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CBD vs. THC: What’s the Difference?

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As the legal use of hemp and other cannabis products grows, consumers are becoming more curious about their options. This includes cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), two natural compounds found in plants of the Cannabis genus.

CBD can be extracted from hemp or cannabis.

Hemp and cannabis come from the Cannabis sativa plant. Legal hemp must contain 0.3 percent THC or less. CBD is sold in the form of gels, gummies, oils, supplements, extracts, and more.

THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces the high sensation. It can be consumed by smoking cannabis. It’s also available in oils, edibles, tinctures, capsules, and more.

Both compounds interact with your body’s endocannabinoid system, but they have very different effects.

Read on to learn more about these compounds. While they may have a lot in common, they have some key differences that determine how they’re used.

Both CBD and THC have the exact same molecular structure: 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. A slight difference in how the atoms are arranged accounts for the differing effects on your body.

Both CBD and THC are chemically similar to your body’s endocannabinoids. This allows them to interact with your cannabinoid receptors.

The interaction affects the release of neurotransmitters in your brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals responsible for relaying messages between cells and have roles in pain, immune function, stress, and sleep, to name a few.

Despite their similar chemical structures, CBD and THC don’t have the same psychoactive effects. CBD is psychoactive, just not in the same manner as THC. It doesn’t produce the high associated with THC. CBD is shown to help with anxiety, depression, and seizures.

THC binds with the cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors in the brain. It produces a high or sense of euphoria.

CBD binds very weakly, if at all, to CB1 receptors. CBD needs THC to bind to the CB1 receptor and, in turn, can help reduce some of the unwanted psychoactive effects of THC, such as euphoria or sedation.

In the United States, cannabis-related laws are evolving regularly. Technically, CBD is still considered a Schedule I drug under federal law.

Hemp has been removed from the Controlled Substances Act, but the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still classify CBD as a Schedule I drug.

However, 33 states plus Washington, D.C., have passed cannabis-related laws, making medical cannabis with high levels of THC legal. The cannabis may need to be prescribed by a licensed physician.

In addition, several states have made recreational use of cannabis and THC legal.

In states where cannabis is legal for recreational or medical purposes, you should be able to buy CBD.

Before you try to buy products with CBD or THC, it’s important to research your state’s laws.

If you possess cannabis-related products in a state where they’re illegal or don’t have a medical prescription in states where the products are legal for medical treatment, you could face legal penalties.

CBD and THC have many of the same medical benefits. They can provide relief from several of the same conditions. However, CBD doesn’t cause the euphoric effects that occur with THC. Some people may prefer to use CBD because of the lack of this side effect.

In June 2018, the FDA approved Epidiolex, the first prescription medication to contain CBD. It’s used to treat rare, difficult-to-control forms of epilepsy. (Epidiolex is not currently approved for any of the other conditions listed below.)

CBD is used to help with other various conditions, such as:

  • seizures
  • inflammation
  • pain
  • psychosis or mental disorders
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • nausea
  • migraine
  • depression
  • anxiety

THC is used to help with the following:

  • pain
  • muscle spasticity
  • glaucoma
  • insomnia
  • low appetite
  • nausea
  • anxiety

CBD is well tolerated, even in large doses. Research suggests any side effects that occur with CBD use are likely the result of drug-to-drug interactions between CBD and other medications you may be taking.

THC causes temporary side effects, such as:

  • increased heart rate
  • coordination problems
  • dry mouth
  • red eyes
  • slower reaction times
  • memory loss
  • anxiety

CBD’s side effects may include:

  • appetite changes
  • fatigue
  • weight loss
  • dizziness
  • diarrhea

These side effects are part of the compound’s psychoactive properties.

Neither compound is fatal.

However, high THC use may be connected to long-term negative psychiatric effects. This is especially true for adolescents who consume large amounts of THC, though there’s no conclusive evidence that using cannabis causes psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia.

Cannabinoids like THC and CBD are stored in the body’s fat. They can show up on drug tests for several days or weeks after you use them.

Not every drug test will be able to detect CBD, but CBD-sensitive tests are available. Most standard drug tests will look for chemicals related to THC, so THC or marijuana use might show up on a screening.

Likewise, hemp can produce some THC in addition to CBD, so a test could be positive for THC even if you haven’t used it.

It’s important to note that products that claim to be THC-free may not be free of THC, so if you’re drug tested, you shouldn’t use any CBD or THC products.

CBD and THC are two of the most prominent cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Both cannabis and hemp produce CBD and THC.

However, cannabis has a higher concentration of THC. Hemp has a higher concentration of CBD.

The average cannabis strain today contains about 12 percent THC. CBD oil may contain small amounts of THC because it’s present at low levels in the hemp plant. CBD can have no more than 0.3 percent THC to be legal at the federal level.

CBD and THC both have medical benefits. They’re also both considered safe, but consider the possibility of side effects and interactions with other drugs you’re taking. Talk with your doctor or a qualified cannabis or CBD clinician before use and if you have any questions.

Want to learn more about CBD? Click here for more product reviews, recipes, and research-based articles about CBD from Healthline.

CBD THC
Is illegal No (See below) Yes (See below)
Produces a high No Yes
Interacts with endocannabinoid system Yes Yes
Has side effects Some Psychoactive side effects
Shows on drug test Possibly Yes
Relieves pain Yes Yes
Reduces nausea Yes Yes
Eases migraine Yes Yes
Reduces anxiety Yes Yes
Eases depression Yes No
Decreases seizures Yes No
Is anti-inflammatory Yes Yes
Helps with insomnia Yes Yes
Helps with psychosis Yes No
Increases appetite No Yes
Is used for various other conditions Yes Yes

Is CBD Legal? Hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal on the federal level, but are still illegal under some state laws. Marijuana-derived CBD products are illegal on the federal level, but are legal under some state laws. Check your state’s laws and those of anywhere you travel. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are not FDA-approved, and may be inaccurately labeled.

There’s a lot of confusion about the difference between the different components of the cannabis plant, especially with current laws. We’ll take a look at two compounds, CBD vs. THC, and compare them on a number of different levels. Both may have benefits, but they differ despite having many similarities.

A cheaper, safer CBD alternative? Scientists discover new synthetic CBD analogue alleviates seizures in rats

Findings of the study are the basis of a new start-up, Syncanica, which is developing commercial applications of the new H2CBD compound

31 May 2019 — A synthetic, non-intoxicating cannabidiol (CBD) alternative, 8,9-Dihydrocannabidiol (H2CBD) was found to be as effective in treating the frequency and severity of seizures in rats, pointing towards a potential therapeutic application for humans. The research was conducted by chemists at the University of California, Davis, US, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Reading, UK. According to their report, the synthetic CBD alternative is easier to purify than a plant extract, eliminating the need to use agricultural land for hemp cultivation (making it cheaper), and can avoid legal implications surrounding cannabis-related products. Their work was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

“It’s a much safer drug than CBD, with no abuse potential and doesn’t require the cultivation of hemp,” says Mark Mascal, Professor in the UC Davis Department of Chemistry. The researchers have ambitions to conduct further studies in animals with a goal of moving into clinical trials soon. UC Davis has applied for a provisional patent on antiseizure use of H2CBD and its analogues, and Mascal has founded a company, Syncanica, to continue the development of H2CBD for commercial applications.

Syncanica has now applied for federal funding, but Mascal says the company is open to a joint development agreement with an established company. “We would like to see a product for the market as soon as possible, but there are a lot of variables that make a timeframe prediction impossible at this point,” he tells NutritionInsight. “The product would cater initially to the same demographic as the current, herbal cannabis-based drug on the market (pediatric epilepsy), but it would not be in regulatory no-man’s land like cannabis now is (in most of the world), and ideally be less expensive.”

Products containing CBD have risen in popularity because of their touted health effects and due to the fact the compound does not cause a high. CBD is also being investigated as a pharmaceutical compound for conditions including anxiety, glaucoma and arthritis. As such, in recent years there has been a proliferation of NPD in this space – from CBD-infused wines and waters, to stick packs and even cinnamon rolls. The US Food and Drug Administration has approved an extract of herbal CBD for treating some seizure conditions and there is also strong evidence from animal studies.

However, because the extract is derived from cannabis or hemp plants, CBD poses legal problems in some US states and under federal law. Another implication is that is also possible to chemically convert CBD to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the intoxicating compound in marijuana, which gets you high.

8,9-Dihydrocannabidiol (H2CBD) is a synthetic molecule with a similar structure to CBD. Mascal’s laboratory developed a simple method to inexpensively synthesize H2CBD from commercially available chemicals. “Unlike CBD, there is no way to convert H2CBD to intoxicating THC,” he says.

And furthermore, Mascal adds that H2CBD does not appear to have the expected effects as CBD (no drowsiness, etc), as it is believed these are caused by CBD’s partial conversion to THC in the gastric tract, which is does not happen to H2CBD. The compound’s potential for use as a dietary supplement (antioxidant) is said to be identical to that of CBD.

“Our plan now is to do IND (investigational new drug)-enabling, nonclinical studies in anticipation of first-in-human clinical evaluation,” Mascal explains. “Essentially, we need more validation in animal trials to move forward. This first paper described preliminary results in the control of induced seizures in rats, where H2CBD and CBD were shown to have essentially identical efficacy. Follow up work will take up where that left off, and include in-depth pharmacokinetic studies.”

An industry report by Rabobank elaborates that there is still ambiguities as to whether CBD has indeed proven its potential as a new consumer staple, or is slated to become another “has-been cure-all in the supplement aisle.” The analysis, which takes a hard look at the future of CBD in the US, underscores the issue of a possible crash in the hemp market due to supply chain imbalances and legal implications. With this in mind, non-farmed, fully synthetic H2CBD may be well-positioned to fill in gaps in this budding market.

By Benjamin Ferrer

Nutrition Insight.com is edited and hosted by CNS Media BV, Arnhem, The Netherlands, the leading international publisher on food-ingredient and food product development