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CBD vs THC: Breaking Down the Differences For Good

THC v CBD

With the demand for CBD products increasing daily and regular news stories about life changing benefits, now is a good a time as any to get your head around the potential uses for CBD within your own life.

The two compounds are so closely related, and so often discussed together, that you’d be forgiven for assuming their effects, and maybe even their benefits for health, are similar.

Not only is this not the case at all, but getting the two confused can get you in some hot water legally in many countries!

So what is the difference between CBD and THC?

This easy-to-read article will answer all of your questions:

What’s the difference between THC and CBD?

Chemically, CBD and THC are almost identical. They both consist of the following:

  • 2 oxygen atoms
  • 30 hydrogen atoms
  • 21 carbon atoms

The only difference between them is a minuscule, microscopic difference in how these atoms are laid out.

But, if you need a less scientific explanation, CBD and THC are both cannabinoids.

Cannabinoids are organic compounds that naturally occur within the hemp and cannabis plants. There are actually over 112 cannabinoids present in the plants, each of which have their own unique properties and exist in the plant in varying volumes.

Most of the smaller cannabinoids are still relatively unknown, with research into their effects in the early stages or non existent. With that said, it has been noted that their presence can increase the effects of both CBD and THC, in a reaction known as the “entourage effect”.

Whereas many of these compounds remain a mystery, CBD and THC are by far the most well known, and for good reason.

Let’s take a look at the differences:

THC

THC is short for Tetrahydrocannabinol. This is the active compound in the cannabis plant that is known for getting people “high”, and the ingredient for which recreational cannabis smokers inhale the plant. 

As a result, THC has been illegal for most of the 20th Century in the majority of countries. However, in recent years, it has begun to be legalised in many US states such as California, Colorado and Washington, as well as in Canada, and in some European countries. 

The reasons behind this are partially due to the fact that most recent research suggests the science behind the initial prohibition of cannabis was sketchy at best, and that many of the potential downsides were exaggerated.

But, perhaps more importantly, another factor behind the growing legalization of THC is due to the growing number of health benefits that have been found from the compound, including:

  • Reduction of sickness in chemotherapy patients [1]
  • Reduction of chronic pain, especially chronic pain caused by issues such as fibromyalgia or MS [2]
  • Natural treatment for insomnia [3]

Of course, if you live in a country where THC remains illegal,or you simply don’t want to get high every time you take a natural health supplement, then THC is likely not a practical or logical option for you.

This is where CBD comes, so let’s take a look at the differences:

CBD

CBD is short for Cannabidiol

Unlike THC, CBD has zero psychoactive effects and cannot get you high. For this reason, it is also often legal in many countries where THC is not, such as the UK. This isn’t always the case, however, and some countries have banned ingredients from the hemp plant entirely, so be sure to check our CBD legality guide and list of CBD legality by nation and US state before potentially landing yourself in trouble.

So, if THC is the ingredient of cannabis that has been famous for the longest, the one that is known for getting people high, and the one that faced the vast majority of the legal restrictions, then what on earth is CBD all about, and why is everybody talking about it? You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s the boring one!

But no, CBD is becoming more and more popular worldwide, and the reason is that it has been found to hold a surprising array of health benefits. Many of these are similar to the benefits of THC, several others differ entirely.

To go more in depth on this, check out our post on the benefits of taking CBD oil

However, to summarise, clinical studies have found beneficial results when using CBD oil to help treat or manage health conditions and complaints including:

Not only that, but CBD has also been found to interact directly with the endocannabinoid system, which suggests it can even play a part in promoting the immune system and encouraging a state of homeostasis (general wellbeing). This essentially means it can be a great nutritional supplement or addition to a smoothie, offering numerous health benefits even if you don’t suffer from any of the above complaints.

CBD vs THC: How do They Work? Why Are They So Different?

The answer lies in the endocannabinoid system, and in some ways, that only makes the topic even more mysterious!

We’re sure you’re aware of some of the systems inside the human body and how they each take care of a specific aspect of maintaining health, for example the respiratory system, the endocrine system, and the cardiovascular system.

You’d be forgiven, however, for never having heard of the endocannabinoid system. Despite being a crucial system within the overarching system of the human body, the ECS is a fairly new discovery and still not fully understood.

What we do know, however, is that the ECS is made up of countless CB1 and CB2 receptors, found all over the body. 

CB1 receptors are present in the brain and spinal cord, whereas CB2 receptors are found almost everywhere in the body, but especially in places linked to the immune system.

The simplest way to get your head around the ECS is to imagine these receptors as small “locks” that exist all over the body, with cannabinoids being the “key”. Put simply, whenever a cannabinoid interacts with a cannabinoid receptor, it causes a certain effect or rebalance within the body.

The ECS also directly interacts with all over the other systems of the body, including the immune system. As such, it is theorised to be the bodies way of maintaining order, keeping the other systems in tune with each other, and promoting general wellbeing.

It has also been suggested that CBD itself can reduce the psychoactive effects of THC, suggesting that even the recreational “benefits” of the plant are directly linked to the endocannabinoid system.

CBD vs THC: The Difference in Side Effects

It’s important to know that neither substance can be fatal, and that most of the potential side effects of CBD come from interactions with other drugs (more on that in a moment). 

With that said, you should be careful when ingesting any substance, and cease use immediately if you experience any negative side effects.

THC Side Effects

The side effects of THC include:

  • High blood pressure or increased heart rate
  • Loss of coordination/balance
  • Short term memory loss
  • The giggles/heightened sense of humour
  • Slower reactions
  • Red eyes
  • Dry mouth/increased thirst

All of these side effects are due to the psychoactive effects of THC, and therefore should disappear when said effects wear off. In the short term, this is always the case and THC side effects are nothing to worry about.

However, they can become more serious in the long term, especially for adolescents who ingest large amounts of THC. In extreme cases this can lead to long-term negative psychiatric effects and increased risk of mental health issues.

CBD Side Effects

CBD has none of the above side effects, and is generally considered safe in large amounts.

However, as mentioned above, it does have some interactions with other medications that you’ll need to be aware of. These come from CBD’s natural inhibition of the cytochrome P450 enzyme system. This is a system of enzymes found in the liver that is responsible for safely metabolizing potentially harmful compounds and removing them from the body. 

CBD has been found to slow this process down, which can lead to the body taking longer to remove toxic substances. On its own, this isn’t an issue, but when taken with certain drugs that require quick metabolization, it can become a problem.

The same effect is commonly caused by grapefruit. If you’ve ever taken a medication that warns against eating grapefruit, or if a GP has ever told you not to eat grapefruit while on a certain medication, you should avoid taking that medication with CBD too.

Generally, if a medicine’s instruction leaflet doesn’t mention grapefruit, you’re good to go! But if you need more info to be certain, lists of these medications exist online, and we would also recommend our own resources on how best to take CBD oil and the safety of CBD.

CBD vs THC: Drug Testing 

This is another common question we get asked.

If you’re asking, “can I take THC and pass a drug test?”, the answer is a hard no. THC is one of the recreational substances that such tests look for, and any significant amount of it is likely to cause a positive. Even if you live in a country where THC is legal, you may find yourself in trouble if your job involves driving or operating heavy machinery.

THC is also stored in the fat of the human body, and can remain there for weeks after ingestion. As a result, we would recommend avoiding it if you’re in such a career, or in a country where THC is illegal, even if you are off work for a few weeks.

If you’re asking, “can I take CBD and pass a drug test?” the answer is…mostly.

Since CBD is legal and non psychoactive, the vast majority of drug tests do not attempt to detect it.

There are some things to be aware of, though:

  • Many CBD products do contain THC in varying amounts. In the UK the legal limit is <0.2% of the total volume, which is rarely enough to be detected. However, it’s not impossible for this to flag up, and it’s best avoided entirely if you are expecting to be tested. While CBD isolate does exist and can guarantee zero THC, this is pure CBD which is also lacking all of the other cannabinoids, and therefore likely doesn’t have anywhere near as much use for health concerns as a full spectrum CBD oil
  • CBD sensitive tests are available, and are reliable. They are rare, but this is still something worth being aware of

If you live somewhere where CBD and THC are both legal, and your job is not one that requires driving or the operation of heavy machinery, then you may well decide this risk is worth taking. However, in such countries, and in such careers, we would recommend avoiding CBD altogether – the risk just isn’t worth it.

Conclusion

CBD was only discovered in the 1960s, and has only really been studied in-depth in the last few years.

On the other hand, THC has been known for much longer, yet spent most of that time prohibited and therefore hasn’t been studied much more.

As a result, it’s completely understandable that many people get them confused. In reality, despite their huge similarities, the compounds are extremely different.

However, we hope you will agree after reading this article that CBD holds a promising future as a natural health supplement – and that it’s almost certain the discoveries are only just beginning.

To keep ahead of the cannabis curve, and stay up to date with the latest research findings, keep checking back to the Evopure blog!

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