Find Out About The Important Differences Between CBD and THC
CBD and THC. Of all the 100-plus cannabinoids that have been discovered to date, these two are the most well-known. But for very different reasons.
Delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is notorious for the ‘high’ it provides when smoked or ingested. Non-intoxicating cannabidiol (CBD), on the other hand, has received huge attention over recent years thanks to the endocannabinoid system support it provides. But that’s not the full extent of the differences between CBD and THC.
Read on to discover the important differences between these two famous cannabinoids.
What are cannabinoids?
Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are both naturally-occurring compounds found in the cannabis plant. They are in a class of diverse chemical compounds known as phytocannabinoids. The prefix ‘phyto’ meaning plant in Greek.
These compounds have physiological effects by supporting our body's endocannabinoid system, which is present within all mammals.
While CBD and THC are the two most prevalent cannabinoids in the cannabis plant - as well as the most well-known and well-researched - there are more. Many more. In fact, scientists have so far isolated 113 different cannabinoids.
Here’s a quick rundown of the major cannabinoids, excluding CBD and THC. This list is far from complete.
- CBGA (Cannabigerolic acid - precursor to a number of cannabinoids, including THCA and CBDA)
- THCA (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid - precursor to THC)
- CBDA (Cannabidiolic acid - precursor to CBD)
- CBCA (Cannabichromenenic acid - precursor to CBC)
- CBGVA (Cannabigerovarinic acid)
- THCVA (Tetrahydrocanabivarinic acid)
- CBDVA (Cannabidivarinic acid)
- CBCVA (Cannabichromevarinic acid)
CBD vs THC: The basics
CBD was first isolated in 1940 whilst THC was isolated in 1964. Both are naturally occurring in the cannabis plant. At their most basic level, the biggest difference between THC and CBD is their vastly different physiological effect. Namely, THC gets you ‘high’ while CBD provides more a therapeutic effect.
CBD vs THC: Structural differences
On a molecular level, CBD and THC are very similar. In fact, they both share the exact same molecular formula, C21H30O2 (consisting of twenty-one carbon atoms, thirty hydrogen atoms and two oxygen atoms). Their molecular mass is also almost identical - approximately 314.4 g/mol.
Both CBD and THC are also synthesized within the plant through very similar pathways. That is, they both share a precursor in Cannabigerolic acid (CBGA). Through different types of biosynthesis, CBDGA creates THCA and CBDA. These cannabinoids then create THC and CBD, respectively, via decarboxylation (which is done via heating - hence why cannabis is traditionally smoked).
The main molecular difference between CBD and THC, however, is apparent in their atomic structure. Both cannabinoids are known as cyclic compounds, which means that one or more series of atoms in the compound are connected to form a ring. The difference is that CBD has an open ring with a hydroxyl group, while THC has a cyclic (closed) ring.
While it may seem insignificant, it is this small difference that results in the seemingly opposing effects of these two cannabinoids.
CBD vs THC: Physiological effects
As briefly mentioned earlier in the article, CBD and THC both support the human body's endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS is responsible for a wide range of bodily processes, including the regulation of sleep, appetite, mood, pain, digestion, fertility, among many others. The overarching purpose of the ECS is to keep the body in homeostasis, or balance. Needless to say, a properly functioning ECS is vital to good health.
Please be aware that this is merely scratching the surface of how CBD and THC work and research into the properties and components of cannabis are on-going.
CBD vs THC: How they interact with each other
As we just alluded to, CBD affects the way THC works within the body. By reducing THC’s ability to bind to and stimulate the CB1 receptor, CBD seems to ‘turn down’ the psychotropic effects of THC.
In this way, CBD can counteract the negative effects of THC consumption such as anxiety, paranoia and short-term memory impairment. This is why many people are now using CBD products or high-CBD strains of cannabis to manage the usually intense ‘high’ caused by THC.
CBD vs THC: Legal status
Here is where another big difference between CBD and THC lies. Put simply, in much of the world, CBD (depending on its source) is legal, while THC is not.
In the U.S., not listed under the Controlled Substances Act so it is legally available providing it is derived from imported, legally-grown hemp (which is low-THC cannabis traditionally grown for industrial purposes).
THC, meanwhile, is listed in the Controlled Substances Act and, therefore, is prohibited under federal law. However, at last count, 29 U.S. states and Washington D.C. have passed various laws that allow high-THC cannabis to be used medicinally. Nine of those states and Washington D.C. have gone a step further and legalized the recreational use of high-THC cannabis.
In Europe, CBD is legal in every country. They are some way behind the U.S. in terms of high-THC cannabis legalization, however, with only a handful allowing medicinal use. Nowhere in Europe is high-THC cannabis legal to consume recreationally, although it is tolerated in the Netherlands and the cannabis clubs of Spain.
So there you have it. While CBD and THC are the two cannabis compounds that get the most attention, they provide rather different effects. Having said that, both offer profound therapeutic value in their own right.
Perhaps with on-going cannabis research, scientists may reveal a lot more secrets and uses, not only of CBD and THC but for the hundreds of other cannabinoids in this special plant.
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