What is the difference between THC and CBD?
The term “marijuana” refers to the dried leaves, flowers, and stems from the cannabis plant. When consumed, marijuana offers a wide-range of therapeutic benefits. But what is it about this special plant that makes it so valuable as a medicine? The simple answer is cannabinoids, uniquely structured chemicals found exclusively within the cannabis plant. Although marijuana contains more than 70 different cannabinoids, most of the medical benefits of the plant are attributed to the two most prevalent cannabinoids; THC and CBD.
The chemical makeup of CBD and THC are similar to the body’s own endocannabinoids, which allows them to interact with the endocannabinoid system’s cannabinoid receptors to alter the release of neurotransmitters in the brain.
Despite their similarities, CBD and THC have distinct differences that influence how they interact with the endocannabinoid system and subsequently the natural effects they elicit.
What is THC?
Tetrahydrocannabinol, often shortened to “THC,” is the cannabinoid most often associated with medical marijuana. THC elicits the psychotropic (“high”) effect in users. The therapeutic potential of THC is significant and expansive. The compound can act as an anti-inflammatory, anti-nausea, appetite stimulant and sleep aid, among other benefits.
Most individuals find the “high” from THC to be very enjoyable in moderation, but others find the feeling to be slightly unpleasant. With that said, medical marijuana still offers significant medical benefits to people who want to avoid the “high” feeling. After all, THC is just one of many cannabinoids. Evidence suggests that use of the cannabinoid CBD can elicit many of the therapeutic benefits of medical marijuana without having the euphoric or dysphoric effects.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol, commonly referred to as “CBD,” is the major non-psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant, and it has been found to offer a wide range of medicinal benefits as an anti-inflammatory, anticonvulsant, antioxidant, antiemetic, anxiolytic and antipsychotic agent. It also has the potential to provide neuroprotective, immunomodulatory, and anti-tumor effects. Other benefits of CBD include pain and inflammation relief, antipsychotic effects, reduction of anxiety, aid to fight cancer growth, relieving nausea, treating seizures and other neurological disorders, lowering incidence of diabetes, and promoting cardiovascular health.
Although THC does have certain benefits that cannot be achieved through CBD use alone, studies have shown that a combination of high CBD with lower THC levels result in the medicinal benefits of both, without any noticeable psychotropic effects from THC. So, for those who are interested in the benefits of medical marijuana, but are wary of feeling the “high” associated with THC, you can be assured that there are medical marijuana products available to meet their needs.
What are the Medical Benefits of THC and CBD?
THC and CBD each have many medical applications and therapeutic uses. THC is often used for its euphoric, relaxing, and pain-relieving effects, while CBD is effective in treating anxiety, epilepsy, and in some cases even psychosis. Here are just a few of the most common uses of these two cannabinoids.
Common uses for THC:
- Euphoria and relaxation
- Sleep aid
- Appetite stimulant
- Muscle relaxant
Common uses for CBD:
What Medical Conditions Can THC and CBD Help?
Research indicates that CBD may be useful in treating a variety of medical conditions, including:
- Schizophrenia – Reduce psychotic symptoms
- Seizures — Reduce the number of seizures and can calm painful symptoms
- Social anxiety disorder – Lower anxiety
- Depression – Reduce depressive symptoms
- Side effects of cancer treatment – Decrease pain and nausea while stimulating appetite
THC is nearly equal in its effectiveness. Some of the medical conditions that benefit from THC use include:
- Chronic Pain
- Side effects of chemotherapy – Reduce nausea and vomiting while increasing appetite
- Multiple sclerosis – Improve spasticity and bladder function while reducing painful spasms and central pain
- Glaucoma – Reduce pressure inside the eye
- AIDS – Alleviate symptoms by stimulating appetite and eating
- Spinal injury – Lessen tremors
Why is CBD Used More Than THC for Medical Treatments?
THC is classified as an illegal drug with considerable immediate and long-term cognitive side effects, including impaired thinking and reasoning, reduced ability to plan and organize, altered decision-making, and reduced control over impulses. In addition, chronic use of THC can be associated with significant abnormalities in the heart and brain.
CBD lacks the euphoric cognitive effects of THC. In fact, CBD counteracts the psychoactive effects of THC, both in plant form and when administered from extract. Cannabis plants containing small amounts of CBD and high levels of THC result in a stronger “stoned” feeling, while plants with more CBD and less THC create a weaker “buzz.” Given the increasing popularity of medical marijuana, breeders are currently creating strains with higher CBD to THC ratios to minimize the psychoactive side effects.
Overall, the lower health risks of CBD in combination with its lack of euphoria make it an ideal candidate for patients worried about feeling high. However, in combination with low doses of THC, CBD can deliver even greater medical benefits.
Are THC and CBD Safe to Use?
Research indicates even large doses of CBD are well tolerated and safe. There have been some reports of dry mouth, light-headedness, and drowsiness. A recent research review examining the safety and side effects of CBD concluded that CBD appeared to be safe in humans and animals. Even chronic use of CBD by humans showed to cause no adverse neurological, psychiatric, or clinical effects.
While there is a risk of some negative side effects from THC, according to the National Cancer Institute it is not possible to have a fatal overdose. The psychoactive properties of THC, however, can cause temporary side effects:
- Memory impairments
- Lowered reaction time
- Increased heart rate
- Dry mouth
- Red eyes
Is THC and CBD legal?
The legality of cannabinoid products in the United States is dependent on their concentration and source.
CBD is legally available in the United States, but it must be derived from imported high-CBD, low-THC hemp. CBD itself it not listed under the Controlled Substances Act, so it is legal in all 50 states, provided the CBD is not extracted from marijuana.
If derived from marijuana, CBD is illegal unless obtained through a state-regulated medical marijuana program, or in a state that permits recreational marijuana use. CBD products derived from hemp are considered dietary supplements in the U.S. and are legal to buy and sell.
Marijuana and THC are both specifically listed in the U.S. Controlled Substances Act and therefore prohibited under federal law. 33 U.S. states and Washington D.C. have passed their own cannabis policies permitting the use of medical marijuana with high levels of THC, provided it’s recommended by a licensed physician. 10 of those states and Washington D.C. have gone a step further and legalized the recreational use of marijuana and THC.
Medical marijuana is legal in Ohio. Dispensaries across the state will be offering products with THC and CBD in isolated forms, as well as different ratios between the two cannabinoids.