Getting Start: What Is the Difference Between THC and CBD

Written by: Quanna Experts



Time to read 5 min

In the realm of cannabis, two compounds stand out as the most important to learn about; Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Although these two originate from the same plant, their effects on the human body are distinctly different, and depending on what you’re looking for will provide you with different pros and cons.

This article will delve into the CBD vs THC differences and address the commonly asked question: what is the difference between THC and CBD?

CBD vs THC: The Basics

First, let's clarify what THC and CBD are. Both are cannabinoids, chemical compounds found in cannabis plants. However, they interact with the human body in very different ways.

CBD, or cannabidiol, is often used for its potential therapeutic effects. It's been linked to alleviating symptoms of conditions like chronic pain, anxiety, inflammation and severe forms of epilepsy. Unlike THC, CBD does not cause a "high" or psychoactive effect [1].

On the other hand, THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the compound responsible for the euphoria or "high" associated with recreational cannabis or marijuana use. THC's interaction with the brain can also lead to side effects like anxiety, paranoia, and the potential risk of psychosis [2].

THC and CBD Differences

  THC Products CBD Products
THC Concentration: More than 0.3% Up to 0.3%
Psychoactive Effect: Euphoria Relaxation and reduce anxiety
Product Sales Regulated: Yes No
Identification Required: Yes No
Age Restriction: Adults 21+ No
Amount Allowed to be Carried on a Person: 1.5 ounces No limit
Prescription Required: Only for medical marijuana products No
Can be Detected in Drug Test: Yes No
Source: Leaves and the flowering part of the cannabis plant Aerial parts of low-THC hemp

US federally illegal, however sate legality varies

Illegal in UK

Legal federally, state legality depends


Legal in UK 

Does it Relieve Pain: Yes Yes
Reduces Anxiety: Yes Yes
Potentially Eases Depression: No Yes
Anti-inflammatory: Yes Yes
Increases Blood Flow: No Yes

Diving Deeper: How THC and CBD Interact with the Human Body

THC and CBD may come from the same plant, but their unique chemical structures affect how they interact with the body. Both compounds interact with your body's endocannabinoid system. This system plays a role in numerous physiological processes, including pain regulation, mood, sleep, and memory.

THC is a psychoactive substance that causes a sense of euphoria known as a "high". THC produces this sensation by binding with the cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors, primarily found in the brain and central nervous system. This interaction can also cause various negative side effects such as anxiety or paranoia.

However, there are self-perceived positive effects of recreational cannabis use. The most common reasons for personal THC use include relaxation and stress relief [3].

On the contrary, CBD does not bind directly with the CB1 or CB2 receptors, explaining why it does not produce the intoxicating effect associated with THC. Instead, CBD is thought to work with other elements in the body linked to feelings of well-being. 

Key Takeaway:

CBD is the more attractive option for those looking to use cannabis for its possible medicinal effects, whereas THC is the more common choice for recreation.

The Legal Landscape: CBD vs THC

The legality of THC and CBD products varies greatly depending on geographical location. In many countries, including the UK, CBD is legal to purchase, while THC is considered a controlled substance [4].

In the United States, the legal status of these compounds is more complex. Hemp-derived CBD products containing less than 0.3% THC are federally legal as per the 2018 Farm Bill. However, cannabis products containing more than 0.3% THC remain federally illegal [5].

State laws further complicate matters, with some states allowing medical marijuana, some permitting recreational use, and others prohibiting cannabis entirely. It's crucial to check local legislation before purchasing or using any cannabis products. 

Potential Side Effects of THC and CBD

While both THC and CBD are considered safe for most people, they can cause certain side effects. THC use can lead to disorientation, paranoia, and dizziness. In severe cases, it can even cause panic attacks, psychosis, and hospitalization [6].

CBD, on the other hand, is generally well-tolerated by most people and doesn't lead to intoxication or hospitalization even at high doses. However, some individuals may experience side effects such as drowsiness, digestion issues, and potential liver issues in the long term. 

THC and CBD in Drug Testing

It's important to note that most standard drug tests screen for THC, not CBD. However, using hemp-derived CBD products containing legal amounts of THC (up to 0.3%) could still result in a positive drug test [7].

If you're subject to drug testing, consider using broad-spectrum CBD or CBD isolate products, which exclude THC entirely. Always consult a doctor with cannabinoid experience or understand the specifics of the drug test before using any CBD or THC products [8]

The Entourage Effect: CBD and THC Working Together

One interesting aspect of THC and CBD differences is what happens when they're used together. This combination can contribute to what's known as the 'Entourage Effect'. In this phenomenon, the presence of multiple cannabinoids and terpenes (aromatic compounds in cannabis) enhances the overall therapeutic effects of the cannabis product [9].

THC and CBD can complement each other's effects. For instance, CBD has been found to mitigate some of the psychoactive effects of THC, potentially reducing side effects like anxiety or paranoia [10]

CBD vs THC: The Conclusion

So, what is the difference between THC and CBD? Although they originate from the same plant, their effects on the human body, their legal status, and their potential side effects are significantly different from each other.

THC is known for its psychoactive properties, causing the 'high' associated with cannabis use. In contrast, CBD is non-intoxicating and is often used for its potential therapeutic and medical benefits. Both compounds interact with the human body's endocannabinoid system but in different ways.

It's crucial to remember that state and federal laws regarding THC and CBD vary, and the legality of these compounds can depend on your geographical location. Always check local laws before purchasing or using any THC or CBD products.

Whether you choose THC, CBD, or a combination of both, always consult with a healthcare professional to ensure safe and effective use. With the rapidly expanding body of research on these compounds, our understanding of the CBD and THC difference continues to grow, promising exciting developments in the future.