CBD vs THC: The Difference Between the Cannabinoids

By WeedWeek May 6, 2020

If you have ever consumed cannabis products, you are likely familiar with the terms CBD and THC. Cannabidiol (CBD), is mainly associated with the medicinal uses of the cannabis plant while Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is most frequently associated with the high that is felt by folks consuming cannabis recreationally. When comparing CBD vs THC, this is how to evaluate the difference.

The differences between these two cannabinoids go beyond what you heard at the dispensary. And understanding from a deeper, chemical level why they are so different is a good way to better understand the cannabis industry and how its products might impact your life. 

But first, before going into the differences from one to the other, let’s understand what cannabinoids are. 

What Are Cannabinoids? 

Cannabinoids are a type of natural chemicals produced in the cannabis plant. There are at least 113 different cannabinoids that have been discovered. Researchers are currently studying the different cannabinoids to better understand their roles in the plant and the effects they have on those who consume marijuana. 

The two most well-known cannabinoids are CBD and THC. CBD, short for cannabidiol, has exploded in popularity and is now a household name. This happened in relatively little time after becoming legal on a federal level in the 2018 Farm Bill. THC has always been popular amongst recreational marijuana users but is now gaining more widespread visibility as cannabis becomes legal in more states. But when it comes to CBD vs THC, what are the main differences?

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is perhaps the most commonly discussed and used cannabinoid of them all. According to a Gallup poll, 14% of the U.S. adult population acknowledges using CBD products for one reason or another. 

CBD’s surging popularity, beyond now being legal in all fifty states, owes to the fact that users believe it is healthy and that it is not intoxicating. And while the effects it gives users varies significantly, it doesn’t get you high, reducing negative conservative stereotypes.

CBD was the first cannabinoid to be approved by the FDA for pharmaceutical use in Epidiolex, a drug used for the treatment of rare forms of pediatric epilepsy. And while it has been proven to help children with seizures, many adult users believe it helps with a wide range of symptoms ranging from depression, anxiety and insomnia to pain relief. 

What is THC?

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive chemical in cannabis. Generally speaking,the higher the THC in the cannabis plant or product, the stronger the high the user will feel.

While there are other outside and individual factors that can affect the high a user will feel, THC plays the most important  role. Because THC increases the dopamine production in the brain, users experience a variety of effects that can range from a sense of calm and euphoria to mild hallucinations. When recreational marijuana users look to get high, finding buds with high levels of THC is what they go after.

CBD vs THC: What’s The Difference?

CBD and THC are chemical compounds that are extremely different from one another when it comes to how they affect users. The two cannabinoids are not to be confused just because they both come from the same plant and are both associated with marijuana. 

Psychoactive Components

Even though the CBD and THC have similar molecular formulas, they produce very different effects when consumed.  Here’s how to distinguish CBD vs THC.

 CBD, while processed in the brain making it psychoactive, is non-intoxicating. THC, on the other hand, considered a psychoactive  intoxicant, responsible for the high that recreational cannabis users seek.

When people consume cannabis with high levels of CBD, which is believed to modulate the psychotropic effects of THC, users won’t get high like they will when consuming cannabis that is rich in THC. THC activates the cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptor in the brain, essentially turning on a switch that gives users the ‘high’ associated with being stoned. CBD, however, isn’t nearly as effective at targeting the CB1 receptors, and therefore, don’t give the user the same euphoric experience. 

Differences In The Legal Status Of CBD Vs THC

As of 2018, CBD is legal in all 50 states in the U.S. as long as it comes from hemp, a cannabis plant with THC levels lower than 0.3%. 

THC has been largely legalized in the 11 different states which allow recreational marijuana and the 33 which allow medicinal use. 

The legality of THC and CBD ranges from country to country, and sometimes, like in the US, from state to state. 

Medical Benefits of CBD vs THC

As a result of global prohibition, the medical benefits of cannabis have largely escaped formal study. Recently, increased research in legal jurisdictions has confirmed some of the anecdotal evidence believed by millions of medical cannabis users across the world. 

They both have been reported to help users with a variety of different health and wellness issues, including seizures, chronic pain, and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

Depending on which articles you read, it’s quite easy to find overlap in medical benefits that are associated with the consumption of both CBD and THC. 

Differences In The Effects Of CBD Vs THC

Similar to the medicinal benefits, the effects that CBD and THC on the user will also vary depending on numerous outside factors.While there might be common effects that CBD users experience, the extent of the effect will differ from person to person, and even day to day. What someone feels from consuming cannabis high in THC can also vary depending on their energy levels, mood, how much sleep they got and other factors unique to that person and time.

Side Effects: CBD Vs THC

The side effects of cannabis on users can vary greatly. There is no certain side effect that every user will experience. That is true for cannabis users that seek out buds high in THC or users that prefer CBD. Unlike THC, which has fairly common mild, side effects, the side effects summarized by CBD users are anecdotal and relatively uncommon.

THC Side Effects

People who use marijuana recreationally can easily rattle off a number of minor side effects. None of the common side effects are life-threatening and they typically go away within a few hours. Some common THC side effects include, but aren’t limited to: 

  • Red, dry eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Slower reaction time and poor coordination
  • Increased heart rate
  • Paranoia
  • Short-term memory loss

Drug Testing

Cannabis tests typically try to determine whether someone has consumed THC. Ever since CBD became legal, people have been more concerned about failing drug tests. While there’s no guarantee that a CBD strain carries no THC,users will pass a drug test;, generally speaking, they should be fine.

Because CBD is more abundant in hemp, a cannabis plant defined as having 0.3% THC or less,, those who consume high-quality hemp products shouldn’t have to worry. The widespread drug tests that are available on the market are designed to find THC in the system, not CBD.

Ways to Take CBD and THC

It wasn’t too long ago that consuming cannabis was almost exclusively done through inhalation. Smoking joints, pipes, bongs, blunts, and other contraptions were the ways people smoked cannabis for ages. 

Marijuana edibles have also been around for thousands of years, dating back to Ancient India and the mahjoun

Only recently has humanity been as bombarded by options as we are seeing in the past few years. As more states legalize cannabis for recreational purposes, product selection will expand.. This has been especially true with CBD products during the past year and a half that it has been legal on a federal level. Companies across the US are rushing to take advantage of the recent boom in the cannabis industry. Many CBD products can be purchased outside of dispensaries in corner stores, gas stations, and grocery stores.


While both derive from the same plant and are very similar at a molecular level, CBD and THC are vastly different compounds. The way they affect people and their legality varies greatly as well. 

Understanding what kind of experience you are looking for will help you determine whether you should buy products high in CBD or THC. THC’s popularity is primarily due to the euphoric high that it brings.

With CBD, it’s a bit more complicated. While many of the benefits haven’t been verified with peer-reviewed research, people claim to feel better from a variety of conditions after consuming CBD. And as its popularity continues to grow, more research programs will be created ast universities across the world.

Users should remember that if they do not want to get high, they should not purchase products with THC. If you accidentally consume THC products, CBD’s moderating effect will help temper unwanted effects.