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CBD vs. THC: Is One Better for Your Health?

infographic of the differences and similarities of CBD and THC

Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are the two most prominent cannabinoids found in cannabis plants, each with unique therapeutic properties. So, is one better for you than the other?

The main difference between these cannabinoids is that THC has psychoactive properties that can make you feel “high,” while CBD does not. While many marijuana users might think THC and CBD are on opposite ends of the cannabis spectrum, they have more in common than you might think.

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CBD and THC: Key Similarities and Differences

As we mentioned, the difference between THC and CBD is how they make you feel. THC yields intoxicating effects (especially at higher concentrations) while CBD does not.

In reality, CBD and THC are interdependent, working off each other while sharing key similarities and displaying important differences.

Where They Come From

In general, hemp plants contain more CBD, and cannabis plants have more THC. The hemp origins of CBD are why the cannabinoid has a non-intoxicating profile. Meanwhile, the potent psychoactivity of THC is attributed to its marijuana plant ancestry.

Cannabis sativa plants tend to contain more THC than CBD, though it varies from strain to strain.

Chemical Structure

Interestingly, CBD and THC have the same chemical formula. Going back to high school chemistry class, each cannabinoid contains 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms.

So if the compounds are the same, how can they have such different effects? While their chemical formulas are identical, how their atoms are arranged differs. That’s why CBD and THC affect people differently.

Psychoactive Effects

Both cannabinoids work by binding to neurotransmitters (chemical receptors in your brain). The psychoactive effects of THC are well-known, whereas CBD is generally classified as a non-psychoactive substance.

That said, this classification isn’t entirely accurate. CBD may actually have mild psychoactive effects — though these would pale in comparison to THC. Like other cannabinoids, CBD prompts a wide range of physiological responses like lifting a person’s mood or helping them get to sleep.

Both CBD and THC can have sedative effects, especially if used in high doses.

CBD is legal (with some caveats) in all 50 states thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, whereas THC and cannabis are illegal at the federal level. To be classified as CBD in the United States, products must have a THC concentration below 0.3%.

Even in the states and smattering of U.S. territories where medical marijuana is legal, THC for recreational use remains illegal in many places.

Do CBD and THC Show Up on Drug Tests?

Yes, CBD and THC show up on drug tests. However, CBD usually only appears in results if it was specifically tested for; it may also show up if you’ve used a CBD product that contains THC.

Depending on the type of test (blood, urine, or hair), THC is detectable for up to 30 days, sometimes longer. The more frequently and heavily you consume cannabis, the more likely you’ll have a positive drug test result.

Health Benefits and Uses

The whole spectrum of cannabinoids — including THC and CBD — has strong healing potential.

Some clinical research indicates that THC helps cancer patients cope with chemotherapy-induced nausea. In addition, THC (particularly in the potent form Rick Simpson Oil) may be used as a supplemental treatment for certain cancers.

CBD on its own is much more predictable than THC and may alleviate:

However, CBD isolates are criticized for their lack of cannabinoids and terpenes. Many experts claim the actual medical benefits arise when different cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids are mixed, producing what’s called the entourage effect.

Side Effects and Risks 

Many would argue that the health benefits of CBD on its own are overstated. There does seem to be a marked difference in quality and efficacy between medical cannabis products and legal ones derived from hemp, many of which are poorly made.

Make sure to read hemp-derived CBD product labels and know where they come from to avoid any risks. Typically, CBD’s side effects are mild and include:

  • Stimulation in lower doses and sedation in higher doses.
  • Reduced appetite.
  • Gastrointestinal issues and stomach pain.
  • Increased likelihood of seizures using commercial CBD oil brands.
  • Interference with other medications, including sedatives (barbiturates, benzodiazepines), immunosuppressants, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and blood thinners like warfarin.

CBD may also dampen the immune system to a greater extent than THC. This can be beneficial as it acts like an anti-inflammatory, but it can also cause problems if you’re battling an infection.

Now, let’s look at some of the risks and side effects of THC:

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Ingestion Methods

When it comes to cannabis use, there are tons of different ways to ingest THC and CBD products including:

Take care when preparing or consuming THC edibles, as they can have negative effects if the dosage is too high. You can be more liberal when it comes to CBD, but it’s always wise to watch how much you take until you know what the ideal dosage is.

Whether you’re using CBD, THC, or a mixture of the two, smoking and vaping have the highest risk factors. Inhaling smoking or combustible plant material can be hard on the lungs and potentially cause damage.

If you need the immediate effects inhaling cannabinoids provides, cannabis inhalers are another option. Tinctures, too, take effect relatively quickly — around 30 minutes or less for many.

A CBD or THC tincture dropper on a white plate next to a marijuana nug and drops of oil made into a heart surrounding the tincture bottle.
Source

The Bottom Line: Is CBD or THC Better?

CBD and THC are equally good but different. CBD has the advantage of not making you feel high so you can take it pretty much anytime any place. A mixture of THC and CBD products may be especially beneficial for things like pain relief.

Most people experience heightened therapeutic effects with a combo of cannabinoids and terpenes, however, CBD oil alone for example is useful for those sensitive to more intense compounds like delta-9 THC.

In general, both CBD and THC are well-tolerated by the human body; you can’t overdose on naturally-derived cannabinoids alone even if you take too much. This awards cannabis one of the best safety profiles compared to other drugs — even everyday innocuous medications like ibuprofen (an NSAID) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).

Remember that CBD products are legal while cannabis products containing more than 0.3% are illegal by federal law.

If you want even more access to some great CBD and THC products, consider signing up for a medical marijuana card in your state. Book an appointment with Leafwell today to get started.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Does CBD work better with or without THC?

All cannabinoids, including CBD, tend to work better together. Combining CBD with THC activates the entourage effect, which maximizes the healing potential of both cannabis compounds.

That said, if you have a sensitivity to THC, there are countless CBD products available that only contain trace amounts (0.3% or less) of the psychoactive compound.

Is THC or CBD better for treating depression?

Each individual will have different responses to cannabis. However, anecdotal evidence has shown that high levels of CBD combined with lower levels of THC may be the best for combating depression.

Other people prefer CBD-only products to manage depression and anxiety. People suffering from medical conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be more tolerant of THC and find higher doses more beneficial.

What is the relationship between CBD and THC?

As the two main cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, CBD and THC balance each other out. The mellow effects of CBD can complement the often energizing impacts of THC. The synergistic relationship between CBD and THC is why a 1:1 ratio of these is often recommended.

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