THC and CBD: What’s the Difference?
Since November 2018 medicinal cannabis has been legal in the UK. This change in law seems to have also acted as the catalyst for an explosion in the popularity of CBD shops, which have increasingly been popping up across British towns. Meanwhile, in the U.S, several states have now legalised recreational marijuana, while others have legalised it for medical purposes only.
This shift in political attitude towards cannabis has resulted in increased curiosity among the public, who may be interested in the health benefits, but who have never knowingly encountered the plant or any of its derivatives before (we say ‘knowingly’ due to the variety of products which include hemp as an ingredient or component these days).
Fundamental to user considerations in terms of both effect and legality are the differences between THC and CBD. The former is illegal in the UK, whereas the latter is legal, provided it doesn’t contain more than 0.2% THC. This article is less concerned with legality and more concerned with effects, but before we delve into them, a brief summary of cannabinoids is required.
There are over one hundred types of cannabinoids found in cannabis plants, but THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) are the two most prevalent. Both compounds have the same molecular structure (two carbon atoms, thirty hydrogen atoms and two oxygen atoms), but the atoms are arranged differently in each, meaning that they have a different effect on the human body.
Both compounds interact with the neurotransmitters of the human brain, which contains ‘cannabinoid 1’ (CB1) receptors. However, whereas THC binds tightly with those CB1 receptors, CBD on the other hand, binds very weakly – if at all. The different actions these compounds take upon entering the bloodstream and connecting with our CB1 receptors is important to understand as we move on to discussing the different effects of THC and CBD below.
THC is the prominent compound sourced from sativa cannabis. When we ingest or inhale cannabis products that contain THC, it is the process of the THC binding to the CB1 receptors in our body that produces the euphoria-like “high” associated with using cannabis. This interaction with the brain therefore temporarily alters the way we think and feel.
The health benefits of THC are actually very similar to those of CBD, but because of the intoxicating effects of THC, which CBD doesn’t produce, THC is either completely removed from, or significantly reduced in medicinal cannabis in countries such as the U.S. In the UK however, THC remains prohibited for medicinal purposes, and a synthetic substitute called ‘Nabilone’ is dispensed to patients under very specific circumstances instead.
In terms of side effects, THC and CBD are again very similar (for example: dry mouth or mild dizziness) and are usually mild in nature and temporary in experience. There are however, two distinct exceptions: mental health and appetite. Medical research into the psychological effects of THC on individuals who are in some way predisposed to mental health issues has led some medical professionals to caution against the legalisation of cannabis and / or THC, on the basis that it can be detrimental to mental health. These medical professionals link THC to increased anxiety, paranoia and even schizophrenia. This argument, however, continues to be the subject of much debate among both the medical and cannabis communities.
Regarding appetite, we have all heard of “the munchies”: a very real effect of THC, which can act as an appetite stimulant.
Over the past decade more and more high thc seeds have been created by many different breeders. Compared to the early 90’s cannabis has become much stronger due to cross breeding and more legal cultivators getting involved.
CBD also has some additional health benefits which THC is lacking. Primary among these is CBD’s ability to interact with the brain’s receptors for serotonin; the neurotransmitter which regulates mood and social behaviour. Thus, CBD is well recognised for its ability to reduce anxiety and depression while improving the ability to focus.
The fundamental way in which CBD differs from THC is that it does not have an intoxicating effect on the brain. CBD is the second most prominent compound in sativa cannabis, and due to the way that it interacts with our CB1 receptors, it can act to counterbalance the stronger effects of THC such as the euphoric high, or the gravity-fuelled sedation. The “highless” nature of CBD therefore enables it to be used in such a way that we can benefit from its health benefits without having to accommodate any additional psychoactive, or physical effects such as euphoria, drowsiness, slowed motor skills, or other effects associated with THC. For this reason, medical cannabis is high in CBD content and very low in THC content (if it contains any THC at all).
The fact that CBD is legal whereas THC is not, also means that CBD can be more easily sourced. For example, it can be bought in oils and creams from high street shops, or via the internet. CBD is particularly helpful for treating acne due to its anti-inflammatory qualities, but CBD oil is becoming an increasingly popular wellness supplement used to guard against a variety of ills.
Since the popularity of CBD boomed a whole array of high cbd seeds are now being bred and sold all over the world.
What do THC and CBD both have in common?
Both CBD and THC are recognised as having the following invaluable health effects:
- Pain relief: This is particularly effective for people who suffer from muscular, or other forms of chronic pain. A reported additional benefit to using THC or CBD as pain relief is that they are faster acting than pharmaceutical drugs.
- Improved sleep
- Anti-inflammatory qualities
In terms of molecular structure, CBD and THC are one and the same; it is only their atomic arrangement that differs. For this reason, both compounds have largely similar effects in terms of their health benefits and ability to relieve pain.
Both compounds effect the brain, but the fundamental difference is that THC is intoxicating, producing a feeling of euphoria, whereas CBD is not. Additionally, CBD is much better suited to reducing anxiety and depression than THC. For these reasons, CBD is more widely legalised and used for medicinal purposes. In the UK, for example, it is used to treat epilepsy and multiple sclerosis among other things.
Ultimately, the choice between CBD and THC boils down to user requirements and whether the high that THC produces is perceived as a positive or negative consequence of cannabis use by that individual.