CBD, short for cannabidiol, and THC, short for tetrahydrocannabinol, may not be the only compounds present in cannabis, but they are the two most studied. Read on to find out everything you need to know about the differences between these important compounds.
CBD vs. THC: Basics
Both CBD and THC belong to a family of chemical compounds called cannabinoids, produced inside cannabis plants. However, it is when consuming cannabinoids that dozens of fascinating interactions can occur. These interactions influence vital parts of our physiology, which is why CBD oils and other cannabinoid-based products are so popular.
To date, there are more than a hundred known cannabinoids within the Cannabis sativa species, with some sources citing an exact number of 113. CBD and THC are the ones that are produced in the largest amounts, which is why they are almost focused on. all eyes. The others can also influence our body, but they are more difficult to isolate and we know less about their possible effect.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is the second most abundant compound in Cannabis sativa, but that doesn’t make it any less attractive. CBD has some unique capabilities that THC cannot match. It is also the main ingredient in CBD oil, an increasingly popular wellness supplement.
CBD is non-toxic, non-high, and is said to have the potential to influence well-being by supporting key biological processes.
What is THC?
THC is the main compound in Cannabis sativa. Concentration aside, THC is famous for its psychotropic side effects.
While CBD (and other cannabinoids) can influence well-being without major side effects, THC interacts with specific regions of the brain and causes a feeling of euphoria (high) that temporarily affects the way we think and feel.
Where do CBD and THC come from?
We have already mentioned its origins, but both CBD and THC come from the Cannabis sativa species, forming an essential part of its chemical composition.
Cannabis sativa is a diverse and extremely hardy plant species, divided into dozens of types, subspecies, and varieties. Hemp and marijuana are the most common varieties, but there are thousands, all with slightly different characteristics. However, they have one thing in common: a chemical structure with CBD, THC, and hundreds of other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids.
Now, there are other sources of these compounds (different plants, fruits and vegetables), but Cannabis sativa presents, by far, the highest concentration of the three. And, although we don’t fully understand why, the human body has evolved to react to these three families of organic compounds.
What is the difference between hemp and marijuana?
The main difference between hemp and marijuana is their chemical structure. While the plants may look similar to the naked eye, under a microscope it’s a different story.
Hemp is naturally high in CBD while being low in THC, making it legal in much of the modern world as long as the THC concentration stays below 0.2-0.3%. Fortunately, commercial breeding has significantly reduced the THC levels present in hemp, making it an ideal candidate for CBD oils, capsules, and more.
Marijuana, on the other hand, is high in THC, but can, depending on the strain, contain significant levels of CBD. Unfortunately, given the legal challenges that THC brings, it is not always viable for the CBD industry.
How do CBD and THC affect the body?
Knowing where CBD and THC come from is one thing, but understanding how they affect the human body is another challenge entirely. Fortunately, researchers are still hard at work figuring out exactly how cannabinoids work.
Most cannabinoids work by influencing special receptors found throughout the body. When receptors detect a cannabinoid, they interact, triggering a biological reaction depending on the type of receptor, its location, and the cannabinoid in question. However, CBD likes to work a little differently.
When consumed, CBD acts in the background, reinforcing the entire receptor network. That’s not to say that it can’t interact with receptors in a particular way, but it tends to take a global approach to well-being. Thus, it is believed that CBD has the ability to influence:
• The state of mind
• The appetite
• The immune response
• The dream
THC works in a simpler way, binding directly to receptors in the brain and digestive system. It is this interaction that causes the psychotropic side effects that we have noted before, such as:
• Increased appetite
• Slower reaction time
• Impaired memory and coordination
• Altered mental state
As can be seen from the difference in potential effects, these two compounds act in very different ways, even though they come from the same plant species.
Importance of the entourage effect
Although it is a subject in itself, it is worth mentioning briefly the entourage effect.
We have already discussed the differences between CBD and THC, but the combination of them, and the addition of other cannabinoids to the mix, is also interesting.
The investigation has shown that when cannabinoids are consumed together, their respective effects are enhanced.
They are still useful in isolation, but the potential for more extensive or long-lasting effects is enhanced when CBD, THC, and other compounds from the cannabis plant are consumed together.
For example, it is believed that CBD inhibits some of the mind-altering effects of THC when the two are consumed at the same time.
Full spectrum CBD extracts are an ideal way to take advantage of the entourage effect.
First, they contain a diverse mix of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids.
Second, the THC levels in these extracts are well below the legal limit and will not produce psychotropic side effects. That is, you get all the possible benefits, without any of the drawbacks.
The legal situation of CBD and THC
When it comes to explaining the differences between CBD and THC, it’s easy to get lost in chemical structures, biological effects, and preclinical studies. But there is a defining characteristic that radically separates these two compounds: legality.
While CBD is widely accepted, THC is not.
For any CBD product to be legal (regardless of whether it comes from hemp or marijuana), it needs to contain THC levels below the legal threshold. Now, this threshold varies from country to country, but it is usually 0.2% in Europe and 0.3% in the United States.
It may sound unclear, but one of the main advantages is that, in general terms, CBD consumption is legal and THC consumption is not, unless it is kept below a certain percentage. However, local regulations may vary, so it is highly recommended to check the legislation in your region to avoid any problems.
If you are looking for CBD oils, capsules, supplements and cosmetics that comply with EU regulations, you will find a complete selection in the Cibdol store.
Or you can find out more about the effects of CBD and how it interacts with the human body in our CBD Encyclopedia.
 Russo, E.B. (2011). Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3165946/ [Referencia]
 Laprairie, RB, Bagher, AM, & Kelly, MEM (2015). Cannabidiol is a negative allosteric modulator of the cannabinoid CB1 receptor. British Pharmacological Society | Journals. https://bpspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/bph.13250 [Referencia]