CBD vs. THC: The Yin & Yang of Cannabis
Mother Nature provides us with everything we need to maintain optimal health, and cannabis is proof of this. But in a twisted sense of irony, humankind has demonized and criminalized this fascinating plant for decades.
The main drawback of cannabis as medicine has been its mind-altering effect. However, the unrivaled relief that it provides from several conditions and symptoms can’t be ignored anymore.
Its benefits are now documented. Since the discovery of cannabinoids in the 1960s, researches started to understand what this plant can really do to our health.
If you’re familiar with the yin and yang concept, it makes sense that CBD and THC are much more than mere opposites—they, together, and with the help of other compounds, make cannabis, the most misunderstood healing plant that Mother Nature gave us.
In this article, I will walk you through the differences, qualities, and safety of these prominent compounds.
But first, let me introduce you to the terminology.
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What Is the Difference Between Hemp & Marijuana?
I’m going to try and keep it as simple as possible. Cannabis has many names and varieties, including hemp and marijuana.
“Hemp” is the term used to classify some specific varieties of cannabis that only have a content of 0.3% (or less) of THC.
The legal definition of this term, according to the Agricultural Act of 2018, states that every cannabis plant that has a non-intoxicating effect and gets used for industrial purposes is called “hemp.”
Well, they aren’t wrong—hemp has been used throughout history for housing materials, paper, clothing, rope, and food.
Marijuana, on the other hand, is something we are more familiar with.
Everything that consists of more than 0.3% of THC is called “marijuana,” and these strains are the ones that have psychotropic or euphoric effects on the user.
Cannabis is home to many chemicals. In fact, it produces more than 400 compounds; the most prominent these days are the cannabinoids.
What Are Cannabinoids?
You’ve probably been hearing a lot of this word recently, especially if you use or know people who use CBD or medical marijuana.
“Cannabinoid” is just the scientific term that signifies the chemical compounds CBD and THC, as well as others, that are extracted from cannabis flowers. More than a hundred cannabinoids have been identified in this one plant.
Believe it or not, these compounds are known to make your body a better place to live in, by fighting inflammation, anxiety, nausea, and chronic pain.
Let’s take it up a notch and discuss how cannabinoids impact your body. These compounds work their magic by working in the same manner as the compounds that are already present in your body—the endocannabinoids.
When your body spots anything that’s “off,” it releases endocannabinoids to fix things and keep sickness at bay.
According to the findings of experiments conducted by the medical community, this results in the boost of internal health and stability.
Cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a signaling network hidden in the brain—and throughout the entire body—specifically designed to use these compounds.
It’s likely that you didn’t hear of this system at school, because it wasn’t discovered until the 1990s. But it’s powerful enough to control a long list of processes in your body. We’re talking about everything that ranges from your immune responses to your metabolism, pain responses, brain function, and mood.
The ECS is full of receptors—the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2. These receptors interact with not only your endocannabinoids but also with the cannabinoids found in plants like cannabis.
The interaction of the different cannabinoids with these receptors is what give the different effects on your body.
Experts have found that each cannabinoid binds to different receptors. For instance, THC is known to bind to CB1 receptors in your brain, which gives its mind-altering effect, whereas CBD bind to different receptors throughout the body.
From all of the above, any layman can at least deduce that cannabinoids can bring you different kinds of relief. It’s not an exact science, but hopefully it’s not for long.
CBD vs. THC: Atomic Differences
Now, if you haven’t studied chemistry before, you’re probably going to find the discussion ahead a bit confusing or overwhelming. I’ll try my best to make it simple for you.
Both THC and CBD are classified as structural isomers. This simply means that they may have the same chemical compositions, but their individual atomic arrangements are entirely unique.
Both of these compounds have a molecular formula that is denoted by 30 hydrogen atoms, 21 carbon atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms but they’re arranged in a slightly different way, as a result, their effects are different.
Both THC and CBD are also known to be cyclic compounds, which means that at least one of their atoms has formed a ring. The difference between the two, however, is that CBD has an alkene and hydroxyl group with an open ring, while THC has an ester group with a closed ring.
This minute difference between the two may seem negligible, but this is the sole reason behind those dramatic differences in the effects they have on the human body.
Both of these compounds may enter your endocannabinoid system in the same manner, but each will interact with your receptors very differently.
How CBD & THC Work
Let’s simplify what we’ve said up till now. If CBD and THC were a shape, CBD would be a circle; whereas, THC would be an oval.
Their unique molecular structures are the reason behind their unique effects on humans.
For instance, THC morphs your cognitive abilities, because it binds directly and strongly to the CB1 receptors in your brain.
CB1 is a psychoactive receptor, therefore, THC’s action results in intoxication, the kind that people were made to fear in the infamous film “Reefer Madness.”
But THC is NOT only euphoria, munchies and mayhem. When it binds to the receptors outside the central nervous system, it imparts non-psychoactive but therapeutic anti-inflammatory effects.
CBD, on the other hand, does no such thing. CBD doesn’t bind the cannabinoid receptors in the same way THC does.
Instead, CBD alters the shape of your cannabinoid receptors. This process is known as “allosteric modulation,” and it prevents the overstimulation of the receptors, along with breaking down the negative effects of THC on them.
CBD not only impacts the cannabinoid receptors, but experts believe it also interacts with the serotonin receptors, pain receptors, gene expression receptors, and some specific enzymes. These interactions lead to a number of potential health benefits.
Let’s explore the health benefits of these cannabinoids.
Health Benefits of CBD
There are multiple clinical trials proving that CBD can help treat epilepsy. Doctors can now also be found prescribing Epidiolex—the first CBD product approved by the FDA—for rare forms of epilepsy in children.
CBD’s effects on anxiety, on the other hand, aren’t that professionally documented. Anecdotal reports and a few clinical trials are why the rumors seem to be so promising.
All of these reports point to the fact that patients suffering from different types of anxiety like PTSD, OCD, and social phobias displayed great results in terms of improvements after controlled dosages.
But more studies need to be done to substantiate the claims about CBD for this matter.
Same as THC, CBD has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and neuroprotective qualities.
Preliminary research also suggest that CBD may have potential to treat conditions like:
- Neurological disorders
- Chronic pain
- Crohn’s disease
- Bone damage
Undoubtedly, CBD has potential medical value without the intoxication risk, but it’s not a cure-all drug.
Health Benefits of THC
THC has been famously used to manage the side-effects of AIDS and chemotherapy, which include a loss of appetite, vomiting, and nausea.
THC is also used to treat conditions such as:
- muscle spasticity
THC has other health benefits:
- It’s an anti-inflammatory.
- It’s antibacterial.
- It’s an antioxidant: THC fights free radicals and reduces the signs of aging.
- It’s neuroprotective: THC stimulates brain cells and even grows new ones.
THC has health benefits that come with the risk of mind-altering effects.
Health Benefits: CBD & THC Together
If you are an avid reader and up-to-date on recent news, you will definitely have come across the term “entourage effect.”
Simply put, the entourage effect is the potential of cannabis compounds to work together synergistically.
As we saw above, CBD and THC share many of the same medical properties. In many cases, they’re more beneficial when working as a team.
I take a full-spectrum formula that contains CBD, plus other cannabinoids, terpenes, and a little bit of THC, and it works wonders for my anxiety. But with CBD-isolated extracts, I feel no benefits.
Research suggests that when pairing these cannabinoids, they can improve mobility and reduce pain in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS).
There’s also ongoing research about how this team-up might reduce the risk of addiction to opioid drugs. But one of the most interesting benefits of using these cannabinoids together is that CBD can counteracts THC’s undesirable effects.
How CBD Keeps THC in Check
As noted before, CBD acts in the CB1 receptors in a way that prevents them from being overstimulated.
THC and CBD “competitively” interact with the receptors.
Thereby, THC is NOT allowed to strongly impact the psychoactive CB1 when CBD is present. And this is how cannabidiol lessens the ceiling of THC’s unappealing effects on your brain.
THC side effects include things like anxiety, paranoia and impaired cognitive function.
Let’s use an example from a study that was conducted on rats about the effects of high levels of THC. When these rats received high doses of THC alone, they exhibited more anxiety than the control group of rats. These paranoid rats were also much more sensitive to fear-based experiments conducted on them.
On the flip side, the rats that received both CBD and THC were very much like the control group.
They were less sensitive to fear and didn’t seem to have as much anxiety as the previous group. This was how, for the first time ever, scientists were able to deduce that CBD naturally blocked out the side effects of THC.
Those who want scientific proof and technical jargon should know that CBD can block the usual effects of THC that overstimulate your ERK pathway situated in your hippocampus. This, therefore, results in lessened negative psychiatric effects on the user.
CBD vs. THC: Side Effects
Let’s get something out of the way really quick—CBD can be tolerated beautifully by most people.
But it still has some unpleasant side effects for others, such as an upset stomach, dizziness, or diarrhea. Some people have experienced lethargy and fatigue when taking CBD in large doses.
Liver damage has also been associated with high doses of this substance. The higher the dose, the bigger the chances of unpleasant effects.
It’s believed that CBD may also interact with your anti-anxiety drugs, painkillers, and blood-thinners.
So, if you use any of these drugs, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor before supplementing with CBD.
If you decide to meddle with THC, you’re going to experience some well-known side effects that include:
- Slower reaction times
- Dry mouth
- Increased heart rate
- Memory loss
- Red eyes
- Coordination problems
While all of these side effects are part of the naturally psychoactive properties of THC, let me assure you that neither of these compounds is fatal.
Heavy THC users may deal with long-term negative psychiatric effects, especially if they’re in their teenage years.
CBD vs. THC: How They Affect Anxiety
We’ve already mentioned how THC can cause anxiety, while CBD doesn’t have anything to do with these adverse effects.
However, THC has a paradoxical nature. Many users swear on its anti-anxiety benefits. In this light, both of these compounds have been used to treat different kinds of anxiety.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, because medical marijuana is still NOT an exact science.
In terms of anxiety, CBD is absolutely safe to consume if you want a natural aid when your mind sends you to “Worry Land.”
CBD vs. THC: Legal Status
Let’s steer clear of the worldwide debate on the legalization of cannabis and focus on our nation.
In 1970, both hemp and marijuana were classified as Schedule 1 drugs because of political reasons. Decades of unfair prohibition made us believe that these plants had no medical use and that they had a higher chance of being abused.
But now there’s evidence that both CBD and THC are untapped resources for medical benefits.
After the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp was made federally legal, meaning you can purchase and possess CBD products in the 50 states.
But the legal status of this compound is a grey area. It varies from one state to the next, because CBD products still don’t have the FDA’s approval.
In some states, CBD is legal only with a prescription, while in others, it is prohibited in foods and drinks.
As of this writing, medical marijuana is legal in 33 states, including Washington D.C., and you’ll find that 11 states have already accepted its recreational use. But marijuana still remains as a Schedule 1 drug under federal law.
Taking these factors into account, all you need to do is be cautious when buying CBD and THC products. As legalization efforts continue, to play it safe, research your state’s laws before purchasing.
CBD vs. THC: Drug-Testing
Even though medical marijuana is legal in 33 states, companies are still allowed to ask employees and aspiring workers for drug tests.
Cannabinoids can easily show up on these tests—even after weeks of being consumed—because they’re stored in your body’s fat.
Usually, drug-testing for cannabis looks for the presence of THC metabolites in your body. But nowadays, CBD-sensitive tests are available too.
If your CBD extract contains traces of THC, then it will definitely show up on a screening.
If you regularly undergo drug-testing for THC, your go-to is an isolated CBD formula, but be cautious, as some brands sell mislabeled products.
Make sure your product contains only CBD by checking the Certificate Of Analysis (COA) of the product, which is a third lab party report that ensures what you’re buying is accurately labelled.
Both THC and CBD have health benefits, but they aren’t FDA-approved substances just yet. Their main difference is how they affect your brain—THC is intoxicating, while CBD is mild on the mood.
They’re both safe to use unless you pair them with other drugs. So, where does that leave you?
All you need to do is speak to the relevant experts or your doctor to receive tailor-made advice for you. Even if you self-medicate, I can promise you that the side effects of CBD are mild, and purchasing it isn’t illegal.
The side effects of THC, on the other hand, may be too unappealing for many but not fatal, and its legal status is more complicated for the time being.
Have questions? Ask away. The space below is for you.
Thanks for reading!