What Is the Difference Between THC and CBD?

The cannabis plant has two prominent chemical compounds, which are called cannabinoids. While there are over 100 different identifiable cannabinoids, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are by far the most well-known and extensively studied. Although they are similar, THC and CBD have distinct differences in how they interact with the body. Knowing these differences may influence your next dispensary purchase.

THC is by far the more infamous component of the cannabis plant, and it usually presents in higher ratios than CBD. THC is most prominent in the cannabis plant, while CBD dominates the hemp plant. The plants with the most potent THC-concentrations come in at about 33% THC, whereas the highest CBD-dominant strains come in at about 20% CBD. There are also extracts of pure THC or pure CBD, which patients can use to get the maximum benefit from THC or CBD. We will describe these extracts below.

Both THC and CBD are valuable because they can regulate a wide array of bodily functions, including:

  • Pain
  • Mood
  • Immune response
  • Sleep
  • Appetite

What Does THC Do?

THC is potently psychoactive, and it is the cannabinoid that dominates the chemical makeup of cannabis plants. “Psychoactive” means THC activates specific psychological responses, usually associated with euphoria. Many strains are cultivated by cannabis growers to maximize the THC potency, as users desire the “high” they get from smoking or otherwise ingesting marijuana. However, the effects of THC go beyond the mind, as they have a physiological effect, too.

In 1988, a pioneering scientist, Dr. Allyn Howlett, made the discovery showing how THC attaches to the brain. In short, this means she discovered how THC interacts with the human endocannabinoid system (ECS). While all these biochemistry terms sound confusing or intimidating, being a cannabis connoisseur comes with learning new vocabulary! To understand the endocannabinoid system, think of the ECS as a vast system of “locks” (chemical receptors) that can only be opened by “keys,” or the chemicals that bind to them. Some keys only open a specific lock, while other keys fit in more than one. Cannabinoids such as THC and CBD bind to these chemical receptors, “unlocking” the psychoactive and physiological effects of the plant.

Some people are confused or have misinformation about THC, and simply think users partake in cannabis for its psychoactive effects, or just to get high. THC doesn’t only bind to chemical receptors in the brain; it enters the bloodstream and extends throughout the body. Most of the physiological changes users notice when using cannabis are actually due to changes in the brain.

THC is medically beneficial. It has been shown to be a powerful drug in combatting the following illnesses:

  • Auto-immune disorders: THC works as an anti-inflammatory.
  • Cancer: THC is often prescribed to cancer patients to help them cope with the harsh-side effects of chemotherapy.
  • Psychiatric disorders: THC can potentially help people with mood disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Chronic pain: Users report pain relief for everything from temporary muscle aches to constant neuropathic pain. Often, users weaning off opioids or struggling with opioid addiction will be prescribed cannabis to cope with their physical pain.
  • Sleep disorders: THC induces euphoria and relaxation, which can help treat sleep disorders without the need for more dangerous, habit-forming, and potent sleeping pills.

What Does CBD Do?

Cannabidiol, better known as CBD, is the non-intoxicating compound of cannabis or hemp. It’s important to know that pure CBD is not psychoactive and produces no high. In fact, users often feel very clear-headed and have improved functional effects. Also, those who experience negative side effects with THC-dominant cannabis, such as paranoia or anxiety, may prefer CBD-dominant strains, or CBD extracted oils and topical treatments.

The list of conditions CBD may help is always expanding, and research suggests CBD may benefit common symptoms present in patients diagnosed with seizure disorders, inflammatory disorders, mental illness, multiple sclerosis, and opioid withdrawal. CBD has no known lethal dosage or serious medical side effects, but it is still illegal at the state (in New Jersey and most other states) and federal level for non-medical users.

Many people seek out CBD because they want an alternative to often-dangerous, habit-forming pharmaceutical drugs. Pharmaceutical CBD was actually approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on June 25, 2018 as a real medicinal treatment for 2 different, severe pediatric seizure disorders.

What Is CBD Oil?

Another common way to consume CBD is in oil form, for those who can’t get pharmaceutical CBD. It is pure, 100% CBD extracted from the hemp plant, with absolutely no THC or psychoactive properties. These hemp-derived CBD oils are comparable to pharmaceutical CBD, and may be smoked, vaped, ingested as edibles, or used as a topical. CBD oil has even been touted as useful for animals. 

Is Medical Marijuana Right for Me?

This is something you should discuss with a physician, who can help you weigh the pros and cons of using THC, CBD, or full-spectrum medical marijuana.

Interested in learning more about cannabis? Contact our medical marijuana doctors at New Jersey Alternative Medicine by calling (856) 351-5277, or request your appointment online for a consultation.