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by Angel Ferrer 6 min read


What’s the difference between CBD and THC?

Hemp and other cannabis products continue to gain popularity in the global market. The continued growth has consumers wondering more about the different options there are.

When getting into the details of the Cannabis genus, things can get rather technical and confusing. The two natural components that most are familiar with from this genus are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

We see plenty of products marketed as CBD or THC or even both, but what is the difference between the two?

CBD vs THC: Horticultural Origins

The Cannabis sativa plant is a member of the Cannabis genus, a flowering plant with origins in Eastern Asia. Its present-day popularity for use in fibers, oils, food, recreational and medicinal purposes makes it available worldwide.

Both hemp and cannabis are derivatives of the Cannabis sativa plant. The two main components of the Cannabis sativa plant that you find in recreational and medicinal products are CBD and THC. 


Hemp is one of the Cannabis sativa plant varieties and is more commonly known for producing CBD. Although hemp contains higher concentrations of CBD, it still can have trace amounts of THC.

Hemp may still have low concentrations of THC present. At the federal legal level, hemp cannot have more than 0.3% THC present.


Cannabis is another common variety of the Cannabis sativa plant that is known for producing THC. Opposite to hemp, cannabis has higher THC concentrations but is still capable of having CBD components. 

Typically, cannabis strains will contain 12% THC.

CBD vs THC: Forms

Legal forms of CBD must contain no more than 0.3% THC. You can find CBD in many forms, some of which including:


THC is known for its psychoactive components, which produce a high sensation when you consume it. You can also find THC in multiple forms, including: 

  • Gel form
  • Gummy candies
  • Oils
  • Supplements
  • Extracts

CBD Strains

You can find products with all types of varying CBD and THC ratios. Some of the more popular strains you will find are:



High THC, low CBD

10 to 30% THC with trace amounts of CBD

Balanced CBD/THC

5 to 15% THC and 5 to 15% CBD

High CBD, low THC

5 to 20% CBD with under 5% THC


You might be interested in looking for a high CBD strain with low THC for more practical use with the added medicinal benefits. Consumers who are also more sensitive to THC and maybe more susceptible to the adverse side effects will typically opt for higher CBD strains. Athletes may also recover better using CBD.

Balanced CBD and THC strains are suitable for individuals looking for more of the medicinal benefits of THC, with less of the psychoactive properties of high THC strains. They tend to offer the most benefits in terms of pain relief. Even those sensitive to THC may find that a balanced strain is a right choice for them.

Higher THC and lower CBD strains will lead to a euphoric feeling or high when consumed.

CBD vs. THC: Chemical Structure

Looking at both CBD and THC's chemical compounds, you will find that they both have the same molecular structure. Both CBD and THC consist of the following atoms:

  • 21 carbon
  • 30 hydrogen
  • 2 oxygen

While they consist of the same elements, the atoms' arrangement makes up the differences in their compounds. As a result, CBD and THC have different effects on the body when you consume them. 

Endocannabinoid System

The human body has a complex endocannabinoid system within it. Each system consists of a series of endocannabinoids that bind to cannabinoid receptors found primarily in the central nervous system. CBD and THC, on a molecular level, are very similar to the endocannabinoids in your body, which allows them to interact directly with your cannabinoid receptors.

These interactions between endocannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors in the body directly impact neurotransmitters releasing in your brain. In turn, CBD and THC have a direct role in your body's level of pain, immune function, stress, and sleep. 

CBD vs. THC: Psychoactive Properties

Despite being molecularly very similar, the small differences in CBD and THC's chemical structures determine the different effects the two have on the mind and the body. 

Contrary to popular belief, CBD still has psychoactive properties, just not the same for which THC is known. Unlike THC, CBD does not create a high but can still be heavily impactful with individuals who suffer from anxiety, depression, or seizures. 

On the other hand, THC binds with the brain's receptors, cannabinoid 1 (CB1), which results in a high when consumed. If CBD can attach to the CB1 receptors, it is a fragile bond, almost unnoticeable.

Knowledge Check: What are CBD Pills?

When used together, THC helps CBD bind to the CB1 receptors in the brain. When this happens, the CBD helps to reduce the psychoactive effects of THC.

CBD vs. THC: Legality

Around the world, laws relating to cannabis products are continually evolving. There have been extraordinary advancements in the acceptance of CBD and THC for medicinal purposes amongst the United States, including removing hemp from the Controlled Substances Act.

Additionally, in the United States, over 30 states have legalized medical cannabis containing high THC levels. In some regions, these medications might require a prescription by a licensed physician but can be readily available as needed.

Some states within the United States have legalized the recreational use of cannabis and THC products entirely.

Still, under the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), CBD is considered a Schedule I drug at the federal level.

If you are interested in purchasing CBD or THC products, make sure to look up your local state laws. Even if you acquire legal products, but it is illegal in your state, you still risk potential legal penalties. Learn more about Why Hemp Legalization is a Boom in the Economy.

Drug Testing

Because both CBD and THC are cannabinoids, they are stored in the body's fat, making them appear on drug tests for an extended amount of time following use. Depending on how your body metabolizes fats, drug tests could show positive for CBD or TCH for days or even weeks. Learn how you may be able to Pass a Marijuana Drug Test.

It is not as common for CBD to be on a drug test because it can be harder to detect, but CBD sensitive tests are available. The more common drug test will look for THC, and because some hemp products can have traces of THC with CBD, you could still test positive. 

To be extra cautious, if you are drug tested or anticipate drug testing in the future, you might want to steer clear of any CBD or THC products.

Learn more: How Long Does Cannabis Stay in Your System?

CBD vs. THC: Medical Use

It is no surprise that CBD and THC have several similar benefits to the medicinal world. There are some slight differences between the two, but the most prominent is the high effect of THC. 

The most common medicinal uses for CBD and THC include:










Muscle spasticity





Inflammatory bowel disease

Lack of appetite






Even more specifically, research continues to emerge surrounding CBD and its benefits in treating or assistance in managing symptoms of the following:

  • Epilepsy and seizure disorder
  • PTSD
  • Crohn's disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Opioid withdrawal

You can also find CBD For Pets in our online CBD products shop.


Epidiolex became the first FDA approved prescription medication that contains CBD in June of 2018. The primary use of Epidiolex is to treat rare forms of epilepsy.

Marinol and Syndros

Marinol and Syndros are drugs on the market that help treat chemotherapy treatments' adverse results, including nausea and vomiting. These drugs contain dronabinol, which is a synthetic form of THC.


Cesamet is a drug used for treating weight loss and loss of appetite as a side effect of chemotherapy and HIV/AIDS. This drug contains nabilone, which is a synthetic substance with very similar properties to THC. 

Side Effects of CBD & THC

Neither CBD nor THC is proven to have any directly fatal side effects. The body can tolerate CBD even when consumed in significant doses.

Any side effects that you might experience are a direct result of the psychoactive properties of the compounds and may include: 



Change in appetite

Increase in heart rate


Difficulties with coordination

Weight loss

Dry mouth


Red eyes


Reduced reaction time


Loss of memory




There have been some connections to long-term adverse psychiatric effects in cases of excessive THC consumption in adolescents. While there are claims, no evidence has been able to conclude that THC use can cause psychiatric disorders.

CBD May be Right For You

CBD and THC are often referred to together and sometimes separately, making it difficult to differentiate the two. In the end, both CBD and THC have medicinal benefits while being considered safe for consumption.

Worldwide, laws are evolving surrounding the legality of CBD and THC for recreational and medicinal use. As we continue to watch these laws change, you need to know the most up to date information in your area to avoid any potential legal concerns.

If you are interested in the medicinal benefits of using either CBD or THC, be sure to speak with your doctor or qualified CBD clinician first. This step is crucial to ensure you do not have any adverse interactions with other medications you might be presently using.