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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.

10 CBD-dominant weed strains that our users love

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is the second most common cannabinoid found in cannabis. Unlike its euphoric sister, THC (or tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD plays it cool, offering relaxing, non-intoxicating effects that lend themselves to a variety of personal and medicinal uses. Because CBD lacks the stoney side effects typical of high-THC strains, it’s a great choice for patients needing to keep a clear head while treating pain, nausea, headaches, stress, anxiety, muscle spasms, epilepsy, and more.

It’s clear that many people have experienced the upsides of CBD, but with so many high-CBD strains hitting the market today, it can be difficult to choose the one for you. Here, we’ll go over what it means for a strain to be high in CBD along with identifying which high-CBD strains are the most popular and easy-to-find based on Leafly user-submitted reviews.

What does it mean for a strain to be high in CBD?

CBD stands for cannabidiol, a non-intoxicating cannabis molecule with a variety of anecdotal and studied benefits. Strains high in CBD are popular with users for help with:

Just as you can search for strains high in THC, sativa, or indica, you can also search for strains high in CBD – and Leafly users do just that.

If you’re interested in finding high CBD strains yourself, look for strains that contain only circles in their Leafly strain flower. This will help you find strains that consistently express high levels of CBD, which is more likely to bring you clear-headed relief. But if you’re ready to cut to the chase, here are the top picks from our users:

1. Harlequin

Harlequin is one of the most popular CBD strains available. Typically testing around the 5:2 CBD/THC ratio, it exhibits a clear-headed alertness with only mild euphoria. Harlequin has a happy bent that most will find enhances whatever activity they are engaged in.

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2. Ringo’s Gift

Ringo’s Gift—named for activist, CBD specialist, and founder of SoHum Seeds, Lawrence Ringo—is a hybrid cross of Harle-Tsu and ACDC. It keeps on giving to patients seeking a nearly full-on CBD-driven strain, with an average ratio of 24:1 CBD/THC.

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3. Sweet and Sour Widow

Sweet and Sour Widow lands in the middle ground with a 1:1 CBD/THC ratio. This even split offers first-time cannabis consumers an enjoyable entry point to both THC and CBD without sending them into orbit. It also makes for good medicine while being slightly euphoric and stoney.

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4. Stephen Hawking Kush

Stephen Hawking Kush offers mild, relaxing effects while doling out a healthy dose of CBD, too. This indica-dominant strain is one of the more unique CBD cuts out there, offering both heady and soothing effects.

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5. ACDC

ACDC makes an easy favorite.The cannabinoid content is usually heavily CBD-dominant, sitting on average at 20:1 in its CBD/THC ratio. An imperceptible amount of THC makes ACDC an outstanding companion for daily medicinal cannabis consumers seeking to relieve tension, pain, or anxiety.

Bonus staff review: “Known for its keen ability to lift anxiety of all shades, this strain is a godsend to consumers susceptible to the side effects of THC. This strain allows you to harness many of the desirable traits of cannabis, like light-footed physical relaxation and gentle mood elevation, without the cost of a clear, calm mind.”

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6. Cannatonic

Cannatonic isn’t nearly as sedative as the name implies. This strain usually brings a smaller CBD/THC split, ranging from 5:1 down to 1:1. This even-keeled cannabinoid profile gives consumers a great deal of flexibility to use Cannatonic as medicine or as an enjoyable, mild mannered strain to unwind with.

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7. Harle-Tsu

Harle-Tsu, one of a few lovingly handcrafted strains created by the late Lawrence Ringo, is an outstandingly functional CBD cut. By combining Harlequin and Sour Tsunami, Harle-Tsu achieves a pleasant disposition without encumbering the consumer with strong sedation.

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8. Canna-Tsu

Canna-Tsu is a more balanced CBD/THC strain that offers a unique bouquet of smells. With aromas of citrus and sweet earth, Canna-Tsu gives the CBD enthusiast a complex palate of flavor and terpenes to enjoy.

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9. Sour Tsunami

Created by the larger-than-life grower and activist Lawrence Ringo, Sour Tsunami was brought into being by combining Sour Diesel and NYC Diesel. This unlikely pair of stimulating plants bred the high-CBD phenotype that has since redefined the medicinal qualities of cannabis.

Bonus staff review: “This strain has become a household name among high-CBD strains. This variety tends to produce less than 1-2% of THC, so you can reap its medicinal benefits without the high. Sour Tsunami is fairly prolific, so keep an eye out for this strain at your next dispensary visit if you’re looking to quell pain or anxiety symptoms without the interference of THC.”

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10. Pennywise

Pennywise certainly has the scariest of all the names that made this list, or at least it does for those familiar with the Stephen King book responsible for its namesake. But fear not, Pennywise truly gets its name from its genetic cross of Harlequin and Jack the Ripper. It synthesizes Jack the Ripper’s mental clarity and an even 1:1 CBD/THC to make a strain that is functional and enjoyable at almost any dose.

CBD can offer relaxing or non-intoxicating effects when used. Discover 10 of the best high-CBD and low-THC strains that our users rave about from Leafly.