Though both are derived from the cannabis plant, CBD and THC differ in significant ways. It’s important to understand the distinction between these two cannabis compounds, especially if you use marijuana products to support your physical and mental wellbeing.
Perhaps the greatest factor consumers must consider when purchasing cannabis is potency. Strains that have a high THC content will produce more psychoactive effects, while effects of non-intoxicating CBD are less immediately apparent. When it comes to cannabis, there is no “one size fits all” potency. Both THC and CBD have unique elements and benefits. From medicinal to recreational, it all comes down to what you are looking for in a cannabis product. Let’s dig into some of the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between THC and CBD.
Exploring the endocannabinoid receptor system
Hemp and cannabis plants are chock-full of what are known as cannabinoids. The most prominent cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant are Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Cannabinoids interact with the body’s endocannabinoid receptor system (ECS) by stimulating receptors in the brain and throughout the body. In turn, this biological system helps regulate bodily functions such as sleep, movement, digestion, pain, mood, and energy levels. The human body produces endocannabinoids, and beneficial cannabinoids like CBD and THC can provide a valuable supplement for this process.
At the molecular level, CBD and THC are nearly identical. They each boast the same chemical formula of 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. It’s the way their atoms are arranged that sets them apart. Their difference in structures impacts their ability to bind to the varying receptors discussed prior. In turn, this is what creates their unique effects on the body.
What goes unseen is how each of these compounds interacts with the body once inhaled or ingested. THC primarily binds to CB1 and CB2 receptors throughout the body. CB1 receptors are mainly found in the central nervous system and can help target pain. CB2 receptors, on the other hand, are located within the peripheral nervous system, especially in immune cells. Unlike THC, CBD does not bind to the CB1 and CB2 receptors found in the endocannabinoid system. Rather, it has profound impacts on how cannabinoids interact with the ECS. CBD has the ability to counteract the intoxicating effects of THC through altering receptors’ binding abilities, while preventing THC from activating them. Beyond THC, CBD has been found to target dozens of neurotransmitters and endocannabinoids that interact with the ECS, resulting in health benefits and effects which we’ll discuss later.
How the Law Differentiates CBD from THC
As of June 2022, 38 states, as well as Washington DC, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have legalized medical marijuana to some degree, which includes both CBD and THC products. 19 of those states have gone further to fully legalize marijuana for recreational use. This being said, cannabis does remain illegal at the federal level, as it continues to be classified as a “Schedule I” drug. However, back in 2013, the Justice Department agreed to not block state laws legalizing cannabis. In turn, states must agree to regulate underage sales, trafficking, and other cannabis-related activities.
A major gray area exists for CBD’s legal status: While it is not psychoactive like THC, it is still derived from the cannabis plant. The Farm Bill in 2018 legalized the production of hemp and other cannabis-derived products, as long as they contain a THC concentration below 0.3%. Nevertheless, states continue to have final say over whether cannabis products are legal within their borders, so it is always best to check your state’s laws before purchasing.
More on the potential effects and benefits of cannabis
As mentioned earlier, CBD and THC each have varying properties that can provide lasting health benefits. Cannabis products have been growing in their use as treatment for countless symptoms and conditions, both minor and severe. When it comes to CBD, some of its most common applications have been used to treat chronic pain, inflammation, migraines, epilepsy, autoimmune diseases, depression, and anxiety. Most notably, CBD is known for its therapeutic and restorative effects. This is because of CBD’s ability to interact with receptor systems found throughout the body, influencing the presence and effects of endocannabinoids and neurotransmitters. CBD can interact with opioid receptors, which are responsible for managing pain, as well as dopamine receptors which help regulate behavior and motivation.
Many researchers are currently excited about CBD’s ability to activate serotonin receptors, which could help reduce opioid dependence, depression, anxiety, and neuropathic pain. For one young girl, Charlotte, diagnosed with Dravet’s Syndrome and undergoing hundreds of seizures a month, CBD proved itself as an effective, life-saving treatment as it decreased her monthly seizures to just three. Her story has paved the way for many others looking to treat health conditions with CBD.
THC has also shown to be effective in relieving a number of symptoms and conditions including pain, nausea, insomnia, anxiety, depression, glaucoma, loss of appetite, and more. However, because THC is intoxicating, many marijuana users prefer a balance of CBD and THC together. Balanced CBD/THC strains allow users to feel some “high” without the other side effects that come with a THC-dominant strain like anxiety and paranoia. Research has also shown that when working in tandem, CBD and THC are most successful in treating pain.
When it comes down to it, not all weed is created equal. It’s important to understand not only what your cannabis needs are, but also how to differentiate between strains and potencies. Whether you prefer CBD, THC, or a little mix of both, our goal at the Happy Camper is to help choose a product perfectly suited for you.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Our products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.