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CBD vs. THC: What are the Differences?
CBD vs. THC: What are the Differences?
2020.05.15

CBD vs. THC is a frequent topic of discussion. These acronyms represent the two most known and studied phytocannabinoids derived from the cannabis genus. Both compounds interact with your endocannabinoid system, which is a complex cell signalling system found in all mammals. The two plant chemicals share many beneficial characteristics and medicinal benefits. Still, they also differ in how the body responds to them.

What is CBD?

While CBD is relatively new to consumers, scientists have been studying the compound for over 80 years. Also known as cannabidiol, CBD was first isolated from Egyptian hashish in 1940. It is one of at least 142 phytocannabinoids, which are commonly referred to as cannabinoids. CBD is the second-most abundant compound derived from cannabis after THC.  

What is THC?

You may not realize it, but THC was discovered more than 20 years after CBD. In 1964, renowned cannabinoid scientist, Raphael Mechoulam isolated tetrahydrocannabinol, which is better known as THC. The phytocannabinoid is notorious for its psychoactive effects that produce a "high." However, it also has a long history of medicinal use.

Is CBD Like THC?

Although they're found in the same plants and share a chemical formula, C21H30O2, CBD has a different chemical structure than THC. Both phytocannabinoids interact with the cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2.) But the modification in the compound's assembly may explain why they share some medicinal benefits, but not all.

Does CBD Get You High?

No. Despite the similarities in the two compounds, CBD doesn't produce psychoactive effects at any dose. The difference between CBD and THC is that the CBD doesn't get you high. While it's true, CBD affects the same regions of the brain that THC does, it still doesn't cause the same feelings of extreme euphoria. This also explains why it’s incorrect to call CBD non-psychoactive. Instead, it's better to refer to CBD as non-intoxicating.

What are the Medical Benefits of CBD?

CBD benefits vary depending on why and how you use it. The only approved CBD medication is a cannabidiol oral solution manufactured by GW Pharmaceuticals to treat rare, severe epilepsy conditions in children ages 2 and older that don't respond to traditional medicines.

However, there are dozens of studies and anecdotal reports involving the potential medical benefits of CBD. Many consumers take CBD to reduce inflammation and pain. Several prominent organizations recognize that cannabidiol may provide patients relief without the severe side effects that accompany opioids and other strong pain killers. One study involving diabetic mice found CBD eased spinal swelling, which may reduce neuropathic pain.

Another common reason people use CBD is to relieve anxiety. There are several studies with positive findings that support CBD in place of prescription anxiety medications that may not be as safe as the plant-based option.

One study involving 72 adults with anxiety and poor sleep found 57 participants reporting positive changes less than a month into the research. Only three patients reported issues with tolerance.

Does CBD Have Any Side Effects?

Anything you consume can cause an adverse effect. One reason some medical professionals prefer CBD over pharmaceuticals is the relatively low chances of side effects, which include:

  • Nausea
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue

Dr. Mikhail Kogan, the medical director of the George Washington University Center for Integrative Medicine, told AARP that cannabinoids are "safer than Tylenol or caffeine by tenfold. If you compare them to opiates, they're about 10,000 times safer."

What are the Medical Benefits of THC?

When looking at CBD vs. THC, many people point to the medicinal benefits of CBD. However, THC also has beneficial properties. Both CBD and THC have the potential to reduce pain. Additionally, THC may relieve nausea and stimulate appetite. HIV wasting syndrome and chemotherapy and radiation treatment were the first medical purposes approved under California's Compassionate Use Law in 1996.

Another everyday medical use for THC is sleep. However, this also crosses over with CBD. These work together to provide a better nights' rest. The cannabidiol helps you fall asleep quicker, but the THC can work to keep you sleeping longer.

Researchers are also reviewing THC's potential to help post-traumatic stress disorder by reducing REM, which is the stage of sleep where dreaming occurs. While clinical studies with human participates are currently being conducted across North America, a study found a large number of Canadians with PTSD were already using cannabis to treat symptoms.

"Over one-quarter of Canadians with PTSD reported past-year cannabis use, which is remarkably high compared to the prevalence of recent use in the general Canadian population."

Like CBD and all cannabinoids, researchers are still learning about their properties and how they can be beneficial to living well.

Does THC Have any Side Effects?

Some people do not tolerate THC well. Common issues include anxiety, paranoia, memory impairment, red eyes, dry mouth, increased heart rate, and reduced reaction time. These side effects increase with THC-dominant cannabis strains. Patients can build a tolerance to THC, which can reduce the side effects over time.

How Long Does THC Stay in Your Blood?

There isn't an exact answer on how long THC stays in the body. Current research suggests that detectable levels depend on how often a person uses cannabis, and other variables include body fat, metabolism, gender, and the method of delivery. Additionally, hydration can affect the levels found during urine tests.

THC absorbs into the bloodstream in minutes when you smoke or vape it but takes between 30 and 60 minutes when taken as an edible. The detectable amounts aren't active for long, and it quickly breaks down into THC metabolites. These can stay in the system, stored in fat cells, for a few days to 60 or more days.

For example, one study found heavy users testing positive between 17 to 27 days after cutting off all use. Infrequent users' systems were clean of detectable metabolites in 4 to 12 days.

CBD-Dominant Strains

Although there's been much focus on cultivating cannabis for the highest percentage of THC, CBD-dominant flowers are common in Sweden and growing in popularity in North America. The CBD is derived from the cannabis plant, rather than industrial hemp, which contains less than .3% THC to maintain legality across many legal jurisdictions.

Top CBD-dominant cultivars include,

Stress Killer Automatic CBD is an auto-flowering cannabis strain that's a combination of Lemon Haze, Juanita La Lagrimosa, and an unknown Ruderalis. It contains about 11% THC and produces a clear but functional response and has a citrus flavor.

Solomatic CBD is a high-CBD, low-THC cultivar produces flowers with up to 21% CBD and around 1% THC. It's a crossbreed of Diesel CBD Auto and Asia CBD Auto with an earth-like aroma.

THC-Dominant Strains

High-THC cannabis strains are growing in popularity with new combos popping up regularly. Top THC dominant cultivars include,

Purple Queen is a crossbreed of Hindu Kush and Purple Afghani that produces flowers with approximately 22% THC.

Royal Gorilla is the product of Sour Dubb, Chem Sis, and Chocolate Diesel that packs an impressive 27% THC.

Although many try to pit CBD vs. THC, the truth is they share more characteristics than differences, and, in many cases, they complement each other.

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