While many people know that CBD and THC are somehow different, not many understand why they’re different or how they differ.
I know these concepts are already confusing and you’ve heard these words like “psychoactive” and “cannabinoids” tossed around before, but stick with me here.
This article is written to be simple and to-the-point so you can understand what these common phrases and terms are, how both CBD & THC work in your body, how a lie became law, and of course, what makes them different.
If your high school science class was like soloing a spliff of information, then think of this guide as a roach of your favorite strain; it’s not overwhelming and you’ll get what you need out of it.
Before we get to the differences between the two, let’s go over some basic cannabis fundamentals. The word psychoactive comes up a lot, so let's clearly define it as "compound alters human perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, and/or behavior".
HEMP VS MARIJUANA
Hemp and marijuana are two different names for the same cannabis plant species. The only key difference here is how the law defines each one; cannabis that contains 0.3% or less of THC is legally defined as hemp, while anything above is legally defined as marijuana.
In other words, let’s say you have two exactly identical Mustangs except that one is blue and the other is red. Sure, the cars have different colors, but if you remove the paint, it’s the same car.
WHY THE 0.3 PERCENT DIFFERENCE?
In 1979, Canadian scientist Dr Ernest Small published a book titled “The Species Problem with Cannabis: Science and Semantics” in which he acknowledged that there’s no definable difference between hemp and marijuana.
Based on a complete guess, Dr. Small completely made up the 0.3% rule, admitting that it was an arbitrary number without any evidence. Lawmakers and politicians ran like hell with it, and to this day, laws are made from this circular logic that wrongfully imprisoned thousands of innocent people.
So is there really a difference between hemp and marijuana, or is it one of those lies that gets told over and over again until everybody just assumes it to be true? You be the judge.
THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, responsible for the feeling of being high after smoking or ingesting cannabis products.
CBD (Cannabidoil) is a non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis plants that shares much of the benefits of THC. In other words, generally speaking, it’s THC without the high.
To recap, hemp and marijuana are the same exact thing, differentiated only by legal definition. CBD is essentially THC without the high. Now we get to the meat of it.
Not only is THC & CBD derived from the same cannabis plant, they also have identical chemical makeup (ingredients). However, because these same chemicals are structured differently, they from two different compounds (recipe) that have similar yet different effects.
In other words, even though both THC & CBD are made with the same chemicals, our bodies respond to the unique structure of these compounds differently, therefore producing different effects on the human consciousness.
HOW IT FEELS
We’ve already established that THC is a psychoactive compound and CBD is a non-psychoactive compound. Psychoactive compounds alter your consciousness and produce the feeling of being high, where non-psychoactive compounds do not; this is why they produce different feelings.
THC alters your state of mind which gives you the feeling of being high, and the amount of THC ingested will amplify the high. While THC relaxes and soothes some, it induces anxiety in others.
Although CBD does not alter your state of mind in a significant manner, it can have a positive effect on your mood and reduce anxiety. You’ll never get stoned out of your mind from CBD, but you can generally feel better from it.
BENEFITS AND TREATMENTS
While CBD and THC do have their own unique set of benefits and use cases for treating certain diseases, they do share a lot of common ground, so we’ll do a quick run down of their common and unique treatment properties.
THC & CBD
When taken together or individually, THC and CBD have been shown to be effective in treating seizure conditions, anxiety, insomnia, glaucoma, symptoms of AIDS, chronic pain, IBS, MS, migraines, and movement disorders.
Studies have also shown that they both are beneficial in overcoming opioid addiction and reducing chronic pain.
The most obvious benefit of THC is how it increases appetite, a very useful component for those undergoing cancer treatment or suffering from eating disorders.
THC is also highly effective in alleviating nausea, reducing pain from arthritis, lowering tremors and muscle spasms, and managing Crohn's disease.
THC is more effective than CBD when it comes to insomnia and glaucoma, and generally is better at reducing pain, although it varies per person.
Seeing as CBD is not psychoactive, it is the preferred treatment for both anxiety and depression. There is no risk of getting too high, but there is a great chance of improving people’s moods.
CBD has also been shown to reduce inflammation and acne, manage PTSD, improve brain function, and prevent seizures. CBD is more effective than THC when treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Although the legalities vary by state, each state’s legal stance on both CBD and THC is very, very gray. Generally, CBD is completely legal in most states, medical THC is gaining serious steam in many states, and recreational THC is legal in very few states.
The only definite legal stance on the situation is on the federal level; CBD is federally legal, but THC is federally illegal. Thankfully, we have a system in the United States where state law can override federal law except on federal property within a state.
TWO WINGS OF THE SAME BIRD
The bottom line to this nebulous topic is this; both CBD and THC are safe and proven to treat a variety of otherwise unmanageable medical conditions. They are identical in chemical makeup but differ in structure, resulting in similar yet unique experiences.
It’s unfathomable that this harmless healing plant is fighting an uphill battle against dated policies drafted nearly 100 years ago. Thankfully, science is once again catching up to what the ancients have known for generations, and there’s no doubt that cannabis will one day be as common as antibiotics.