Medical Cannabis: The Difference Between CBD & THC

Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are both naturally-occurring compounds that are the main active ingredients in medical cannabis. Both compounds generate diverse effects through their interaction with the body’s endocannabinoid system, but CBD and THC couldn’t be more different. THC is a psychoactive compound, meaning it generates a “high”, and CBD counteracts psychoactive effects, and it is used as an alternative medicine for a wide range of ailments. This article takes a closer look at both CBD and THC, to better understand where the two compounds come from, how they work, and how they can be of use to the modern health-conscious individual.

What is CBD?

CBD, or Cannabidiol, is the main active ingredient in cannabis sativa, one of the three strains of cannabis plants. To give you some background, there are three main types of cannabis: cannabis Indica, cannabis Sativa, and a whole range of hybrids. The plant with the highest amount of CBD and the lowest THC is cannabis sativa. CBD is highly medicinal and contains antioxidants that help remove free radicals, fight diseases, and improve health. It is also anti-inflammatory and helps with pain.

Effect of CBD

CBD causes a wide range of effects in the body through its interaction with the endocannabinoid network which involves two main receptors: CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors affect things like memory, sleep, mood, appetite, and pain. CB2 receptors are tied to the immune system and it is through their interaction with CBD that inflammation and pain are reduced.

CBD activates both CB1 and CB2 receptors to boost the activity of natural cannabinoids like anandamide and arachidonoyl glycerol, both of which are present in the body. CBD doesn’t work directly on the nervous system or CB1 receptors; instead, it encourages the body to use more cannabinoids to generate a range of effects.

Health Benefits of CBD

When used as treatment, CBD boosts pain relief, reduces anxiety, and provides the body with anti-oxidant properties that help keep you healthy. It also has properties that improve skin condition and prevent irritation and skin disorders like acne and eczema.

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Medical Cannabis And The Medical Uses of CBD

Both CBD and THC share a diverse range of medical benefits. However, CBD is classified as a non-psychoactive, and receives more attention as an alternative treatment. The FDA has already approved a CBD-infused medication to treat a rare form of epilepsy. Other medicinal uses of CBD include:

  • Pain and inflammation
  • Seizures
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Psychosis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Addiction
  • Sleep disorders

Legal Status of CBD

In the U.S., marijuana products are still classified as Schedule 1 drugs, however the use of CBD is less clear. Technically CBD that is extracted from Cannabis Indica is illegal, however the FDA allows treatment of severe epilepsy with a drug called Epidiolex, which contains CBD. Also, most states allow importing and selling of hemp-extracted CBD.

medical cannabisWhat is THC?

CBD and THC share the same chemical formula, 21 carbon atoms and 30 hydrogen atoms, plus 2 oxygen atoms. Differences in the way these atoms are arranged is what causes the different effects in the body. THC is found in high concentrations in cannabis Indica, but it’s also present in cannabis sativa, but in much lower quantities.

Effects of THC

THC binds to CB1 receptors to produce a high. When taken in high doses, THC can trigger a range of side effects including anxiety, paranoia, cotton mouth, lowered cognitive function, increased creative function, red eyes, etc. At the same time, different users may experience relaxation, euphoria, and pain relief as the main effects.

Health Benefits of THC

Although THC is known mainly for its psychoactive effect, it also has medicinal properties similar to CBD, but perhaps less studied. For instance, both THC and CBD are used to treat anxiety, however some users find THC a catalyst for underlying anxiety and fear, but the amount of THC consumed is responsible for the level of anxiety generated. Other health benefits include pain relief, reduced stress, and higher feelings of happiness.

Medical Uses of THC

While THC does not have as many medical uses as CBD, it is still used to treat a number of neurodegenerative disorders including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. THC is also used to minimize pain in patients with Multiple Sclerosis.


Legal Status of THC

Despite the overwhelming medical data showing its medicinal value, the FDA still classifies THC as a controlled substance, with “no medical use and a high potential for abuse.” However, THC is often looped in with marijuana when classifying its legality and because of a rise in medicinal marijuana, the issue of legality is a bit convoluted. But technically, THC is classified as a controlled substance in the U.S. and many countries across the world.

Want to find out more?

Hemp seeds come from the hemp plant Cannabis sativa, which is the main source of concern with some people. Suffice to say, while hemp seeds do come from the same species as cannabis (marijuana), they actually only contain less than 0.5 % of the psychoactive compound in cannabis- tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)- making them safe to consume without the fear of accidentally inducing a mind-altering effect. Click here to discover the benefits of hemp seeds.