As hemp, CBD, medical marijuana, and THC are changing legal status state by state, there are lots of questions– and misunderstandings. What is CBD? Can CBD make you high? What’s the difference between hemp and marijuana? Is there THC in hemp? If these questions and others concerning this topic have crossed your mind, we’re about to tell you everything you need to know about CBD and THC.   

Similarities between CBD and THC

The plant

Cannabis (marijuana) and hemp both belong to the same plant species cannabis sativa. Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are two of 113 active compounds, called cannabinoids, found in the cannabis cultivar. The human endocannabinoid system responds to endocannabinoids made by our own bodies as well as the phytocannabinoids CBD and THC found in cannabis sativa. However, CBD and THC, two well-known cannabinoids, bring about different responses in our bodies.  

Chemical make-up

Chemically speaking, CBD and THC are nearly identical: Both have 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. The difference lies in the atoms’ arrangement, and it is this small difference that causes CBD and THC to affect us in different ways.

Medical uses

Both CBD and THC are used medically to ease some of the same conditions, like pain, anxiety, nausea, and insomnia. They both can be used through similar routes of administration, including infused edibles, tinctures/elixirs, vape oils, and topical lotions.

Differences between CBD and THC

Despite having key similarities that make CBD and THC appear very much alike, these two cannabinoids differ in several important ways.

The plant

Like we said, hemp and cannabis come from one plant, but they are of two varieties. Hemp plants are skinny and tall with not much foliage, while cannabis plants are short and stocky with ample foliage and flowers. The cannabis plant has a high amount of THC, usually more than 3 percent, but the amount of CBD present in cannabis plants can vary. On the other hand, hemp plants have high amounts of CBD, but the THC found in hemp is very low at <.3 percent. This amount of THC is so trivial that you could smoke hemp until your lungs collapsed and never experience a high.   

Psychoactivity

THC, when derived from the cannabis plant, usually ranges from about 12 percent to  30 percent, ample enough levels to cause a psychoactive high. CBD has no psychoactive properties. If you do experience a high from using what you believe is a CBD product, it’s not just CBD, it’s a THC product and should be labeled as such.

Effects

By now you might be asking, so if CBD doesn’t cause a high, what does it do? Researchers have found that CBD affects our endocannabinoid system, which was discovered in the 1990s. Scientists isolated two of the human endocannabinoid system’s principle receptors, cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) and cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2). CB1 is found primarily in the brain/central nervous system and assists with healthy brain function while CB2 exists in our immune system and regulates inflammation and disease.

THC is an agonist of the human endocannabinoid system’s CB1 receptors. When bound, THC is great for acute symptom relief, such as, severe pain and nausea; however, it comes with a tradeoff of being psychoactive, which many patients do not like. However, CBD is an antagonist at the same CB1 receptors where THC can bind, meaning that CBD will block or displace the binding of THC. This is a great example of one of the many advantages of CBD when a patient may have consumed too much THC. It can actually bring your high down and displace THC from the CB1 receptor.

CBD is mainly an agonist of CB2 receptors, located in abundance in immune cells, and will bind with them, which helps ease the discomfort of conditions, like arthritis, anxiety, peripheral neuropathy, and muscle pain.

Legality

Hemp is federally legal in the U.S. by the passing of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, which legalized hemp, removed it from the Schedule 1 drug list, and lifted restrictions on its cultivation, sale, transport, and possession. Hemp is legal in 50 states. Marijuana, also known as the cannabis plant, is not federally legal. However, the 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution allows legalization at the state level. Therefore, marijuana use is permitted in those states that have passed legislation legalizing it for medicinal and/or recreational use.

Final thoughts

Suffice it to say, there is a lot of confusion surrounding CBD and THC, and rightfully so. Two different plant varieties, 113 different cannabinoids, two different receptors. Unless you are a botanist, It’s a lot to take in. But the important takeaway is knowing the different ways that CBD and THC can affect you so you can make educated purchases.