The difference between CBD and THC explained

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When looking at descriptions of weed seeds on Weedseedsexpress, you may often notice references to high or low levels of THC and CBD. If you are new to the world of marijuana, you may be confused about what they mean. And even if you are an experienced grower, you may still be under certain common misapprehensions about the two. This article will explain all the differences between CBD and THCto help you choose the right strain for your needs.

THC and CBD are often compared to each other, the most visible difference being that the first induces psychotropic effects and the second does not. However, the reality is somewhat more complex. But, beyond their effects, what are the differences between THC and CBD?

CBD vs THC: what are the differences? 

  1. Difference in chemical structure
  2. How it affects the body
  3. The difference in effects
  4. Difference in legality

CBD vs THC: Differences in chemical structure

THC and CBD are two cannabinoids, chemical compounds secreted by cannabis plants. They are not the only cannabinoids, researchers have identified over a hundred natural chemical compounds, but they are the ones that are most often referred to in the world of weed and medicine. The full scientific name of THC is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, while CBD is short for cannabidiol.

These molecules have the particularity to imitate the effects of certain chemical compounds that our body produces naturally, called endocannabinoids, and to activate our internal health systems. Endocannabinoids bind to receptors and affect sleep, pain, appetite, mood and many other functions. To put it simply, cannabinoids act as intermediaries between cells, to fight against deficiencies in our endocannabinoid system.

Cannabinoids derived from cannabis are referred to as exogenous cannabinoids as they are not produced by the human body. When consumed, cannabinoids seek to bind to receptors in our bodies. Each cannabinoid has different effects depending on which receptor it targets. For example, THC targets receptors in the brain while CBD prefers receptors located in our bodies.

CBD and THC have the same chemical formula: 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms and two oxygen atoms. Their difference lies in the way the atoms are arranged. This tiny difference gives CBD and THC different chemical properties and is also the reason why they affect the human body differently.

CBD vs THC: How it affects the body

CBD and THC both work in conjunction with receptors in the endocannabinoid system, the two main ones being the CB1 and CB2 receptors. THC binds securely to cannabinoid CB1 receptors, while CBD has a low affinity for these CB1 receptors.

To give a visual image, imagine cannabinoids as the keys to a lock. The THC molecule is perfectly formed to snap into CB1 receptors. When this connection occurs, THC activates or stimulates these CB1 receptors. THC is known as a CB1 receptor agonist.

THC partially imitates a neurotransmitter naturally produced by the human body, anandamide also referred to as “the molecule of happiness”.

Anandamide is an endocannabinoid that activates the CB1 receptors. Research on animals studies revealed that anandamide can increase appetite and improve pleasure associated with food consumption.

It is probably responsible for some of the rewarding effects of exercise (for example, the endorphin rush popularly known as the runner’s high). Anandamide also plays a role in memory, motivation and pain. THC is a “key” that resembles anandamide so much that it activates or ‘unlocks’ the CB1 receptors, permitting it to produce these same feelings of happiness.

CBD, on the other hand, is not suitable for CB1. It is classified as a CB1 receptor antagonist. It thus does not act directly on the CB1 receptors, and further suppresses the possibilities of activation of the CB1 receptors by cannabinoids such as THC.

In other words, when you ingest THC and CBD, THC directly stimulates the CB1 receptors, while CBD counteracts the action of THC at the CB1 receptor, thereby inhibiting the psychoactive effects of THC.

CBD vs THC: Difference in effects

If THC and CBD have different felt effects, they are also used medicinally, either separately or in conjunction, and in varying dosages depending on the pathologies.

In general, people who take CBD products do so to relieve arthritis, Crohn’s disease, diabetes or multiple sclerosis. Some also say it helps relieve anxiety, insomnia and chronic pain caused by inflammation. CBD is generally well-tolerated, even when consumed in large quantities, although it is such a new-comer to the medical sector that longitudinal studies have not yet been carried out, and some experts think it may affect blood pressure.

THC, on the other hand, is associated with many short-term side effects, such as:

  • dry mouth
  • memory loss
  • red eyes
  • increased heart rate
  • altered decision-making
  • loss of coordination
  • memory loss

For THC, it is used in countries where the use of medical cannabis is legal for neuropathic pain, Parkinson’s, nausea or against the side effects of chemotherapy, to restore appetite in sick people or to relieve pressure glaucoma intraoculares. Consumed in high doses, it can, however, cause anxiety and paranoia.

THC is the most popular cannabinoid and is found in the greatest amount in cannabis. The main existing cannabis varieties have been cultivated and selected for their high concentration of THC. Its psychoactive effects produce rapid euphoria. THC has been used to combat nausea, sleep disturbances and loss of appetite. Consumed in high doses, it can, however, cause anxiety and paranoia.

There is also strong evidence linking the long-term use of THC with serious psychiatric problems, especially for teenagers with brains that are still developing. Experts believe that using TCH increases the likelihood of schizophrenia for this group of people, especially young males.

CBD vs. THC: Difference in legality

THC is classified as a narcotic in many countries because of its harmful cognitive effects. Access is therefore restricted for medical and research purposes. CBD has lower health risks and is, therefore, legal in numerous countries, including the UK and France. This means that CBD is used far more in natural supplements sold commercially.

What about the entourage effect?

There are countless varieties of cannabis with different effects. However, they all develop the same active ingredient: THC. In addition to THC, the Cannabis Sativa L. plant has a multitude of chemical components, 480 of which have so far been identified. If cannabinoids have undoubtedly the most important physiological effects, the terpenes responsible in particular for the taste of weed and the flavonoids responsible for the colour of the plant would also have neurochemical effects.

Little is known about the action of all of these components on the body. However, they are said to have the potential to support the effects of THC by creating a form of synergy, the so-called entourage effect. This would attest, for example, to the difference in effects between whole-plant extracts and pure, isolated cannabinoids.

What is the so-called entourage effect?

When we use cannabis, our bodies absorb hundreds of compounds. Everyone comes with unique effects and benefits, and their behaviour can change in the presence of other compounds. This is the principle of the entourage effect, where 1 + 1 can potentially add up to 3.

For example, in a 2010 study, patients with cancer pain were given either a pure THC extract or an extract containing almost equal levels of THC and CBD. Patients who have received the THC / CBD combo reported less pain. Conversely, the entourage effect would explain why CBD alone is not necessarily the most effective.

But cannabis is much more than THC and CBD. It also produces other cannabinoids like CBN, CBC or CBG and dozens of others, as well as terpenes. The possible synergies are multiplied by the number of compounds. Unfortunately, very few studies to date have explored these synergies in humans.

Many believe that CBD, while effective on its own, is even more beneficial with THC. Doctors often advise patients to start on low doses of products containing THC and CBD because of the associated side effects which are so variable from patient to patient.

Scientific reality or a clever marketing strategy?

Chris Emerson, chemist and co-founder of the company that created the Level Blends, a vaporizer, believes that the entourage effect can be described as “the sum of all the parts that lead to the power or magic of cannabis”. He thinks it is possible to modify the ratios of terpenes and cannabinoids of e-liquids to obtain a specific effect and possibly be able to create products personalized for the needs of the consumer or the patient.

It is also all the meaning of the breeding culture in which the smallest genetic aspects of the plant are measured and manipulated to produce different effects.

Margaret Haney, a neurobiologist specializing in cannabis research at Columbia University claims that these allegations are just a marketing strategy for business. She does not deny as a whole the existence of the entourage effect but underlines the lack of data.

Who knows where the truth lies? One thing is for sure, there is plenty we still don’t know about the potential benefits of cannabis.

What exactly is full-spectrum CBD?

You may have notice terms such as ‘pure CBD’ ‘full-spectrum’ or broad-spectrum’ on the packaging of cannabis products but what exactly does this mean?
CBD means that the cannabidiol contained within the product also contains other cannabinoids, such as CBG, CBN, or CBC or CBG, and occasionally even THC in legal proportions. It means that each part of the plant was used in the extraction and all of the active ingredients in weed were retained in the extract.

Why is this important? Cannabinoids have been shown to have extra effects when combined together, an interaction known as the entourage effect. CBD is then “more effective”.

Where does CBD isolate come in?

CBD isolate is, as the name suggests, an extraction of pure CBD, often higher than 99%, completely separated from other cannabinoids. You will often find CBD isolate in the form of a crystallized powder.

Isolating an active ingredient is common in the pharmaceutical sector, to optimize its efficacy and to stabilize the molecule. Nevertheless, it does not consider the different potential interactions between the many complex compounds of the cannabis plant.

Which is better?

For many years, research has been restricted to the study of CBD, which allows accurate dosing, particularly for those who manufacture their own CBD products. In 2015 research that aimed to find out more about the anti-inflammatory response of CBD in mice revealed that full-spectrum CBD actually had more anti-inflammatory effects than pure CBD. CBD isolate was effective in a specific dosage, but full-spectrum CBD was effective across the board.

“Recovery was only seen when [pure] CBD was given in specific doses, while no effects were seen in smaller or larger doses. “

Some people, however, have little tolerance for THC, even in the tiny quantities of legal doses, or cannot risk having any trace of THC in their blood. For those in these circumstances, CBD isolate is a good option.

Is hemp oil the same as CBD oil?

No. The hemp plant is very similar to cannabis and contains CBD but in much lower quantities. It is, therefore, harder to extract CBD for tinctures and oils. Hemp oil is usually made from the seeds of the plant which are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids but cannot provide the full spectrum of benefits offered by CBD oil.

Growing your own? 

If you would like to grow your own weed with a high CBD or THC content, check the marijuana seeds at Weedseedsexpress. From Blueberry CBD seeds to Girl Scout Cookies seeds with their famously high THC content, you will find an abundant choice of high-quality seeds, stacks of helpful information and weed growing tips.