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CBD vs THC: What’s the Difference?

Kymberly Drapcho

by Kymberly Drapcho

March 21, 2024 01:11 pm ET Estimated Read Time: 11 Minutes
Fact checked by Emily Mullins
CBD vs THC: What’s the Difference?

As the most commonly used drug in the world, cannabis is more popular than ever. Cannabis is legal in 38 of 50 states for medical use and 24 states for recreational use – with more expected to legalize over the next few years. 

The reason for this popularity? The plant’s compounds have the potential to be highly beneficial for a number of purposes. Compounds within the plant called cannabinoids have been repeatedly shown to have therapeutic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic potential, as well as other effects. 

The two most common cannabinoids are THC and CBD. Though they have drastically different effects, they are often confused. We’re here to clarify the difference between CBD and THC by delving into their unique properties and potential uses.

TL;DR: What’s the difference between CBD & THC?

CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) are both compounds found in cannabis, though they are very different. THC is psychoactive, causing the “high” associated with marijuana. CBD is not psychoactive and is primarily sought after for its potential therapeutic effects, such as reducing anxiety and inflammation.

cbd vs. thc chart

What is CBD?

CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a chemical compound found in the cannabis plant. Unlike its counterpart THC, CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning it doesn’t produce a “high” sensation. Instead, CBD is better known for its relaxing, anti-inflammatory, and pain-relieving potential. 

CBD interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system, a network of receptors that regulates various physiological processes such as mood, pain sensation, and appetite. Therefore, CBD is often used for its potential therapeutic benefits, such as alleviating anxiety, reducing inflammation, and managing pain. 

CBD is available in various forms, including oils, capsules, edibles, and topical products like creams and lotions. In the United States, CBD derived from hemp containing less than 0.3% THC is legal to buy and consume federally, thanks to the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, commonly known as the Farm Bill. which legalized hemp-derived CBD across the country, though regulations vary by state. However, CBD extracted from marijuana remains illegal under federal law but may be permitted in some states for medicinal or recreational use.

CBD is not considered a drug in the traditional sense. However, it can be formulated into pharmaceutical drugs, such as Epidiolex, which is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of certain types of epilepsy. Additionally, CBD is commonly used in various wellness and therapeutic products for its potential health benefits. So while CBD itself is not a drug, it can be used in the production of pharmaceuticals and is regulated as such.

What is THC?

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the primary psychoactive compound found in cannabis. It interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system, specifically binding to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and nervous system. This interaction alters neurotransmitter release, leading to the characteristic “high” associated with cannabis. THC primarily binds to CB1 receptors, which are abundant in the brain and central nervous system, affecting cognition, memory, mood, and pain perception.

THC is available in various forms, including dried flower, edibles, concentrates, and oils. These forms can be smoked, vaporized, ingested orally, or applied topically. However, it’s important to note that the legality of THC varies from state to state. In the United States, THC derived from marijuana remains classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law, though this may change in the coming years. For now, its Schedule I status means it is illegal to buy, possess, or consume outside of authorized medical or recreational programs in certain states. However, THC derived from hemp with less than 0.3% THC content is legal under federal law as per the Farm Bill of 2018. 

While THC is not inherently a drug, its psychoactive properties make it subject to regulation and control. It is commonly used recreationally but also has potential medical applications, such as pain management and appetite stimulation, which have led to the development of pharmaceuticals like Marinol and Cesamet, both FDA-approved drugs containing synthetic THC. Thus, while THC itself is not classified as a drug, its use is regulated due to its psychoactive effects and medicinal potential.

CBD vs. THC Explained

cbd vs. thc



Effects Non-psychoactive Psychoactive
Legality Fully legal if it is hemp-derived with less than 0.3% THC Legal in states with Medical and Recreational programs (or in amounts less than 0.3%)
Interaction With the Body Modulates the endocannabinoid system (ECS) indirectly (low affinity for CB1 and CB2 receptors) & may affect various non-cannabinoid receptors and signaling pathways, including serotonin receptors, TRPV1 receptors, and GPR55 receptors. Binds directly to cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1) and cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB2) receptors &iInfluences various physiological functions such as mood, memory, pain perception, and appetite
Commonly Used For Chronic Pain, Anxiety Disorders, Epilepsy and Seizure Disorders, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s Disease, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Schizophrenia, Insomnia and Sleep Disorders, Acne Chronic Pain, Nausea and Vomiting, Appetite Stimulation, Glaucoma, Muscle Spasticity, Sleep Disorders, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Alzheimer’s Disease, Inflammation
Side Effects Dry Mouth, Fatigue and Drowsiness, Changes in Appetite, Gastrointestinal Issues, Potential Drug Interactions
Cognitive Impairment, Anxiety and Paranoia, Increased Heart Rate, Dry Mouth and Red Eyes, Impaired Motor Skills

CBD vs. THC Effects on the Human Body

CBD and THC interact differently with the human body, leading to distinct effects. THC is psychoactive, binding strongly to cannabinoid receptors in the brain to produce a “high,” while CBD is non-psychoactive and does not produce intoxicating effects. CBD has anxiolytic properties, potentially reducing anxiety without euphoria, whereas THC can sometimes exacerbate anxiety. 

Both compounds have analgesic effects, but THC primarily acts on cannabinoid receptors, while CBD may modulate pain perception through various mechanisms. THC is associated with side effects like cognitive impairment and increased heart rate, while CBD typically has fewer and milder side effects, such as dry mouth and fatigue.

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As such, there are benefits and risks associated with both CBD and THC. Recognizing the pros and cons of weed is a helpful first step in refining your medical cannabis routine and determining whether CBD vs. THC is right for your personal needs. 

CBD vs. THC: Which is better for anxiety?

The choice between CBD vs. THC for anxiety depends on various factors, including individual differences, the severity of anxiety, and personal preferences. While many find success by combining cannabis and sleep, insomnia isn’t the only anxiety-related ailment that CBD and THC may help with. 

For some individuals, THC can exacerbate anxiety, especially at higher doses or in those prone to paranoia or panic attacks. However, some anecdotal evidence suggests that THC can provide temporary relief from anxiety symptoms due to its euphoric effects.

On the other hand,  CBD is non-psychoactive and does not produce a “high.” Research suggests that CBD may have anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) effects by interacting with serotonin receptors in the brain. Many people report using CBD to manage anxiety without experiencing the adverse effects associated with THC. 

Ultimately, whether THC or CBD is better for anxiety depends on the individual’s response to each compound. Some people may find THC beneficial in small doses, while others may prefer CBD for its non-intoxicating properties and potentially broader legal availability. Additionally, experimenting with different ratios of THC to CBD and methods of consumption (e.g., smoking, vaping, edibles, oils) may help find what works best for you.

It’s essential to consult with a medical marijuana doctor, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition or are taking medications, before using cannabis or cannabinoid products for anxiety management. 

CBD vs. THC: Which is better for nerve pain?

When it comes to nerve pain, both THC and CBD have potential benefits. Still, the choice depends on various factors such as the individual’s response, the underlying cause of the pain, and personal preferences. THC may help alleviate nerve pain due to its analgesic (pain-relieving) properties. Research suggests that THC can modulate pain perception by interacting with cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system. Some individuals find that THC provides effective pain relief, especially for conditions such as neuropathic pain.

Alternatively, CBD may also offer relief from nerve pain through its anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects. Studies indicate that CBD can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. CBD’s interaction with serotonin receptors may also contribute to its analgesic properties. Additionally, CBD lacks the psychoactive effects of THC, making it more accessible to individuals who want pain relief without experiencing a “high.”

For nerve pain, some people may benefit from using a combination of THC and CBD, as these compounds can work synergistically to enhance pain relief while minimizing potential side effects.

CBD vs. THC: Side Effects

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) can both have side effects, although they differ in nature and severity:

Potential Side Effects of THC:

  • Cognitive Impairment: THC can impair memory, concentration, and coordination, leading to temporary cognitive deficits.
  • Anxiety and Paranoia: In some individuals, particularly at higher doses, THC can exacerbate anxiety and induce paranoia or panic attacks.
  • Increased Heart Rate: THC may cause a temporary increase in heart rate, which can be concerning for individuals with cardiovascular issues.
  • Dry Mouth and Red Eyes: Commonly reported side effects of THC include dry mouth (cottonmouth) and red eyes due to vasodilation.
  • Impaired Motor Skills: THC can affect coordination and reaction time, potentially increasing the risk of accidents or injuries.

Potential Side Effects of CBD:

  • Dry Mouth: CBD may also cause dry mouth, although this side effect tends to be milder compared to THC.
  • Fatigue and Drowsiness: Some individuals may experience feelings of fatigue or drowsiness after taking CBD, especially at higher doses.
  • Changes in Appetite: While THC often stimulates appetite (the “munchies”), CBD may have variable effects on appetite, sometimes leading to increased or decreased hunger.
  • Gastrointestinal Issues: CBD can cause gastrointestinal discomfort in some individuals, including nausea, diarrhea, or changes in appetite.
  • Potential Drug Interactions: CBD can interact with certain medications, particularly those metabolized by the cytochrome P450 enzyme system, potentially leading to adverse effects or reduced effectiveness.

The severity and likelihood of these side effects can vary depending on factors such as individual sensitivity, dosage, and method of administration. Additionally, many of these side effects are typically mild and transient, resolving once the effects of THC or CBD wear off. If you experience severe or persistent side effects, it’s essential to seek medical attention and discontinue use until consulting with a healthcare professional.

CBD vs. THC: Which is Legal?

The legal landscape surrounding CBD and THC consumption varies widely across different states and countries. In the United States, CBD derived from hemp containing less than 0.3% THC is federally legal, as indicated by the Farm Bill of 2018. Individual states may have their own regulations under this legislation.

As far as the legality of THC goes, many states have legalized medical marijuana, allowing for the use of THC-containing products for qualifying medical conditions. Additionally, several states have also legalized recreational marijuana use for adults, permitting the consumption of THC products for non-medical purposes. However, it’s crucial for consumers to familiarize themselves with the specific laws and regulations in their state to ensure compliance – including product availability, purchase allocations, and states that accept out-of-state medical cards.

When considering the consumption of CBD vs THC products, it’s essential to do so responsibly and safely. Start with low doses and gradually increase as needed while monitoring your body’s response. Always purchase products from reputable sources that provide third-party lab testing to verify their potency and purity. It’s also important to consult with a healthcare professional to avoid potential interactions or adverse effects, especially if you’re taking medications or have underlying medical conditions. Avoid driving or operating heavy machinery while under the influence of THC, as it can impair cognitive and motor functions. Additionally, be mindful of the potential risks of long-term THC use, such as dependency and cognitive impairment, and use it responsibly.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between THC, CBD, and CBN?

THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, producing the “high” sensation, while CBD is non-psychoactive and offers various therapeutic benefits such as anti-inflammatory and anxiolytic properties. CBN is a minor cannabinoid formed as THC degrades and may have mild sedative effects, but its therapeutic potential requires further study.

Does CBD oil have THC in it?

CBD oil derived from hemp usually contains trace amounts of THC (0.3% or less), adhering to legal limits. However, CBD oil from marijuana plants may have higher THC levels. Checking product labels and third-party lab reports ensures you know the THC content.

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