Differences between Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)


Cannabidiol and Tetrahydrocannabinol are natural compounds (cannabinoids) obtained from the plant Cannabis sativa (Cannabis). Though closely related, there are differences between these two. The differences are outlined below:

  • Chemical structure: CBD and THC have the same chemical formula [carbon (21), hydrogen (30) and oxygen (2)]. The difference lies in the arrangement of these atoms as shown below.
  • Interaction with the cannabinoid receptors to produce psychoactive effect: Both interact with the endocannabinoid system. THC binds to both CB1 and CB2 receptors and activates them hence it is said to be an agonist while CBD is considered an indirect antagonist of cannabinoid agonist since it blocks both receptors and suppresses the CB1 and CB2 activating qualities of cannabinoids like THC. THC directly binds to CB1 receptors in the brain and produces the euphoria feeling while CBD binds very weakly and can neutralize the psychoactive effect of THC by negating the bond formed by THC and CB1 Hence CBD is non-psychoactive (doesn’t produce the high effect) like THC. While THC induces drowsiness or sleep, CBD allows one to be awake and energetic.
  • Legitimacy: CBD is considered as legal in the United States as it is not listed specifically in the Controlled Substance Act as a controlled substance while THC is specifically listed and therefore prohibited under the federal law.
  • Concentration in cannabis plants (Marijuana and Hemp): In marijuana, the content of THC is more (12%) compared to that of CBD while hemp contains CBD in high concentration and THC in trace amounts (<0.3 %).
  • Health benefits: Both CBD and THC are used mostly in the same medical conditions but the lack of the euphoric side effects in CBD encourages more use therapeutically than THC. CBD is used in managing seizures, pain, inflammation, mental disorders, nausea, migraines, depression, anxiety and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). THC is used in managing pain, muscle spasticity, glaucoma, insomnia, nausea, and anxiety.
  • Application in pain management: Studies shows the use of CBD may be better for the management of inflammation and neuropathic pain while THC will have better benefit in managing spasticity and cramp-related pain. Though the use of THC in high doses may aggravate pain symptoms (it should be used in small quantities), research shows that the combination of both THC and CBD is the conceptual way to approach pain giving validity to entourage effect (cannabinoids are more efficient together than they are alone in isolated preparations).
  • Use in natural supplements: THC causes immediate and long term cognitive side effects like impaired thinking, altered decision making, reduced control over impulses and reduced ability to plan while CBD doesn’t possess these harmful cognitive effects. The lower health risk and efficacy of CBD has made it a better option in natural applications than THC.
  • Side effects: While CBD is very well tolerated in individuals, THC causes negative side effects like coordination problems, anxiety, dry mouth, red eyes, increased heart rate, paranoia, slow reaction times and memory loss. Positive side effects of THC include increased relaxation, joint and headache relief.

CBD and THC have been found to be useful when each chemical compounds are utilized as single agents and better when used together in the management of medical conditions.



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