally well tolerated with a good safety profile.”
On the other hand, most of THC’s side effects are psychoactive. They include anxiety, paranoia, memory loss, slowed reaction time, increased heart rate, and red eyes.
CBD vs THC: Product Forms
CBD and THC are used in various ways in cannabis preparations. For one, there are products that contain only pure THC or CBD.
These products are called isolates and they’re primarily used by the pharmaceutical industry.
For example, there’s a synthetic THC isolate drug called Marinol that’s used to help with the side effects of chemotherapy.
Similarly, there’s a CBD-isolate drug called Epidiolex, which is used to treat two specific types of epilepsy. Also, CBD isolate is sold in tinctures and many other CBD products.
However, it’s much more common for CBD and THC to be combined together alongside the complete spectrum of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other compounds present in cannabis plants.
Such “full-spectrum” preparations are typically characterized as being THC-heavy or CBD-heavy.
The best example of a CBD-rich cannabis product is CBD oil. Although these oils contain THC and other cannabinoids, CBD is present in much higher concentrations.
Meanwhile, THC-heavy cannabis is most widely used through smoking.
Nonetheless, both THC and CBD-rich cannabis preparations can be sold in oil tinctures, edibles, capsules, vape e-liquids, creams, and other forms.
The Entourage Effect: Why You Should Use CBD and THC Together
It seems sensible to avoid ingesting THC and go with CBD if you’re using cannabis for its medical, rather than recreational, effects.
However, there’s a very good reason to pair these cannabinoids: the “entourage effect.”
Coined by researchers in 1998, this phenomenon describes the holistic synergy between the many active components of cannabis.
Thanks to this effect, preparations that combine multiple cannabis compounds are more effective than THC or CBD on their own.
An effective way to envision the entourage effect is to think of an orchestra.
When played together, all of the musical components in an orchestra — piano, violin, flute, and others — create a sound that’s more harmonious and pleasant than the individual instruments.
Similarly, when you combine different cannabinoids, terpenes, and other cannabis compounds by using whole-plant formulas, their effects are greater together than each compound by itself.
In the case of CBD and THC, the entourage effect works in two ways. For starters, the two cannabinoids amplify each other’s benefits.
Researchers have demonstrated this multiple times. For example, a 2010 British study found that an extract combining THC with CBD resulted in greater pain reduction than THC alone.
More importantly, research shows that CBD counteracts the psychoactive side effects of THC, such as paranoia and anxiety.
So when you’re taking THC with CBD, you’re not only getting more health benefits at smaller doses but also reducing potential side effects.
But the synergy between THC and CBD is just the tip of the iceberg. The entourage effect involves the whole spectrum of cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other natural compounds in cannabis.
All of these components interact in complex synergies, resulting in beneficial effects that are greater than the sum of their parts.
Most CBD oils contain a full-spectrum extract with THC and other cannabis compounds for this exact reason. And because the amount of THC present in CBD oil is minimal, you get all of its benefits without any of the euphoria.
Whole-Plant Cannabis is Best
To sum up, THC and CBD are both cannabinoids found in cannabis. Although they share many similarities, particularly in beneficial effects, they also have many differences.
Chief among these is that THC is intoxicating whereas CBD is not. However, this doesn’t mean you should always avoid THC.
If you want to get the most health and wellness benefits out of cannabis, it’s best to use full-spectrum products that contain THC, CBD, and all of the other natural components of cannabis.
In doing so, you’ll be making use of the same holistic synergy our ancestors utilized for thousands of years.
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