CBD, a relatively new player in the wellness market, is a cannabinoid that has generated considerable buzz. But this newfound interest has yet to surpass the popularity of another cannabis compound, THC. These two phytocannabinoids are different, yet there’s still plenty of people who mistake one for the other. Here, we will compare and contrast CBD vs. THC, so you can learn about their similarities, differences, and impact on health.
CBD vs. THC: An overview
CBD and THC are the two most well-known cannabinoids found naturally within the cannabis plant. They even share an identical chemical formula with 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms (although their molecular structures are unique because of chemical bond differences).
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is best known as the “high” inducing catalyst in marijuana strains. In contrast, CBD, or cannabidiol, is considered to be non-psychotropic. It may even counteract some of the negative psychological effects of THC, although more research is needed to understand those dynamics fully.
CBD and THC both act in the body to impact our health through the vast endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS has regulatory functions throughout the body, helping maintain a stable physiological state called “homeostasis.” This is why CBD and THC are linked to balancing effects in the body, but it’s the way these cannabinoids engage our ECS that reveals differences.
The ECS includes cannabinoid receptors in many organs throughout the body. CB1 receptors are found predominantly in the central nervous system (including the brain), while CB2 receptors are more densely located in the peripheral nervous system and immune system. THC has a strong tendency to bind with brain-based CB1 receptors, which is why it can deliver mind-altering effects. In contrast, CBD interacts with receptors indirectly, with exact mechanisms still being elucidated. Its higher affinity for CB2 receptor interactions is thought to generate a more wide-reaching impact on the body, mediating processes like immune response, inflammation, and pain.
Legally speaking, differences in CBD and THC vary depending on your location and whether the product is marijuana or hemp—different substrains of the Cannabis sativa plant. There are currently 11 US states, plus Washington D.C., that allow recreational use of all cannabis products, including THC-heavy marijauna strains. More than 30 states permit THC use as medical marijuana.
So what about CBD? The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill legalized “industrial hemp” and hemp-derived products (for example, CBD oil) in all 50 states. Industrial hemp encompasses distinct strains of Cannabis sativa in which CBD predominates and THC is very low (less than 0.3% THC by dry weight). This legislative change paved the way for more widespread innovation and use of hemp-derived CBD products with trace levels of THC.
The health benefits of CBD vs. THC
When comparing CBD and THC, most people are curious about the benefits of each compound, and how they stack up against one another. Research on the health effects of THC and CBD is an active area of research. Robust clinical (human) trials on cannabinoids CBD and THC have been conducted for cannabinoid-based prescription drugs:
- dronabinol (THC)
- nabilone (THC)
- nabiximols (THC + CBD)
- Epidiolex (CBD)
- nabiximols (THC + CBD)
The approved clinical indications for these cannabinoid-based pharmaceuticals provide interesting intel into the health effects of THC alone, CBD alone, and the THC + CBD combination:
Cannabinoid-Based Prescription Drug Health Effects
- THC alone: Improves chemotherapy-induced nausea in patients with cancer
- THC alone: Stimulates appetite in patients with wasting syndrome due to AIDS
- CBD alone: Improves epilepsy in two severe forms of childhood seizures (Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndromes)
- THC + CBD: Improves muscle spasticity and neuropathic pain in patients with multiple sclerosis
The next set of evidence comes from studies on medical cannabis, which includes THC, CBD, and myriad compounds from the marijuana plant (other cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, etc.). Because of this entourage, THC and CBD effects do not exist in siloes. Here is the science on the potential health benefits of the cannabis plant.
Medical Cannabis (Marijuana) Health Effects
- Reduces pain, especially neuropathic pain
- Lessens pain and muscle spasticity in multiple sclerosis
- Improves seizure control in epilepsy
- Improves anxiety, including in post-traumatic stress disorder
- Promotes sleep
- Helps with headaches
- Attenuates inflammation, including in inflammatory bowel disease
- Lessens nausea
Like medical cannabis, CBD products derived from industrial hemp also contain an array of plant bioactives, but a key difference is that THC levels are very low (< 0.3 %, per law). Therefore, hemp-derived CBD products give us insights into CBD dominant effects. Well-designed clinical trials are few, as these products are relatively new in the market. Here we summarize CBD centric areas of potential health support.
CBD-Specific Health Support
- Helps with anxiousness
- Supports sleep
- Helps combat pain
- Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
- Supports immune response
Do CBD products contain THC?
When it comes to CBD products, there are three different types of hemp extracts that go into creating these goods, two that are THC-free, and one with trace levels of THC.
Full-spectrum hemp extracts contain CBD, an array of minor cannabinoids (like CBG, CBN, and CBC), terpenes, flavonoids, and small amounts of THC (by law, the THC potency can not exceed 0.3%). There is potential for the “entourage effect,” which describes the synergy of multiple cannabinoids and other hemp plant bioactives (e.g., terpenes) working in tandem.
However, there is a chance that even trace amounts of THC could appear on a drug test. If that’s a deal-breaker for you, the good news is that it doesn’t mean you have to abandon the idea of CBD. Products like pure CBD isolate have gone through a filtration process to strip out all non-CBD cannabinoids, including THC. An isolate is an attractive option for users who wish to avoid the presence of THC but still want to tap into the benefits of CBD. Broad spectrum hemp extracts also offer CBD with no THC content, and still contain minor cannabinoids and terpenes for those looking for a fuller plant profile, minus the THC.
We have highlighted three hemp derived CBD oil products below, two with THC and one without. You can find CBD edibles with similar ratios of CBD and THC. All of these high quality, vetted brands use third-party lab testing to ensure the purity and potency of their CBD products.
CBD Oils with THC
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Spruce CBD Oil Tincture
For a full spectrum CBD oil, Spruce offers some of the most potent products on the market. The company’s CBD oils are available in a 750 milligram tincture, or a 2,400 milligram option for those who need an extra strength CBD oil. These tinctures are very highly reviewed by customers, and contain no artificial flavors, preservatives, or sweeteners. Spruce CBD oils are made with organic hemp seed oil as the carrier oil, so it’s hemp all around. This is a great brand for pain.
CBDistillery Full Spectrum CBD Oil
Another great option for a CBD oil with terpenes and other cannabinoids, including trace levels of THC, comes from CBDistillery. This brand’s full spectrum tinctures are available in a variety of strengths, such as 500, 1000, 2,500, or 5,000 milligrams per bottle. These high quality CBD oils are derived from non-GMO hemp, and come at affordable price points. CBDistillery also offers broad spectrum CBD oils if you’d rather avoid THC, but still benefit from other hemp plant compounds. This is a great oil for anxiety.
Zero THC CBD Products
If a full spectrum oil with small amounts of THC isn’t the route you’re hoping to take, then take a look at this product made with pure CBD isolate:
Medterra CBD Isolate Oil
Medterra makes one of the best THC-free oils. Medterra offers an array of CBD oils, topicals, capsules, and gummies for every type of CBD user, but their traditional CBD isolate oil is our focus today. It’s made with 99.6% pure CBD isolate and is blended with organic MCT oil derived from coconut for a smooth, unflavored tincture. You have three strength options, including 500, 1000, or 3,000 milligrams of CBD per bottle.
Is CBD better than THC?
By nature’s design, the cannabis plant contains an array of cannabinoids, including the two most famous and well-studied: CBD and THC. While derived from the same plant, their mechanisms and effects are unique. Deciding on the right cannabinoid approach is a personal decision, and you’ll need to ponder what benefits you hope to achieve.
One of the practical issues to check is the legality of products containing THC and CBD (i.e., medical cannabis vs. hemp-derived CBD products) in your state. Maybe you live in a state where THC from medical cannabis is legal but prefer a hemp-derived CBD product instead to avoid psychoactive effects of marijuana.
Whether your cannabis-based wellness plan includes reviewed, tested tinctures, medical cannabis edibles with high amounts of THC, or another delivery form, be sure to partner with your healthcare practitioner to personalize and adjust the product and dosage to your individual needs.
Josh Hall has been a professional writer and storyteller for more than 15 years. His work on natural health and cannabis has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review. The product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the link included, we may earn commission.