CBD Vs. THC: How Are They Different?

There are many misconceptions out there surrounding both THC and CBD. In this article, we’ll break down the differences between these two compounds, the different benefits associated with each, and why you would want to incorporate either into your life.
The cannabis plant contains over 100 different compounds.1 CBD and THC are the most popular of these compounds and can their similarities and differences cause the most confusion. 

THC, CBD, Cannabis, Hemp: What do all these terms mean?

Before we break down THC and CBD, it is important to understand the differences between the terms cannabis, hemp, and marijuana. Whether you hear cannabis, “weed”, or hemp, the plant being referred to is a species of the cannabis plant. Depending on where you look, the definition of hemp will be different.
The United States government defines hemp as any member of the cannabis species that contains less than 0.3% THC. It defines marijuana as any member of the cannabis species with greater than 0.3% THC.2 Hemp and marijuana are two different types of the cannabis plant.
THC is still illegal at the federal level while CBD Oil is legal. If you live in a state like Colorado or Washington that has legalized all forms of cannabis for recreational use, you may be able to get THC legally. If not, CBD may be your only option.
The cannabis species contains both THC and CBD. These two compounds are the two most prevalent and popular cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant. They each interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system.

THC vs. CBD: A Battle In The Endocannabinoid System


cbd vs thc

The battle of THC vs. CBD all takes place within the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is one of the most important parts of the body for building and maintaining human health. The endocannabinoid system exists throughout all of the body’s 11 main physiological systems. It is sometimes referred to as a “meta-system” because of the way it seems to intertwine and interact with almost every part of the body.
The endocannabinoid system has one job within each of the body’s systems: building and maintaining homeostasis. The endocannabinoid system works to make sure that every system of the body maintains balance. When all systems of the body are balanced, you’ll experience a state of optimal health.
The endocannabinoid system is made up of receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes. THC, a cannabinoid, is similar in shape and size to the body’s own endocannabinoids and binds to the receptors of the endocannabinoid system. The fact that THC binds to receptors is what produces the “high” that many people associate with cannabis.
CBD does not bind to receptors within the endocannabinoid system, but rather works to block the enzymes that are responsible for recycling the body’s endocannabinoids. This allows more endocannabinoids to be available to the endocannabinoid system, which allows the endocannabinoid system to function more smoothly and efficiently. The full ways in which the endocannabinoid system works are beyond the scope of this article, but if you’d like to know more, you can read about it in our Intro To CBD Textbook.

THC and CBD: Two Similar Compounds With Differing Benefits

  cbd vs thc
THC and CBD are incredibly similar in both structure and chemical makeup. Even with these similarities, the effects they produce for consumers are extremely different.

CBD Promotes Restful Sleep

Many people take CBD Softgels to help with sleep. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology discovered that patients that had taken CBD slept better throughout the night with less interruption.3

CBD Supports A Healthy Gut

The microbiome, digestive system, and the endocannabinoid system are intertwined. When the ECS receives additional endocannabinoids, the microbiome shows signs of enhanced activity.4 By taking CBD oil, you can boost the body’s natural endocannabinoids and encourage healthy digestion and metabolism.

CBD Promotes A Positive Mental State


cbd vs thc

Ever feel like you’re just “in a funk” mentally? Many people use CBD as a means of restoring balance to their mental state. Modern life is full of stressors and extreme amounts of information. CBD shows promise in helping us reach an optimal mental state.
Studies indicate that CBD works as an agonist of 5-HT1A receptors.5 5-HT1A receptors are a type of serotonin receptor. These receptors modulate social behavior, mood, appetite, and sexual desire.6
By acting on 5-HT1A receptors, CBD holds promise in supporting a positive and healthy mental state. The effects of CBD on mental state operate in the background of your conscious awareness. They’re not in your face, but at the same time, they are profound. CBD does not leave you with a massive displacement that is common with alcohol or other drugs, but rather promotes a slight shift in mindset and a greater sense of well-being.
To find even more benefits of CBD, check out our chapter in our textbook about how you can benefit from taking CBD.

THC Side Effects

There are a host of side effects associated with THC. The red eyes associated with the typical marijuana user are caused by THC’s impact on the eyes. THC use also results in slowed reaction times, short term memory loss, coordination problems, and increased heart rate.7

Can I get CBD Oil With THC?

If you live in a state that has legalized cannabis for medicinal or recreational use, it may be possible to obtain CBD oil with THC. Because THC is still technically illegal, it is not typically sold online, but rather in dispensaries.

Chemical Structure of CBD vs. THC

While CBD and THC each impact the body differently, they are similar in chemical makeup. Both compounds have the same elemental makeup with 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms.8 While they have the same atomic makeup, the way these atoms are organized differs allowing them to produce different effects. Their chemical structure is similar to the body’s own endocannabinoids which is what allows them to interact with and influence the functioning of the ECS.

Takeaways and Insights: CBD vs. THC

Now you know the difference between CBD vs. THC. The two are made up of the same atoms, but interact in different ways within the body. CBD is legal throughout the United States, while THC remains illegal at the federal level and legal in some states. CBD produces many benefits throughout the body because of the way it interacts with the endocannabinoid system. THC produces the psychoactive effects commonly associated with cannabis.
Even though a stigma exists around cannabis, both of these cannabinoids show tremendous promise in promoting an optimal state of health. Continue to stay up to date as the scientific research surrounding CBD, THC, and the endocannabinoid system is still in its infancy in comparison to many other fields.
  1. Zerrin Atakan, Cannabis a complex plant: different compounds and different effects on individuals, Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, 2012 Dec, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3736954/
  2. H.R. 2642, Agricultural Act of 2014, https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/2642
  3. Carlini EA, Cunha JM, Hypnotic and antiepileptic effects of cannabidiol, Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 1981 Aug-Sep, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7028792?dopt=Abstrac
  4. Nicholas V. DiPatrizio, Endocannabinoids in The Gut, Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4940133/
  5. de Mello Schier AR, de Oliveira Ribeiro NP, Coutinho DS, Machado S, Arias-Carrion O, Crippa JA, Zuardi AW, Nardi AE, Silva AC, Antidepressant-like and anxiolytic-like effects of cannabidiol: a chemical compound of Cannabis Sativa, 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24923339
  6. Alvaro Garcia-Garcia, Adrian Newman-Tancredi, E. David Leonardo, 5-HT1A recptors in mood and anxiety: recent insights into autoreceptor versus heteroreceptor function, Psychopharmacology, 2013 Dec 12, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3927969/
  7. Kimberly Holland, CBD vs. THC: What’s the Difference?, Healthline, 2018 Jun 27, https://www.healthline.com/health/cbd-vs-thc
  8. Kimberly Holland, CBD vs. THC: What’s the Difference?, Healthline, 2018 Jun 27, https://www.healthline.com/health/cbd-vs-thc