thc vs cbd difference plant

CBD vs THC: What's the Difference?

With CBD’s popularity booming, it’s easy to get the two confused. Read on to learn about the differences between THC and CBD like side effects, chemical structure, benefits, legality and more!

What is CBD and THC?

CBD, also known as cannabidiol, and THC, also known as tetrahydrocannabinol, are both cannabinoids. They are two of the over 100 cannabinoids present in cannabis plants. All of these cannabinoids interact naturally with the inherent cannabinoid receptors that exist within our bodies. However, CBD and THC are often the most talked about and widely discussed.

The debate of CBD vs THC, in particular, has become a hot topic. THC and CBD are also the most likely cannabinoids that you’ll find isolated and sold in various products. Their specific effects on the body seem to be the most desirable for consumers.

Both CBD and THC, though coming from the same source and sharing similar attributes, differ in many ways. These ways include both effects on the body and legality. Different cannabis plants contain different ratios of THC to CBD, as well as all of the other cannabinoids. This makes different types of cannabis plants more useful in some situations than others.

CBD products that you’ll find in stores are typically derived from the cannabis plant known as “hemp”. This is a cannabis plant that contains a lower amount of THC, generally 0.3%1. Marijuana, on the other hand, is a cannabis plant that traditionally has a higher ratio of THC to CBD.

It sometimes has little to no CBD at all. THC is not legal in many states, and even in states where it’s legal can only be sold in licensed “dispensaries”. Therefore, the lowest amount of THC, at or less than 0.3% by law2, is desired in most CBD products.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the many differences and similarities of CBD vs THC. This includes what they can be used for, how you can get them, and what side effects they may have when used. By the end of this article, you should be well informed about the many benefits of CBD vs THC. As well, you’ll know the pros and cons of each. We’ll also discuss the differences between CBD from hemp plants and CBD from marijuana plants.

The "High" of CBD vs THC

CBD and THC are both cannabinoids, as well as very structurally similar. However, CBD and THC have two different effects on both the mind and the body. Or, more, accurately, CBD has minimal effect on the mind while THC has minimal effect on the body. For those who are aware of the “high” you get from smoking marijuana, this comes from THC. THC has a psychoactive effect on the brain with next to no effect on the body.

Contrastingly, CBD has a strong effect on the body, being soothing and pain-relieving. However, it has little to no effect on the brain. Because of this, there is no “high” associated with CBD. All you’ll feel is a slight positive feeling caused primarily by the relief of pain from the body.

So, if you are taking CBD products that are derived from hemp or otherwise contain minimal THC, you are unlikely to experience any high. This is different than smoking medical marijuana, or a product that otherwise contains a ratio of THC that is equal to or higher than CBD. With consuming THC, you are likely to experience the psychoactive high that is typically associated with smoking or ingesting marijuana3.

Health Benefits of CBD vs THC

It’s difficult to make solid claims about CBD and THC because there is a lack of funding for research due to their association with marijuana. However, both CBD and THC have been known by many to personally help with and ease a variety of different symptoms. This is true to the point that the FDA felt pressured into researching CBD as a treatment for a severe form of epilepsy.

This lead to them eventually passed a drug derived from CBD for its singular treatment4. The unique effects of both CBD and THC work in slightly different ways. Some ways are also fairly similar. Given that the mind and the body are inherently intertwined, easing either the mind or the body can have similarly significant effects on a variety of problems.

Most often, you’ll find CBD and CBD-based products being used to help with things like:

  • Seizures
  • Depression and Anxiety
  • OCD Symptoms
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Inflammation and Joint Pain
  • Migraines
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea


On the other hand, due to the enhanced psychoactive effects of THC, you’ll find THC and THC products being used to help with things like:

  • Treating PTSD
  • Muscle Relaxation
  • More Extreme Pain from Cancer and Glaucoma


There are many things THC can help with just as much as CBD and vice versa. A general rule of thumb is that THC is more helpful when the problem is solely in the mind and CBD is more helpful when the problem lies in the body. Problems of the body can span the muscles, joints, respiratory and circulatory systems, or the nerves.

However, the mind and body are inherently linked. It’s hard to differentiate much between specific uses where either CBD or THC will aid and the other one will not. Generally, you can say CBD will do most things that THC will, just without the high. The exception is things like PTSD and repressed memories that are purely psychological.

THC is definitely going to be the most useful here given these are problems that are strictly in the brain. However, CBD may ease the anxiety these problems cause, Besides that, they are largely both helpful for all of the above.

Chemical Structure of CBD vs THC

Given that they are both cannabinoids and are closely related, CBD and THC share an identical molecular makeup. That makeup is 2 oxygen atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 21 carbon atoms5. However, the way those atoms are arranged is different in each. This leads to the different ways that each works on the mind and body. This makes CBD and THC what are known as “isomers”.

Isomers are two compounds with the same molecular makeup yet different structures6. An example of this would be to have a handful of LEGO pieces and to build two different structures out of them. You could build a car and a building using the same exact LEGO pieces, and the end result would have a totally different function.

This identical molecular makeup with differing structures helps explain how CBD and THC are both very similar and very different. With their different structures, both CBD and THC interact with the cannabinoid receptors in the brain in different ways.

THC binds directly to the cannabinoid receptors, creating a psychoactive effect in the brain. CBD reacts much more slowly and steadily, and can even disrupt the bonding of THC when they are ingested together7.

Side Effects of CBD vs THC

Neither CBD nor THC has very noticeable side effects. CBD is even classified by WHO, or the World Health Organization, as having no side effects at all. However, the consumption of THC can have some very minimal side effects8. You can take as large an amount of CBD as you want without having to worry much about anything. On the other hand, the minimal side effects of THC might make it tough to handle in large doses.

The side effects of THC can include:

  • Lowered reaction time and other coordination issues
  • Change in thought patterns and possible paranoia
  • Loss of memory
  • Dry mouth and red eyes due to diuretic effects
  • Rapid heart rate and increased anxiety


Due to these side effects, you can see how sometimes people suffering from psychological problems such as anxiety and OCD tendencies may prefer CBD over THC. THC can sometimes exacerbate these problems by providing even more anxious thoughts and paranoia.

For people susceptible to these conditions, THC should generally be avoided or only consumed in small amounts. However, THC is useful for other psychological problems, such as depression, sadness, insomnia, and PTSD.

Despite the side effects of THC, no amount of THC should be considered lethal. A fatal amount would be impossible to consume in one sitting9. However, THC is a mind-altering substance. You are likely going to want to avoid driving after use and taking it before work or other intensive activities.


While many states in the US have legalized recreational and/or medical marijuana to be sold in licensed dispensaries, it is still illegal on the federal level10. These dispensaries can sell products and plants with any amount of CBD or THC.

But only within their walls and only to individuals that meet the state’s unique requirements for purchasing. On the other hand, CBD products with less than 0.3% THC can be sold at retails stores anywhere in the US in accordance with federal law11. This marks the importance of CBD products with minimal THC, especially ones derived from hemp plants.

Which is Best?

Of course, if you are in an area where marijuana isn’t legal at all, then you are going to be limited. You will only be able to get hemp-derived CBD products or other CBD products that contain little to no THC. On the other hand, if you are in a state where marijuana is legal either recreationally or medicinally, you may be able to procure products that contain a larger amount of THC.

Whether or not you would prefer ingesting CBD with minimal THC, both, or THC with minimal CBD is up to you. It really depends on your own personal preference and what you are using it for.

If you want to get the psychoactive high, you should go with THC. If you simply want pain relief with no psychoactive high, you should go with CBD.

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