CBD vs. THC: Is One Better for You Than the Other?

infographic of the differences and similarities of CBD and THC

Table of contents

  1. CBD and THC: Key Similarities and Differences
  2. Legal Status
  3. Health Benefits and Uses
  4. Side Effects and Risks 
  5. Ingestion Methods
  6. The Bottom Line: Which Is Better, CBD or THC?
  7. Frequently Asked Questions

The main difference between THC and CBD is that THC gets you high, but CBD does not. Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are the two most prominent cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. But which one is better for you?

Learn the key similarities and differences between CBD and THC, along with the potential risks and side effects as these cannabinoids compete in a head-to-head contest with scientific evidence as to the judge. 

CBD and THC: Key Similarities and Differences

As THC gets you high and CBD does not, some people think of these cannabinoids as opposites. In reality, CBD and THC are interdependent, working off each other while sharing key similarities and displaying important differences. 

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In general, the hemp plant contains more CBD while the cannabis plant contains more THC. CBD’s hemp origins are responsible for the cannabinoid’s non-intoxicating profile. THC, meanwhile, credits its potent psychoactivity to a cannabis plant ancestry. 

Chemical Structure

Interestingly, CBD and THC have the same chemical formula. Each cannabinoid contains 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms. Then, why aren’t CBD and THC the same? 

While their chemical formula is identical, the arrangement of the atoms differs in CBD and THC. These distinct arrangements of atoms mean that CBD and THC affect you differently. Both cannabinoids bind to neurotransmitters (chemical receptors in your brain), but the effects can be vastly different. 

Psychoactive Effects

The psychoactive effects of THC are well-known, whereas CBD is generally classified as a non-psychoactive substance. This classification, though, is not entirely accurate. CBD may have mildly psychoactive effects, but these effects pale compared to those that THC can exert. 

While THC can get you high, CBD won’t intoxicate you. It can lift a person’s mood and have sedative effects, especially if used in high doses. CBD is certainly psychoactive, as it prompts a physiological response, and CBD has a more noticeable feel, though not overwhelming for most people.

CBD enjoys a more favorable legal status than THC in the United States and worldwide. CBD is legal (with some caveats) in all 50 states, whereas THC and cannabis are illegal in many states and at the federal level. 

Even in the 37 states and smattering of U.S. territories where medical marijuana is legal, THC for recreational purposes often remains illegal. Again, the conflicting legal status of THC is in juxtaposition to the almost universally legal status of CBD. 

Do CBD and THC Show Up on Drug Tests?

Yes, CBD and THC can show up on drug tests. However, CBD usually only appears in the results if the test was directly testing for the cannabinoid or if you have used a CBD product that contains THC. 

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

Health Benefits and Uses

THC, CBD, and the whole spectrum of other cannabinoids all have strong healing potential. Some research indicates that THC may be beneficial for helping cancer patients cope with chemotherapy-induced nausea. Furthermore, THC (particularly in the potent form of Rick Simpson Oil) may be a supplemental treatment for certain types of cancer.

CBD on its own is much more predictable than THC and can have the following effects:

However, CBD isolates are criticized for their lack of other cannabinoids and terpenes. Many experts claim that the actual medical benefits of cannabinoids appear when mixed with different cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids (the "entourage effect"). 

Many would argue that the 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 the legal, hemp-derived ones, many of which may be poorly made. 

Side Effects and Risks 

THC

  • Psychoactive and not ideal for those prone to psychosis.
  • Overconsumption may prompt anxiety (lower dosages can help treat it).
  • For those intolerant to THC, higher doses may cause nausea and/or vomiting rather than beat it.
  • Some risk of psychological dependence, although this is not too severe in most cases.
  • Sedative effects can sometimes be beneficial, but not so much for activities like working.
  • Can negatively interact with some types of medications, e.g., opioids.
Download Free Guide to THC

CBD

  • Can be stimulating in lower doses, a sedative in higher doses.
  • Reduced appetite.
  • Some reports of gastrointestinal issues like stomach pain with commercial varieties of CBD oil.
  • Reports of an increased likelihood of seizures with commercial CBD oil brands and potential negative after-effects.
  • Can dampen the immune system to a greater extent than THC alone, which can be both beneficial (e.g., as an anti-inflammatory) and a problem (e.g., when battling an infection).
  • Interferes with the metabolization of some types of drugs, in particular sedatives (barbiturates, benzodiazepines), immunosuppressants, and some types of NSAIDs like warfarin (a blood thinner).
Download Free Guide to CBD

Ingestion Methods

In general, you can use the same ingestion methods for CBD and THC, which include:

  • Topicals (including transdermal patches)
  • Edibles
  • Sublinguals
  • Smoking and vaping

Take care when preparing or consuming THC edibles, as they can have negative mood and behavioral effects if the dosage is too high. You can perhaps be more liberal when it comes to CBD use, but it is wise to keep an eye on dosage until you grasp what your ideal dosage is.

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.
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Smoking and vaping are the least recommended ingestion methods whether you consume CBD, THC, or any mixture of the two. Protect your lungs by refraining from smoking cannabinoids, nicotine, or other substances. If you require the immediate effects inhaling cannabinoids can provide, inhalers may be a better option. Tinctures, too, can take effect relatively quickly – around about 30 minutes for many, give or take 15 minutes more or less.

The Bottom Line: Which Is Better, CBD or THC?

To answer simply: CBD and THC are equally good but different. CBD has the advantage of having antipsychotic effects, whereas a mixture of THC and CBD may be more beneficial for those suffering from chronic pain. Most people will likely find more therapeutic effects by mixing cannabinoids and terpenes in the proper dosage. Still, CBD alone may be useful for those sensitive to other cannabinoids.

In general, both CBD and THC are well-tolerated by the human body, and you cannot overdose on the use of naturally-derived cannabinoids alone. This gives cannabis one of the least dangerous safety profiles compared to other drugs, even ones as seemingly innocuous as ibuprofen (an NSAID) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).

Frequently Asked Questions

Does CBD work better with or without THC?

CBD and all cannabinoids tend to work better together. Combining CBD with THC activates the entourage effect, which maximizes the healing potential of both cannabinoids. 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 a different response to CBD and THC. However, some anecdotal evidence has shown that high levels of CBD combined with lower levels of THC may be best to combat depression. Other people prefer CBD-exclusive products to help manage their depression and anxiety. People suffering from conditions like PTSD may be more tolerant to THC and find slightly 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 impact of THC. The synergistic relationship between CBD and THC is why the 1:1 ratio of these cannabinoids are so often recommended.

Experience CBD and THC with your own medical marijuana card obtained easily and legally online. Leafwell’s trained medical professionals are ready to help you. Reach out today and book your convenient appointment in our virtual clinic.