What Is the Difference Between CBD and THC?

While CBD and THC are two of the most abundant hemp-derived cannabinoids, they are vastly different compounds. THC offers psychoactive, intoxicating effects, while CBD promotes a long list of wellness-boosting benefits.

Within the last few years, exciting interest in hemp plants has led to a vibrant, budding CBD market—a market that jumped to $1.9 billion in 2022.[1] Now, many adults rely on a vast variety of hemp-based CBD products and THC products for a number of therapeutic and recreational benefits. 

The difference between the two cannabinoids may not be obvious, especially for beginners. And with all the information swirling around the web, finding a coherent answer can feel impossible to weed out. Here, we’ll do a deep dive into the origins of these cannabinoids, unpack their differences, and show you how to best enjoy them. 

Cannabis 101: Hemp vs. Marijuana

The cannabis plant has quite an iconic shape: a five-fingered leaf with perforated edges and a skinny stem. It’s a simple design that’s donned on everything from T-shirts to stickers to billboards. But the term “cannabis” can apply to low-THC hemp and high-THC marijuana. The products on this site are made from legal hemp.

Both CBD and THC are compounds found in the cannabis plant, including hemp and marijuana. But, they don’t create the same experience. THC offers psychoactive, intoxicating effects, while CBD promotes a long list of non-psychoactive, wellness-boosting benefits. 

What Is CBD?

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a chemical compound found in the cannabis hemp plant. It is one of over a hundred cannabinoids, which are compounds unique to the cannabis plant. Unlike the other most well-known cannabinoid, THC (or tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD is not psychoactive and does not produce a “high” sensation. Instead, CBD is known for its potential wellness benefits, as it interacts with the endocannabinoid system in the body, influencing various physiological processes to promote balance and well-being.

Will CBD Get You “High”?

CBD (cannabidiol) does not produce a “high” or intoxicating effect. Unlike THC, CBD is non-psychoactive and consuming CBD products should not result in the euphoric sensation commonly associated with marijuana use. However, many people get confused, since both THC and CBD are derived from the same plant, but CBD can be isolated from the THC compound found in the cannabis plant. [2]

Types of CBD

Whether considering full spectrum, broad spectrum, or CBD isolate, each CBD type brings its distinct characteristics to the forefront. This section delves into the nuances of these CBD varieties, offering insights into their individual properties, applications, and potential benefits.

Full Spectrum CBD 

Full spectrum CBD is a form of CBD extract that contains the full array of cannabinoids, not limited to CBD alone. Extracted from the cannabis plant, full spectrum CBD retains trace amounts of THC, alongside other beneficial compounds, such as terpenes and flavonoids. [3] While the THC content in full spectrum CBD is below 0.3% by dry weight, its presence contributes to what is known as the Entourage Effect, where the combination of cannabinoids and compounds enhances the wellness potential of the CBD product.

Broad Spectrum CBD

Broad spectrum CBD refers to the type of CBD extract that encompasses a diverse spectrum of cannabinoids and other beneficial compounds found in the cannabis plant: similar to full spectrum CBD, but with detectable traces of THC filtered out. Broad spectrum retains the potential benefits of the Entourage Effect, where the interaction of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids synergistically enhances wellness benefits. Broad spectrum CBD is a suitable option for users seeking the benefits of a multitude of cannabis compounds without the (detectable) presence of THC. [4] 

CBD Isolate

CBD isolate is a pure and crystalline form of CBD that has undergone a refining process to isolate and remove all other cannabinoids, terpenes, and plant materials from the cannabis extract. This results in a product that is 99% pure CBD, with no trace of THC or other cannabinoids. CBD isolate is often preferred by individuals who want to experience the potential benefits of CBD without any accompanying compounds. 

What Is THC?

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the primary psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant. It is responsible for the intoxicating effects commonly associated with marijuana use. When THC interacts with receptors in the brain and central nervous system, it produces the euphoric sensation of being “high.” While THC is found in varying concentrations in different cannabis strains, its concentration level is what distinguishes marijuana from hemp. 

Will THC Get You “High”?

THC is the psychoactive compound in cannabis responsible for producing the characteristic “high” or euphoric effects. When THC interacts with the brain’s cannabinoid receptors, it induces alterations in perception, mood, and consciousness, leading to the elevated sensation.[5] The intensity of those effects can vary depending on factors, such as the method of consumption, dosage, individual tolerance, and the strain of cannabis.

Types of THC

THC stands as a central player in the cannabis industry, responsible for the psychoactive effects that many associate with cannabis consumption that keeps people coming back to the compound. Understanding the different types of THC can provide insights into the varying effects and potential associated with this prominent cannabinoid.

Delta 9 THC

Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as delta 9 THC, is the primary psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant. It’s responsible for the intoxicating effects that people often associate with marijuana use. Delta 9 THC interacts with the endocannabinoid system in the body, specifically binding to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and central nervous system, leading to the characteristic euphoria or “high” experienced by users.

Delta 8 THC

Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as delta 8 THC, is another cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. It is structurally similar to the more well-known delta 9 THC, which is responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis. Delta 8 THC, while also possessing psychoactive properties, is reported to produce a milder and more clear-headed buzz compared to delta 9 THC.

Delta 10 THC 

Like delta 8 and delta 9, delta 10 THC is a psychoactive compound, but its effects are not as concentrated. Users of delta 10 claim that the use of the compound achieves a mellowed out, but energizing effect.[6]

THC-P

THC-P is a synthetic cannabinoid that belongs to the family of trace compounds found in cannabis. It is structurally similar to the primary psychoactive compound of cannabis, THC. THC-P interacts with the CB1 and CB2 receptors of the body’s endocannabinoid system, producing elevated effects estimated at 30-times-greater than that of D9 THC.[7]

HHC

HHC, or hexahydrocannabinol, is a synthetic cannabinoid that shares structural similarities with THC.[8] Like THC-P, HHC interacts with the CB1 and CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system. HHC is created through chemical synthesis. Some individuals use synthetic cannabinoids for recreational purposes, seeking experiences similar to those produced by cannabis. However, it has been reported that HHC produces a much more mild level of elevation. 

Similarities & Differences Between CBD and THC

While CBD and THC share some similarities, they also have distinct differences, particularly in their effects on the body and mind. Both CBD and THC are derived from the cannabis plant and have a similar chemical structure, both containing 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms.[9] 

Both cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system in the human body, influencing many processes from mood to appetite. However, while THC is psychoactive and responsible for the “high” or euphoric feeling associated with marijuana use, CBD is non-psychoactive and does not produce a high feeling.

Both CBD and THC have potential wellness benefits, but their applications differ. CBD is commonly used to alleviate stress and light pain, as THC is utilized recreationally or can even be prescribed for specific medical conditions. 

THC may cause side effects, such as increased heart rate, dry mouth, and impaired coordination. CBD, in general, is considered well-tolerated with few side effects, though individual responses may vary.

THC consumption can lead to positive drug test results, as many drug tests are designed to detect THC metabolites. CBD products with low or no THC content are less likely to trigger positive drug tests.

It’s important to note that the effects of cannabinoids can vary depending on factors such as dosage, individual sensitivity, and the presence of other compounds in the cannabis plant. Additionally, ongoing research continues to uncover more about the therapeutic potential and safety of both CBD and THC.

CBD Products vs. THC Products

When it comes to cannabis-derived products, the dynamic interplay between CBD and THC stands at the forefront of discussions. While both compounds originate from the cannabis plant, they diverge significantly in their effects and applications. This section explores the distinctions between CBD and THC products, shedding light on their unique properties, potential benefits, and potential drawbacks.

Oil Tinctures

Oil tinctures are liquid extracts containing CBD or THC. Typically, these tinctures involve infusing CBD or THC with a carrier oil, such as hemp seed oil or MCT oil, to enhance absorption. Users can administer oil tinctures sublingually (under the tongue) for quick absorption into the bloodstream, making them a popular and convenient method for experiencing the potential therapeutic effects of CBD and elevated nature of THC.

Benefits 

Quick absorption: CBD oil tinctures are absorbed rapidly when taken sublingually, allowing users to experience potential benefits relatively quickly.

Precise dosage: Tinctures often come with droppers, enabling users to measure and control their CBD dosage with precision, facilitating personalized and consistent use.

Versatility: CBD oil tinctures can be easily incorporated into various daily routines. They can be added to food or beverages or taken straight from the dropper.

Drawbacks 

Taste: some users find the taste of CBD oil tinctures to be earthy or bitter, however there are many flavored options on the market that can fit your taste. 

Individual variation: CBD’s effects can vary from person to person. What works well for one person may not have the same impact on another, which means finding the right dosage may involve some trial and error.

Edibles

Edibles are cannabis-infused ingestible products or beverages containing cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD. These products offer an alternative method of consuming cannabis compared to smoking or vaping. Edibles come in various forms, including gummies, beverages, and more.

Mixed Berry CBD Gummies - CBDfx - 6000mg

When consumed, the cannabinoids in edibles are metabolized by the liver, leading to a slower onset of effects compared to smoking, vaping, or sublingual oils. The effects can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to manifest fully, but they tend to last longer. Edibles like CBDfx Mixed Berry CBD Gummies or Delta 8 THC Gummies from TRĒ House are known for providing a discreet way to consume cannabis or CBD without the need for smoking, making them a popular choice for individuals who prefer a more inconspicuous method.

TRE House - THC Edible - D8 + HHC + THC-P Gummies - Tropic Mango - 700mg
Benefits 

Long-lasting effects: Edibles typically have a more prolonged onset of effects but can last longer compared to other methods of consuming cannabinoids, providing a sustained experience.

Discreet consumption: Edibles are discreet and don’t involve the act of smoking or vaping, making them a preferred option for those who want to consume cannabinoids without drawing attention.

Diverse product options: THC and CBD edibles come in various forms, including gummies, chocolates, and even beverages, offering a wide range of choices for consumers with different preferences. 

Drawbacks 

Delayed onset: Edibles typically have a slower onset of effects compared to smoking or vaping, often taking 30 minutes to two hours to feel the full impact. 

Potential for overconsumption: Due to the delayed onset and varying effects, individuals may consume more than intended, leading to discomfort and other adverse reactions. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to read dosage labels and be patient when consuming edibles.

Vapes

Vapes, short for vaporizers, are devices designed to heat substances, such as CBD or THC, to a temperature that produces vapor rather than smoke. CBD and THC vapes are designed to heat infused concentrates like oils or resin to a temperature that releases cannabinoids and terpenes in the form of vapor. Cannabis vaporizers come in various flavors, like the Blue Raspberry CBD Vape Pen from CBDfx and Binoid’s Live Resin THC Vape Pen, and forms including disposable pens or refillable cartridges. 

CBD Vape Pen - Blue Raspberry - 500mg - by CBDfx
THC-P:THC-H:PCH Disposable Vape Device - Master Blend King Kong ( Hybrid ) - 3g - By Binoid
Benefits 

Quick onset of effects: Vaping allows for a rapid onset of effects, making it a suitable option for those seeking immediate relief from symptoms, such as stress and minor aches and pains.

Customizable experience: Most vape products come in various strains, concentrations, and formulations, allowing for users to choose products with specific cannabinoid profiles, terpene content, and flavors to tailor their experience to their liking.

Drawbacks 

Overconsumption risk: Due to the rapid onset associated with vaping, users may be at risk of overconsumption, especially if they are not familiar with their tolerance levels. This can lead to discomfort or other adverse reactions.

Topicals

CBD and THC topicals are products infused with the cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol cannabinoids, which are compounds found in the cannabis plant. These topicals are designed for external use on the skin and are formulated to provide localized relief without the psychoactive effects associated with consuming cannabis.

CBD-infused creams and lotions are common topicals designed to be applied directly to the skin. They are often used for skin care or to address localized discomfort. CBD balms and salves are thicker formulations that may contain additional ingredients, such as beeswax or shea butter, and are intended for targeted application on specific areas of the body. Similar to CBD balms, THC-infused balms and salves are designed for localized relief. They are applied directly to the skin and may contain other soothing ingredients.

Benefits 

Localized relief: Topicals provide targeted relief to specific areas of the body, making them effective for addressing localized discomfort, such as muscle soreness or joint pain.

Ease of use: Applying topicals is simple and does not involve ingestion or inhalation, making them a convenient option for those who prefer a non-invasive method of using cannabinoids.

Variety of formulations: Both CBD and THC topicals come in various formulations, including creams, balms, and more, providing users with a range of options to suit their preferences and needs. 

Drawbacks 

Potential skin sensitivity: Some individuals may be sensitive to certain ingredients in topicals. It’s important to check product labels for allergens and perform a patch test before widespread use. 

Dosage challenges: Determining the appropriate dosage of cannabinoids in topicals can be challenging, as absorption rates vary among individuals. Users may need to experiment to find the right amount to fit their needs.

Which Cannabinoid Is Right for You?

Finding the right cannabinoid for your needs involves a thoughtful and individualized approach. Start by identifying your specific wellness goals, whether it’s relief from minor aches and pains, stress, or other issues. Experiment with different cannabinoids, like CBD or THC, in various forms, like oil tinctures, edibles, or topicals, to determine which suits you best. Pay attention to dosage, starting with lower amounts and gradually adjust your dosage accordingly. 

Choose products from reputable sources that provide clear information about their contents and undergo third-party testing for quality and purity. Keeping a journal to track your experiences can be helpful in refining your preferences and finding the cannabinoid product that aligns with your unique needs and lifestyle.

Final Thoughts

Cannabinoids, particularly CBD and THC, are vast and complex, offering a spectrum of therapeutic and recreational possibilities. The distinction between these compounds lies not only in their chemical structures, but also in their effects on the body and mind. CBD, known for its non-psychoactive nature, provides a myriad of potential wellness benefits, while THC, with its psychoactive properties, is associated with the euphoric “high” commonly linked to marijuana use. From oil tinctures to edibles, vapes, and topicals, the diverse array of products reflects the dynamic interplay between CBD and THC in the evolving landscape of cannabis consumption. As users seek the right cannabinoid for their individual needs, a thoughtful and personalized approach, coupled with attention to dosage and product quality, becomes paramount in unlocking the full potential of these compounds for enhanced well-being.

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  5. NIDA. “How does marijuana produce its effects?.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 13 Apr. 2021, https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/how-does-marijuana-produce-its-effects Accessed 15 Jan. 2024.
  6. Ferguson, Sian. “Delta 8 vs. Delta 9 vs. Delta 10 — What’s the Difference?” Healthline, https://www.healthline.com/health/delta-8-vs-delta-9-vs-delta-10#delta-10-effects. 28 September 2022. 
  7. Green, Mell. “All You Need to Know About THCP” CBD Oracle, https://cbdoracle.com/cannabinoids/thcp/. 6 June 2023.
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