What Is The Difference Between CBD And THC?

As cannabis becomes legal in more areas across the United States, the options for using plant-derived extracts have expanded. Interest in cannabidiol, or CBD, a non-intoxicating compound found in cannabis has exploded in recent years as users become aware of its therapeutic properties without the negative side effects associated with pharmaceuticals.

So what’s the difference between CBD and THC and how can a cannabis-based compound not get users high but still provide benefits? To answer this, we’ll need to take a look at each compound and how it interacts with the endocannabinoid system.


The endocannabinoid system explained

Every human has an endocannabinoid system, a biological system made up of cannabinoids produced by the human body. Cannabinoids are fatty-acid-based neurotransmitters that bind to special cannabinoid-receptors in the body which cause various effects and aid in bodily processes.

Like the human body, the cannabis plant also produces cannabinoids, known as phytocannabinoids, and these can bind to human cannabinoid-receptors as well, producing similar effects as the endocannabinoids produced naturally by the human body. 

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are both phytocannabinoids. They are found naturally in the cannabis plant, alongside many other lesser-known cannabinoids such as CBG, CBN, and CBA. The two cannabinoids have the same molecular structure, but a slightly different arrangement of atoms that allow for such a stark contrast between their effects.

The difference between CBD and THC is that the two work on cannabinoid receptors differently, which causes neurotransmitters to relay different messages to your body depending on which is consumed.


The effects of CBD vs THC on cannabinoid receptors

CBD cannot get users high. When people get high from cannabis, they’re responding to THC binding to their cannabinoid receptors in different ways than CBD does. In fact, researchers believe that CBD’s neuroprotective properties may help negate some of the negative effects of being too high on THC, such as anxiety or paranoia.

Researchers have identified two main cannabinoid receptors in the body: cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) and cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2). CB1 receptors are found in abundance in nerve cells in the brain and spine and in lesser amounts in other systems, like the endocrine and reproductive system. CB2 receptors are typically found in white blood cells, across the immune system, spleen, tonsils, and other areas.

CBD and THC both bind to CB2 receptors, but they have different functions when it comes to CB1 receptors. THC binds directly to CB1 receptors, targeting the central nervous system and directly affecting the brain. Unlike THC, CBD does not bind to the CB1 receptors directly, which prevents any intoxicating effects.

Unlike THC which binds to CB1 receptors that cause intoxication, CBD instead binds to CB2 receptors which don’t produce psychoactive effects. CB2 receptors have many functions, including control over inflammation. CBD’s therapeutic effects can be attributed to its influence over CB2 receptors as well as its ability to modify enzymes and proteins within the system.


Is CBD legal?

CBD is federally legal across all 50 United States, even if marijuana is not legal in the state. There are several caveats to that, and consumers must be aware of the specifics when it comes to legality.

First, it’s important to understand that CBD can be derived from marijuana or hemp, both cannabis plants, but with vastly different uses and legal status. Hemp has been bred to be strong and fibrous, with very low levels of THC and a slightly different physical stature than marijuana. On the other hand, marijuana plants are not bred to be fibrous and tend to contain large amounts of THC. 

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp and its derivatives, essentially legalizing CBD derived from hemp under specific conditions. Under the 2018 law, hemp is now considered an “agricultural commodity.”

The governmental regulations for hemp require keeping the THC level below 0.3%, only sourcing from a licensed grower, and adhering to state-federal regulations. If CBD manufacturers adhere to these regulations, the product is federally legal across all 50 states. 

The laws change when you look at states with legal medical or recreational marijuana. Hemp-derived CBD is still legal, but there are also options for CBD derived from marijuana in legal states. CBD derived from marijuana may have a higher THC content. Hemp-derived CBD must contain 0.3% THC or less, which eliminates any possible intoxicating effects. 

Marijuana, which typically contains high levels of THC, is illegal in several states and all across the United States on a federal level. Though individual states may have legalized all cannabis, it still remains federally-illegal. This is important to keep in mind for users who might want to purchase marijuana-derived CBD in a legal state as opposed to hemp-derived CBD.


How are CBD and THC used differently?

Both THC and CBD are primarily used for therapeutic purposes. Medical marijuana has been around for a while now, and patients with legal medical cards have had access to marijuana and CBD to alleviate a host of conditions.

Now that hemp-derived CBD is becoming more popular and widely understood, users don’t need a medical card to access it, even in states without legal cannabis. And in states where marijuana is legal and accessible, many users are completely substituting CBD over marijuana to take advantage of the CBD-related health benefits.

Some people choose to use THC and CBD in conjunction for relief from different symptoms, others opt for CBD to provide therapeutic effects without inhibiting their mental state.

Medical marijuana may be recommended for several conditions, including: 

  • Appetite loss
  • Cancer
  • Eating disorders
  • Glaucoma
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Nausea
  • Chronic pain


Although CBD has only been FDA-approved for two rare forms of childhood epilepsy, many users are finding relief from various conditions by using CBD. Some uses include: 

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Joint pain and inflammation
  • Chronic pain
  • Insomnia
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Skin conditions

While THC is often used recreationally, it can also be used for therapeutic effects. CBD, on the other hand, is not typically used for recreational effects because it does not cause users to feel “high.”

The reasons people use CBD vary, from providing a sense of calm to help get through the day to reducing pain and improving  overall quality of life. Many people choose CBD because they do not want to experience the cognitive interference caused by THC or  the negative side effects associated with many pharmaceuticals.


The Bottom Line

CBD is a non-intoxicating compound found in cannabis with many promising therapeutic effects. THC is the most prevalent compound in cannabis that causes intoxicating effects.

CBD can be derived from hemp, a cannabis plant variety with low THC content bred to be fibrous and used for non-recreational purposes. Hemp-derived CBD is legal in the United States under specific regulations.


Ready to try CBD for yourself?

Spensry cares about your health and wellness, so we only promote natural CBD extracts to provide relief without negative side effects. All of our CBD is derived from 50-state legal CBD-only hemp with less than 0.3% THC, and is third-party tested to ensure quality.