In the wide world of cannabis, there are two molecules that reign supreme. One is the highly controversial and psychoactive THC, the other is the medically lauded CBD. Together, they form the twin engine of recreation and therapeutic regimen that power the national cannabis industry. But what, exactly, is the difference between THC and CBD?
This is often the first question that people ask when approaching cannabis for the first time. With powerful legal distinctions and state line restrictions, it is clear that there must be a profound difference between the two molecules, but what is it, and why is it so important?
At Medizin, we love answering questions like this because it’s so essential to discovering your perfect cannabis experience. You may adore THC but aren’t sure if CBD is your thing. You may have tried CBD, but aren’t sure why THC is so different. Or maybe you’re looking to understand why you love balanced buds so much more than one or the other.
Let’s dive into CBD vs THC, how they are different, and why those differences affect each cannabis experience.
Major Differences Between THC and CBD
- Tetrahydrocannabinol vs Cannabidiol
- THC is psychoactive, CBD is not
- THC causes strong euphoria, CBD causes mild euphoria
- CBD is federally legal, and legal in most states. THC is only legal in a few states, and cannot cross state lines.
- THC and CBD have a different molecular structures
THC is psychoactive while CBD is not. THC is more likely to cause you to become euphoric, sleepy, and hungry. It is more often used for recreation but can be used for therapeutic purposes as well. CBD is better known for therapeutic benefits such as pain relief and digestion assistance, but is not psychoactive, and only provides a mild mood-lifting quality, while CBD is often praised for its whole-body effects and ability to ease discomfort.
What THC and CBD Have In Common
THC and CBD are both cannabinoids, molecules found naturally in the Cannabis Sativa plant. When cultivated for hemp, cannabis tends to have more CBD, while THC is enhanced by special cultivation methods, including separating the male and female plants. THC and CBD are always the two most prominent endocannabinoids found in any cannabis plant, however, there are also dozens of lesser cannabinoids along with terpenes and flavonoids that create the full-spectrum cannabis experience.
Both molecules share some qualities like assisting with digestion and muscle relaxation. Both have a positive entourage effect with terpenes like Limonene, Myrcene, and Linalool. But this is where the properties of THC and CBD start to split.
The Differences Between THC and CBD
The difference between THC and CBD begins when they split from the mother molecule, CBG-A, which has been found to have anti-seizure benefits. In a young cannabis plant, all cannabinoids begin as CBG-A which then splits and matures into many types of cannabinoids – but primarily THC-A and CBD-A. At this point, CBD and THC go through different molecular transformations which shape both their molecular appearance and how they affect your body.
We will explore each of the following categories of effects and how THC and CBD will provide a uniquely different experience.
- Molecular Structure and Your Receptors
- Therapeutic Effects
- Munchies and Sleepiness
Molecular Structure and Your Receptors
THC and CBD have different molecular structures. They both have a long CH3 tail and a carbon ring topped with an OH point. However, where THC has three complete carbon rings with offshoots of H3C and CH3, CBD has only two complete carbon rings. The center ring is broken open with H3C, CH2, and HO sprawling from the open ring structure.
This causes CBD and THC to interact with your neurotransmitter receptors differently. The shape of THC allows it to interact directly with CB1 and CB2 receptors of your endocannabinoid system, but primarily with CB1, which is found most frequently in your brain and nervous system. By interacting with your brain, THC provides its signature psychoactive effects. THC has also been found to inhibit your serotonin reuptake, which can explain the mood-lifting euphoric effects.
CBD, on the other hand, is more likely to bond with your CB2 receptors, found throughout the body, and most closely related to your immune and inflammation response systems. This is what provides CBD with therapeutic effects that seem to holistically benefit your entire body. CBD can enhance the way you process serotonin and decrease your production of dopamine.
Both THC and CBD can cause euphoria, a feeling of uplifting mood and of worries melting away. However, the euphoric effects of CBD are extremely mild compared to the powerful euphoria that THC can induce.
THC euphoria is related to its interaction with your serotonin receptors and the CB1 receptors in your brain. Some euphorias are energetic and uplifting, most commonly associated with Sativa strains, while others make you happy and relaxed, which is more common with Indicas. THC euphoria can impair your judgment, but tends to make people more relaxed and easy-going as opposed to the recklessness associated with other substance-related euphorias.
CBD has a mild mood lifting effect for some, but this is often part of a gentle and more holistic uplifting of sensation combined with pain relief and muscle tension release. As tension and inflammation ease in the body, one’s mood will naturally lift. You may also experience mild euphoria from an entourage effect of uplifting terpenes and micro-cannabinoids.
In terms of experience and precaution, psychoactivity is the most important difference between THC and CBD. While cannabis has a reputation for psychoactivity, only THC actually provides this effect.
THC is well-known to be psychoactive, although not as intensely as 60s cartoons might have you believe. People on THC experience highly activated imaginations. It will not cause you to see swirling colors – or any visuals at all – but those on significant amounts of THC will find themselves thinking thoughts they have never thought before, often to great distraction.
THC also affects the hippocampus and orbital frontal cortex in your brain, which controls how you form memories and shift your focus.
It is strongly advised (and legally mandated) that you not drive or operate any heavy machinery while taking THC – just like NyQuil and other medicines that may cause you to feel “loopy” for the duration. This is because you may not be able to stop thinking creative thoughts, and your reaction time may be significantly slowed.
In contrast, CBD is not psychoactive. Pure CBD concentrate – separate from all other cannabinoids and terpenes – causes no psychoactivity at all. Because CBD does not interact with your CB1 receptors, it has little to no effect on your mental processing or nervous system. This is why CBD isolate is safe to use during your workday, while driving, and in other activities where psychoactive effects would not be safe or appropriate.
CBD can help you relax and may make you feel light-headed or sleepy, but this is actually a side-effect of the release of tension in your body or reduction of inflammation-related discomfort rather than CBD’s specific molecular effects.
The next difference between the two is their therapeutic effects. Many have found that each provides unique benefits that have some overlap and very notable differences. CBD shines in the therapeutic category, but THC has a few benefits of its own.
THC has been found by many to help with issues of focus and anxiety. In matters where your processing of serotonin, dopamine, or your ability to focus are concerned, THC’s effects may provide a positive change to your brain’s natural state. For example, THC’s impact on attention has been reported to help some with attention deficit issues, while THC’s influence over serotonin is sometimes used to handle daily depression or anxiety.
In some cases, THC is used for pain relief due to the relationship between CB1 receptors and your nervous system, allowing nuero-protective qualities that reduce pain signals, though the cause of pain is still present.
CBD, on the other hand, has a whole sheet of holistic and therapeutic benefits due to its connection to your immune and inflammation systems. CBD is often used to reduce inflammation both locally as a topical cream or internally through ingestion or inhalation. CBD is used by athletes to reduce muscle swelling and therefore decrease pain and recovery time after a hard workout or sports injury.
Those with chronic stomach problems may find relief in CBD through a reduction of digestive inflammation. CBD has also been known to help regulate your metabolism and other body system functions, helping some people regain an internal balance where their body is naturally imbalanced. CBD has been reported to assist with non-narcotic pain relief.
Munchies and Sleepiness
Then there are the symptoms most often associated with cannabis, but not fully understood. These are cannabis’ ability to make you hungry, “The Munchies”, and sleepy, or “Couch Lock”. Interestingly, both come from THC, but CBD can have similar effects for more holistic reasons.
Believe it or not, THC is the main culprit for both of these effects. First, let’s talk about the Munchies.
The notorious Munchies are recognized as an increase in appetite when you smoke, vape, or eat cannabis with significant amounts of THC. The THC, as we have discussed, affects things like your dopamine receptors and your hypothalamus. Both of these factors affect your appetite, which results in a voracious desire for snacks and salty foods. In fact, many report that food smells better and tastes better while on THC, which is why it was initially approved as a therapeutic treatment for those with cancer going through chemo. THC may also reduce your ability to feel “done” when full.
As for “couch lock”, this is typically a side effect of THC with more indicia-heavy terp blends. Couch lock is a psychoactive effect that makes it appealing to sit and think slowly about passing concepts for a few hours. THC can also make you sleepy, which is one of the side effects of intense psychoactivity combined with physical relaxation. It is also possible that the body sometimes “taps out” when the psychoactive effect becomes too great, and you take a nap to sleep it off.
CBD can cause you to eat and sleep more, but often as a correction to an existing imbalance. For example, those who suffer from digestive conditions who find relief in CBD may suddenly be able to enjoy a meal without discomfort, and may eat more than usual. Those who are unable to sleep due to tension or discomfort may find that, with that tension released, they are able to catch up on sleep and may sleep for a long period of time.
CBD does not cause munchies or sleepiness, but it can allow your body to feel these things naturally when other obstacles are removed or eased. Many people use CBD to enhance their sleep depth and quality, but it’s effects do not directly make you sleepy or put you to sleep for most people.
Finally, there is the very important matter of legality. It is well known that THC and CBD fall under very different rules in terms of where you can have it, and when you can be under the influence. Here in Nevada, both are fully legal for any adult over the age of 21. But if you’re planning on leaving the state (or taking a government job) it’s important to know the legal difference on a federal level.
THC is not yet federally legal, and has been classified as a Schedule I (no medical value) drug since the War on Drugs started in the 70s. However, many states have chosen to use their states rights to legalize THC -bearing cannabis. So while you cannot cross (federal) state lines with THC, you can enjoy THC legally in legalized states.
CBD was federally legalized by the 2018 Farm Bill to allow the legal production of industrial hemp. As long as all hemp products have less than 0.3% THC by dry weight, (all cannabis has a tiny amount), then CBD and CBD-derived products are federally legal. However, there are a few states that have banned or restricted CBD independently. Nevada residents can enjoy CBD isolate even with government jobs, and CBD can cross federal borders like state lines, but get to know the legal landscape based on the states you are headed to or passing through.
Exploring Both THC and CBD Perfection with Medizin in Las Vegas
Here at Medizin, we love all things cannabis and we love to help our clients find the perfect cannabis experience. Whether you’re looking for a powerful THC, a soothing CBD, or a little of both, we’ve got you covered. Swing by our Las Vegas dispensary, order delivery, or even schedule curbside pickup while admiring our gorgeous outdoor artwork. If you have any questions, just ask our knowledgeable budtenders!