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What Is The Difference Between CBD and THC?

As you begin to expand your knowledge of all things cannabis, it’s important to know the distinction between two powerful, therapeutic cannabinoids: CBD and THC. These two compounds won “Most Popular” in a yearbook of what may be a hundred components of a plant — but why?

In order to explain the differences, let’s first start with the similarities. What are they, and what’s the big deal about each of them? Is CBD better than THC? Or is it the other way around?

For starters, here’s what they have in common:

They’re Both Phytocannabinoids 

Phyto… what? Phytocannabinoids are a type of cannabinoid (cannabis compound) that come from the plant and interact with the human body’s endocannabinoid system. Yes, there’s a system in your body that has receptors for cannabinoids! CBD and THC interact with this system to deliver therapeutic, healing effects, but (as we’ll get to shortly) they interact in different ways for different results.

They Both Come From Cannabis 

CBD and THC both come from cannabis plants, which encompasses marijuana and hemp plants — they’re all part of the same, big, happy cannabis family. While both THC and CBD can be found in each of those plants, marijuana is typically high in THC, low in CBD; hemp is typically high in CBD, low in THC.

A 2017 study reported that there are roughly 120 cannabinoids found in cannabis plants, but the medical community has only really studied these two for their ability to heal bodies and brains.

They’re Both Anti-Inflammatories

Did you know that both THC and CBD have anti-inflammatory properties? Both can be used to reduce pain, inflammation, and soreness. However, some studies have shown that these to compounds work better together. We’ll get to that shortly. 

They Are Both Used In Cancer Treatment

THC and CBD both have been shown to have anti-tumor effects in mice and in xenografted human cells within mice (read: this hasn’t moved to clinical trials just yet). 

Let’s now look into some differences between the two, so you can see for yourself which one(s) you want to include in your own wellness regimen.

They Can Treat Different Ailments

CBD is primarily used for seizures, psychosis, anxiety, depression and mood disorders, IBD, and pain and inflammation. THC is more commonly used for pain, muscle spasms, glaucoma, low appetite (such as during chemotherapy and cancer treatment), nausea, and insomnia.

There is definitely overlap in what CBD and THC can do (example: they both treat pain), but certain things are more in the domain of one versus the other (like CBD working best for seizures and THC working best for glaucoma).

THC Gets You High — CBD Doesn’t

As far as what has been studied so far, THC is the only component in a cannabis plant that creates a euphoric intoxication, known as a “head high.” That’s right — 120 phytocannabinoids, only one that gets you stoned. 

For some patients, this euphoria can mitigate anxiety, and for others THC has the opposite effect, increasing anxiety and paranoia. On the other hand CBD can mitigate the effects of THC’s intoxication, essentially providing a sobering effect.

On its own, CBD produces no head high for nearly all patients, though it’s very early to tell how it impacts each and every person who uses it, as clinical trials are only just beginning thanks to 80 years of prohibition. That said, young children with epilepsy have been using CBD to counteract seizures and parents have reported no intoxication.

CBD and THC Dosing Is Different

In clinical trials, you’ll find that a very low dose of THC is typically all that’s needed for effective treatment. However, with CBD, a significantly higher dose is needed.

You’ll notice this outside of clinical trials — 25 to 50 milligrams of CBD might give you just a bit of relief, whereas with THC, that amount in milligrams would have a dumbfoundingly powerful effect (think: way too stoned). 

CBD is Completely Legal, THC is Getting There

Depending on where you live, there may be legal issues when it comes to accessing THC. While we anticipate that will change radically in the coming years, for now, CBD is what is entirely legal in all 50 United States.

CBD Has Almost No Side Effects, THC Has Some

When you use CBD, you can rest assured that you will have little to no side effects whatsoever. In fact, the World Health Organization claimed CBD as a safe, side effect-free compound in 2018. Some patients have reported things like dry mouth with frequent CBD oil use, but these have been rare reports. 

When it comes to THC, there are more side effects to consider. For starters, the intoxication and head high are to be expected. You may also experience memory loss, red eyes, slower reaction time, trouble with coordination, and palpitations and/or increased heart rate. 

They May Work Better Together

Have you heard of the entourage effect? Some early science has indicated that THC and CBD may work better together in a sort of plant synergy.

Proponents of this idea emphasize the importance of using “whole flower” or “whole plant” extracts to get a better spectrum of not just these two phytocannabinoids, but the whole spectrum as well, including terpenes (another type of plant compound found in everything from citrus fruit to lavender to pine trees).

CBD May Block THC’s High

Speaking of working better together… If you want the therapeutic effects of THC without the high, consider a high-CBD, low-THC medicine. As mentioned before, CBD may inhibit the high, providing a somewhat sobering effect.

At ratios ranging from 3:1 up to 25:1 (CBD:THC), the CBD could “block” the intoxication and allow your body to reap the benefits without clouding your mind. Consult your doctor when making this choice, particularly if you’re sensitive to THC.

One Is Not Better Than The Other

It’s impossible to say that one of these compounds is better than the other. If you have glaucoma, THC is certainly “better” for you! If you have epilepsy or psychosis, you’re probably going to think that CBD is the best choice.

Regardless of ailment or medical necessity, both of these plant-based compounds have fantastic healing properties and can help you live a healthier, more balanced life.