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CBD vs. THC: What’s the difference?

Cannabis consumers have long prized potency (a high THC content) as one of the main factors that makes a particular strain more desirable. Though traditional demand for THC has caused an oversaturation of high-potency products, many consumers are starting to prefer less intense products that are lower in THC and higher in the non-intoxicating compound called CBD (cannabidiol).

What’s the difference between CBD and THC?

THC and CBD are both cannabinoids derived from the cannabis plant, but they’re different in many ways that may influence your next dispensary purchase.

An easy way to think about it is that THC is defined by what cannabis makes you feel, while the effects of CBD can’t be felt. The important distinction is that, unlike THC, CBD will not intoxicate you. It also addresses one of the most common reasons people choose to use CBD—pain management.

CBD can also block some of the intoxicating effects of THC. By binding to cannabinoid receptors, it will keep THC from activating those receptors. This translates to a less intense psychoactive effect, which is why products with a mix of CBD and THC are great for first-time consumers.

This does not mean that CBD, by itself, cannot offer an effect. High doses of CBD often produce a profoundly relaxing experience. Like stepping out of a hot tub, your body may feel tingly and relaxed, and your brain may be clear.

CBD vs. THC: legality

With the passing of the Farm Bill in December 2018, industrial hemp became a legal agricultural commodity in all 50 states. While the DEA still considers CBD to be a Schedule I controlled substance, it clarified in a memo that trace amounts of CBD found in hemp stalks or seeds were legal.

However, the legality of hemp-derived CBD may vary from state to state, so it’s important to check your state’s laws before stocking up on hemp-derived CBD products.

Cannabis strains that have a high CBD:THC ratio are legal only in states with legal, regulated cannabis markets.

What are the medicinal effects of CBD?

The list of conditions CBD may help with is ever-expanding. More research is needed to better understand the efficacy and range of CBD’s benefits, but it’s popularly used to manage the following symptoms and conditions:

  • Epilepsy and seizure disorders
  • Pain and inflammation
  • PTSD and anxiety
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Opioid withdrawal

Though clinical and anecdotal evidence suggests CBD can help manage different conditions, CBD became most famous for treating a rare and debilitating form of pediatric epilepsy.

Dravet’s Syndrome is notoriously resistant to current treatment methods. People with the condition are plagued by seizures, often up to hundreds a day, and they usually worsen as people age and can be life-threatening. Currently, treatment methods include having a child wear an eyepatch, specialized diets, and brain surgery, but all have mixed success rates.

One of the earliest success stories involves a young girl named Charlotte who was given an ingestible oil derived from Charlotte’s Web , a CBD strain that was specifically developed to provide her with all the benefits of the drug without the high.

In less than two years, Charlotte went from a monthly seizure count of 1,200 to about three. Other success stories followed and more parents have begun to speak out, particularly parents desperate for access to this life-saving treatment.

CBD has no lethal dose or known serious side effects. The idea of using cannabis-derived compounds for pediatric conditions remains a touchy subject in a culture where cannabis has been stigmatized.

If you would like to know more about the benefits of CBD, check out our CBD Guide.

Although THC is best known for its mind-altering euphoria, it too has important medical benefits. There’s some overlap in what CBD and THC can treat, but THC is particularly effective in relieving nausea, appetite loss, insomnia, among other symptoms. Many patients find that a balance of CBD and THC offers the best symptom relief as the two work together synergistically.

What are some high-CBD strains I can try?

CBD is typically the second-most abundant cannabinoid in cannabis, but this isn’t always the case. A strain may deliver CBD and THC in the following ratios:

  • High THC, low CBD (e.g.,10-30% THC, trace amounts of CBD)
  • Balanced CBD/THC (e.g., 5-15% THC and 5-15% CBD)
  • High CBD, low THC (e.g., 5-20% CBD, THC under 5%)

(The Cannabiz Agency/iStock)

High-CBD strains tend to deliver very clear-headed, functional effects without the euphoric high associated with high-THC strains. They’re typically preferred by consumers who are extremely sensitive to the side effects of THC (e.g., anxiety, paranoia, dizziness).

A high-CBD strain would also be a great choice for someone needing to medicate throughout the day to control pain, inflammation, anxiety, or other chronic conditions.

Balanced CBD/THC strains will be a little more euphoric than CBD-dominant strains, though they’re much less likely to induce anxiety, paranoia, and other negative side effects. Strains like these tend to be the most effective for pain relief, and they’re also well-suited for THC-sensitive consumers who’d like a mellow buzz.

CBD strains can be consumed just as you would THC strains. You can smoke or vaporize CBD-rich flower, eat a CBD-infused edible, swallow a CBD oil capsule, apply a CBD lotion, or use a CBD tincture sublingually. Hemp products also contain CBD, though it is a less efficient source and lacks the beneficial chemical diversity of cannabis-derived CBD products (more on that here).

Keep in mind that CBD levels may vary from crop to crop—even from plant to plant. We also recommend checking with dispensaries about the specifics of their strains’ CBD levels. It’s always a good idea to purchase only lab-tested products that clearly state the CBD/THC levels so you know what kind of experience to expect.

This post was originally published on July 3, 2018. It was most recently updated on April 1, 2020.

CBD and THC are both derived from cannabis plants, but they’re very different. Learn the difference between CBD and THC.

CBD: Does it cause a high?

Cannabidiol (CBD) does not cause a high. CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are two of the most well-known compounds isolated from the Cannabis sativa plant. It is THC, not CBD, that creates the ‘high-feeling’ people associate with cannabis use.

This article discusses the differences between CBD and THC and explains why these compounds produce such drastically different effects in people.

Is CBD legal? Hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3% THC are legal federally but still illegal under some state laws. Cannabis-derived CBD products, on the other hand, are illegal federally but legal under some state laws. Check local legislation, especially when traveling. Also, keep in mind that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not approved nonprescription CBD products, which may be inaccurately labeled.

A woman adds CBD to her coffee and wonders does cbd get you high.

Share on Pinterest Although THC and CBD are both present in cannabis, using CBD alone will not cause a ‘high.’

CBD is one of the most well-known cannabinoids produced by the C. sativa plant. It is one of more than 500 compounds that come from cannabis plants.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is another well-known cannabinoid that produces the strong psychoactive effects of being “high.”

Consuming or using CBD alone will not cause the “high” associated with THC.

CBD and THC are present in all types of cannabis plants but in different quantities. Certain varieties of C. sativa and Cannabis indica contain higher amounts of THC and low amounts of CBD. As of 2014, the average cannabis plant contained 12% THC and less than 0.15% CBD .

Hemp, on the other hand, is a non-intoxicating variety of C. sativa. Under the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp plants must contain less than 0.3% THC . The average hemp plant has up to 18% CBD.

CBD’s chemical composition and its effects are the same, whether extracted from hemp or other varieties of the cannabis plant.

It is illegal to add CBD to foods, dietary supplements, and products marketed as having therapeutic benefits.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis plants.

THC binds to cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors located in brain regions associated with learning, memory, movement, pain sensation, and inflammation.

It also binds to cannabinoid 2 (CB2) receptors located in the brainstem and hippocampus, which has links to memory and emotions. Immune cells, bone cells, and spleen and liver cells also contain CB2 receptors.

This widespread distribution of cannabinoid receptors is the reason why THC produces such powerful physical and psychological effects.

For more information and resources on CBD and CBD products, please visit our dedicated hub.

Public and research interest in CBD has grown considerably due to CBD’s potential health benefits.

CBD does not bind to either CB1 or CB2 receptors.

According to a 2018 review article, CBD may reduce the ability of THC and other cannabinoids to bind to the CB1 receptor’s. This may reduce the psychoactive effects of THC and may increase the number of circulating cannabinoids.

A 2018 review in Surgical Neurology International indicates that CBD may reduce inflammation in the brain by indirectly interacting with CB2 receptors.

In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Epidiolex, a cannabis-derived CBD prescription for treating two rare forms of epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.

Anecdotal evidence and preliminary research suggest that CBD may help treat a variety of conditions, including:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • schizophrenia
  • dementia
  • nerve and muscle pain
  • weight loss
  • chemotherapy side effects

However, researchers must continue to study the effects and potential health benefits of CBD.

In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that CBD might offer therapeutic benefits for people with:

  • neurodegenerative diseases, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease
  • chronic pain
  • brain injuries related to restricted blood flow
  • psychosis
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • cancer
  • infections
  • inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • inflammatory bowel and Crohn’s diseases
  • cardiovascular diseases
  • complications of diabetes

Risks and side effects

While most people tolerate CBD well, it can lead to adverse side effects, such as:

  • drowsiness or fatigue
  • a dry mouth
  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • changes in mood, such as increased agitation and irritability
  • interactions with prescription or over-the-counter drugs
  • increased risk of sedation, drowsiness, and injuries when used with alcohol
  • increased or decreased appetite
  • liver damage due to drug interactions

If a person is considering using CBD, they should speak to a doctor or healthcare provider first.

CBD does not cause a 'high.' CBD and THC are psychoactive compounds from the cannabis plant, but it is THC, not CBD, that creates this response. Learn more.