Discerning the Chemical Compounds: What Are the Main Differences Between THC and CBD?

One of the largest controversies across the globe today is that of the legalization of marijuana. In most states, this debate is separated between recreational and medicinal marijuana, but many people don’t have a full understanding of the difference between the two.


Marijuana in its natural state has been around and used medicinally for millennia. The difference in the products that cause a “high” versus those that aid in your health is in the chemical compounds. Products with THC produce a drugged effect, or a “high,” while those with CBD and no THC are used in cooking, medicines, topical creams, and other variations to help alleviate aches, pains, and other sufferings.


So what exactly is the difference in these two very similar, but completely unique, chemical compounds? Here is everything you need to know about THC versus CBD.


THC and CBD: Two Different Chemical Compounds


Both CBD, or cannabidiol, and THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, are cannabinoids that are found in cannabis. This is a plant that is found in hemp and marijuana.

These chemical compounds create interactions in the endocannabinoid system (ECS), the part of your body that regulates functions such as pain, memory, sleep, mood, and more. You can learn more about the benefits of CBD here.

The ECS is one of your body’s largest neurotransmitter networks. Its main intent is to create homeostasis internally, making a stable, balanced environment in your body regardless of what is going on outside of it. When your ECS is off balance, your body is unhealthy.

Your ECS is the way your body regulates itself. In short, it sends messages and communicates through molecules throughout all of your body parts, checking for problems, watching for irregularities, and ordering your receptors around to create balance as necessary.

Cannabinoids like THC and CBD, when ingested or absorbed into your body, work by finding and activating cannabinoid receptors, called CB1 and CB2. When they interact, they stimulate your body to act in a specific way, generating a response. They also cause a ripple effect in your other systems.

Because the chemical compounds found in CBD and THC act similarly to your body’s natural endocannabinoids, they cause changes in the brain through the release of neurotransmitters.

Yet that is where the similarities stop. Each of these compounds influences the brain and interacts with the endocannabinoid system in different ways.


The Differences Between THC and CBD in Your Body

 Let’s start with the basic makeup of each compound. The structures of THC and CBD make them different on an atomic level, meaning that although they have the same chemical composition, they are two completely different compounds. Because they are unique on an atomic level, they are as different as apples and oranges, although they are both cannabinoids.

With this atomic property comes the difference in the way these chemical compounds react in your body. THC is the main component in marijuana, giving the user that “high” effect because it activates the cannabinoid 1 receptors.

CBD, on the other hand, does not bind with those CB1 receptors and actually reduces and suppresses those activating qualities. Since it naturally is an antagonist of CB1, it is impossible for CBD to cause a high.

To understand why this is significant, you must first have a basic knowledge of CB1 and CB2.

CB1 receptors are predominantly found in the brain and nervous system, lungs, liver, and kidneys. Endocannabinoids and THC bind with CB1 to relieve pain, depression, and other symptoms. However, THC activates CB1, usually increasing appetite (commonly called “the munchies) and flooding the brain with stimulation. This causes the “high” feeling.

CB2 receptors are located mostly in the immune system, focused in the spleen and gastrointestinal area. These receptors bind with CBD and regulate appetite control, the immune system, and overall pain management.

Studies have shown that CBD, because of its scientific nature in how it works with CB2 receptors, is a safe, natural way to help alleviate many general aches and discomforts.


CBD and THC – Physical Differences

 Both THC and CBD are plant-based. They are found in seeds, flowers, and stalks of hemp and marijuana plants, but THC is usually found in marijuana or weed. CBD, on the other hand, is most commonly found in hemp.

Since the intent of marijuana is to create the “high” feeling, it is cultivated for that purpose, so the THC concentration is encouraged. Throughout many years of use and alterations, marijuana now has an average of 12% THC in each strain.

Hemp is predominantly CBD, with a THC content of less than .3%. Since the purpose of CBD is natural relief without activating the CB1 receptor, thus avoiding that high, the purest CBD products avoid THC altogether, manipulating their ingredients to use the best CBD products with the least THC. This makes CBD-based oils, foods, and other items safe for general consumption and use.


The Side Effects and Legalities

 The final differences between CBD and THC are in the side effects and legal status of each product.

Because THC can cause psychoactive side effects, such as memory impairments, delayed reactions, increased heart rates, and other problems, THC and marijuana are labeled as a controlled substance and prohibited by federal law. Even though many states have their own policies regarding cannabis, users must follow strict guidelines.

CBD is legal and is not a controlled substance, but it has to be derived from special hemp that is low in THC and high in CBD. These products are legal to purchase and sell and won’t give users the high side effects or show up in drug tests, as the THC concentrations are low or non-existent.


Similar but Different

 With this breakdown on THC versus CBD, you can now make an informed decision regarding your healthcare and how you choose to treat your own conditions. You can also more clearly understand why CBD is legal and THC is not.

Through CBD products, many people have found relief of their symptoms and avoided or stopped taking prescription medications. It’s a natural, safe way to help your body achieve the coveted state of internal balance.



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