CBD and THC - what's the difference?

CBD and THC - what's the difference?

The cannabinoid CBD, a natural substance from the hemp plant, is becoming increasingly popular due to its health benefits it's potential for the treatment of various disease.

Despite the fact that more and more studies suggest that CBD has enormous therapeutic potential, many people are still sceptical about it, predominantly due to its link to the use of cannabis.

Whether people know it or not, the scientific reason for this is largely due to the substance THC, which is an active ingredient that produces the ‘high’ that cannabis is so well known for.

This is before we get into the huge lobbying efforts of 'Big Pharma', as well as societal norms and taboos that are largely based around class and culture!

Many people equate THC with CBD, and so the stigma of cannabis often extends to CBD. However, CBD and THC are not the same, which we will explain below.

THC, how does it differ to CBD?

CBD vs THC... in a nutshell

  • Cannabidiol (CBD) and Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are both active ingredients of the same plant – the cannabis sativa plant.
  • In contrast to CBD, THC is psychoactive and intoxicating
  • CBD has few side effects, which are widely considered harmless
  • Cannabinoids, such as CBD and THC, can be used for the treatment of various diseases

Cannabis has many properties

Throughout its history, cannabis (and also CBD by association) is most often associated with its active ingredient THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). However, there is a big difference between CBD and THC.

Both substances are found in the cannabis plant and can be extracted from it and processed into a number of products.

In a sense, the active ingredients are relatives insofar as they are both cannabinoids from the cannabis plant. CBD and THC also have a similar molecular structure, but the atoms are arranged differently.

CBD and THC are both active ingredients of the cannabis plant, but In contrast to CBD, THC is psychoactive and intoxicating.

It is also true that both CBD and THC interact with the human body's endocannabinoid system, which can affect many different processes in the body. Both CBD and THC work with cannabinoid receptors that release neurotransmitters in your brain. These transmitters can affect processes such as mood, sleep, memory and pain.

However, the way they interact is different and that's why the effect is different.

But what exactly are these acronyms and how does their effect differ?

What is THC?

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is known for producing a ‘high’. The substance is psychoactive and intoxicating, and can cause cognitive and motor function impairment.

For some, the high THC content and the psychoactive effects of THC are precisely the reason why they consume it, despite the fact that possession, sale, acquisition and cultivation are illegal.

THC docks to the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors of the human body's endocannabinoid system and passes on its substances there. THC is somewhat similar to the endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-AG.

The euphoric and happy feeling is due to the blocking of the messenger substance GABA. This causes an excessive release of dopamine as a chain reaction. That is why consumers are so happy and find everything very amusing.

A big difference to CBD is that THC has a psychoactive effect and can also make you addicted. Nevertheless, THC has also shown promise in the treatment of inflammation and pain, which is why medical cannabis has been legal in the UK since November 2018.

The effect of THC lasts for about 2 hours and occurs about 10-30 minutes after ingestion. However, some side effects are also triggered, which are fairly well known.


What is CBD?

CBD is the acronym given to the active ingredient cannabidiol, which also belongs to the phytocannabinoids family and is one of the main active ingredients of the cannabis plant.

CBD has come to the fore due to its promising effects, which according to several studies could help with various conditions.

Nevertheless, research is still in its infancy and must be read with caution. CBD is also said to have analgesic, antispasmodic and antidepressant properties.

Unlike THC, CBD binds with receptors much more weakly and in most cases only inhibits them and other messenger substances.

In contract to THC, CBD in no way leads to intoxication and does not make you high. There is also no psychoactive effect. According to the WHO, CBD is considered safe. High-CBD strains tend offer relaxation whilst keeping a clear-head and continued ability to function.

Cannabidiol is available in the form of oils, gummy bears, topical creams, vape liquids, crystals and many other products.

CBD oil is currently the most popular product. It normally comes in a tincture and is taken sublingually under the tongue. It is said to be one of the quickest ways to get CBD into your system.

What conditions can THC help with?

Although THC is more known for its euphoric effect, it’s worth noting that the more aggressive active ingredient THC can also be used for certain medical purposes.

6 ways THC can benefit you!

1. Accompanying chemotherapy

2. Multiple sclerosis

3. Chronic pain

4. Inflammation

5. Tourette’s syndrome


However, THC does have an intoxicating effect and can also lead to addiction. Because the potential overlap in uses, is it possible to think about CBD as an alternative.

Side effects of THC

The use of THC has a number of side effects. In addition to being intoxicated, THC consumption can also affect concentration, thinking ability and psychomotor skills.

In the worst case scenario, taking THC can also lead to psychosis, anxiety, panic attacks and memory gaps due to the psychoactive effects.

5 most common side effects of THC

1. Increased heart rate

2. Coordination problems

3. Dry mouth

4. Red eyes

5. Reduced response time

If you smoke THC, there are of course also the usual negative side effects common with inhaling smoke that every smoker is familiar with.

What conditions can CBD help with?

Scientists have high hopes for CBD as an active ingredient that could be used to treat many different conditions.

15 ways CBD could help!

1. Epilepsy

2. Fibromyalgia

3. Anxiety disorders

4. Depression

5. Pain

6. Crohn's Disease

7. Sleep disorders

8. Supporting cancer

9. Parkinson's

10. Multiple Sclerosis

11. Skin diseases

12. Arthritis and osteoarthritis

13. Addiction and withdrawal

14. ADHD

15. Lyme Disease

Scientific research has observed CBD’s positive impact on those diseases, but all the potential uses of CBD have not yet been fully explored, which is why no healing promises should be made.

Side effects of CBD

However, it is more or less proven that CBD has fewer and weaker side effects than THC. Basically, one can say that CBD is already a safe substance that does not pose significant danger.

5 side effects that could occur when taking CBD are:

1. Diarrhoea

2. Drowsiness

3. Fatigue

4. Dry mouth

5. Nausea

Here you can find out more about the side effects of CBD!

It is also possible that CBD can interact with other drugs. CBD is broken down in the liver, which inhibits certain enzymes that are responsible for the breakdown of medication. If you are already taking medication, it is advisable to consult your doctor before using CBD.

CBD vs THC comparison in summary



  • No psychoactive effect and doesn't make you high
  • Does not lead to addiction
  • Interacts with the endocannabinoid system
  • Only weakly binds to receptors and only inhibits messenger substances
  • Few and weaker side effects (considered safe according to the WHO)
  • Purchase and possession legal if the THC content in the cannabis product is zero.
  • Psychoactive effect and can make you high
  • Can lead to addiction
  • Interacts with the endocannabinoid system
  • Binds to the receptors directly and can strongly inhibit messenger substances
  • Stronger side effects (can lead to paranoia)
  • Possession, sale, cultivation, acquisition is illegal
Many people equate THC with CBD, and so the stigma of cannabis often extends to CBD. However, CBD and THC are not the same.

What is the entourage effect?

It can be advantageous to mix CBD and THC, as well as other cannabinoids, flavonoids and terpenes.

This is due to what is called the ‘entourage effect’, which was explained by the neurologist Ethan Russo and considers the numerous interactions between different cannabioids, vitamins, fatty acids or minerals.

If you mix several substances together (like in a full spectrum oil), they can support each other in their effect. In this way, the user can tap the full potential of the different substances.

For this reason, one should also ensure that CBD oil contains other valuable substances such as fatty acids or other terpenes in addition to CBD.

THC could also be a very effective addition. Studies have also shown that a mixture of CBD and THC could be particularly beneficial for certain diseases.

However, the legal situation must of course also be taken into account here. Because CBD products that contain controlled substances such as THC must be sure to follow UK rules (e.g. if for medicinal purposes then should be obtained from a doctor).

Interestingly, the first and only FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved CBD drug is one that is used for certain types of epilepsy.

Epidiolex is mainly used in the treatment of two types of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome and can used for epilepsy sufferers from the age of 1.

Despite CBD being accepted as a conventional treatment for epilepsy, CBD is still considered a Schedule I drug under federal law in the US.

The entourage effect can also be increased by adding other cannabinoids that, like CBD, have no psychoactive effects (such as CBG).

Will CBD and THC show up in a drugs test?

Cannabinoids like THC and CBD are stored in body fat. Therefore, they can still be detected in a drug test after several days or even weeks.

Although standard drug tests are not designed for CBD, if you are regularly exposed to drug tests for professional reasons, it’s advisable to discuss your CBD consumption with your employer in advance.

If it is important for you to have zero THC, always read the packaging carefully. Some companies that state their products are THC free, actually contain trace amounts.

CBD will not show up in a drugs test. But exercise caution when buying CBD products, some will contain THC even if they are advertised as THC free.

What does the law say about THC?

According to the Misuse of Drugs, THC is a controlled substance.

Accordingly, and in the strictest interpretation of UK law, CBD products are only legal if they do not contain THC or are prescribed medicines. This is often viewed as a grey area and in truth the UK’s stance on enforcement of this law is relatively relaxed.

There does seem to be a general softening of the establishment’ view on cannabis and its therapeutic potential since the government legalised medical cannabis in 2018.

In terms of legality, there are has been some progress in the world, both with medical marijuana and marijuana in general.

Also in 2018, America passed a farm bill which resulted in the cultivation and sale of industrial hemp becoming federal law. In addition to this, more and more US senators being in favour of the legalisation of cannabis altogether. It is hoped that the UK will follow suit.


We know there are still many who associate CBD with marijuana (i.e. THC). And unfortunately, this could be hindering CBD's progress. As we've discussed, although both CBD and THC come from the same hemp plant, there are many differences.

Although the world of CBD is lacking in human clinical trials, there is much evidence which strongly points towards CBD being nothing short of a wonder drug. This is due to its general health and medical benefits and the treatment of various conditions. But also for the additional benefits it can offer.

For example, it has minor side effects which are relatively uncommon and is non-addictive. This is in contrast to opioids and other strong drugs which can have significant and severe side effects as well as a risk of addiction. For example, medication used for schizophrenia and depression.

CBD is used for numerous ailments, such as pain relief, including chronic pain and neuropathic pain, anxiety, insomnia and chemotherapy side effects. There are even some who claim it can cure cancer.

Despite being illegal and psychoactive, THC can also offer many health benefits. Research also shows that there could be a great advantage in mixing THC and CBD together to enhance the effects (entourage effect).

We sincerely hope that the people become increasingly aware of the differences between these two cannabinoids, and that the stigma of the cannabis stops holding back the progress of CBD. Watch this space!

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