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CBD vs THC - Know the Difference

Those who are first discovering cannabis-based products such as CBD, are entering a world of branding, terminology, acronyms and more which are second-nature to those involved in the industry. With this becomes an endless stream of articles using such terminology which only serves to compound confusion. In this article we aim to clear up any confusion the reader may have about CBD and THC.

CBD - What is it?

CBD is short for cannabidiol, a compound found in cannabis. It is one of over 100 compounds within the cannabis plant that are classified as cannabinoids and it has recently made headlines around the world for having a whole host of medical benefits.

Although cannabis is commonly used recreationally as a narcotic, CBD is non-intoxicating, meaning that it won’t cause any feelings of being ‘high’ or ‘stoned. This means it can be extracted out of the cannabis plant and used as a medicine without causing any intoxicating feelings to the consumer.

THC - What is it?

THC is also a cannabinoid found exclusively in the cannabis plant and it also has lots of associated medical benefits. Unlike CBD though, THC does have intoxicating qualities which resulting in those who consume it to feel ‘high’.

Both CBD and THC are known for their medical benefits, and although they are almost identical in chemical structure, they have very different side-effects, benefits and legal statuses.

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The Side Effects of CBD and THC

Both CBD and THC have their own associated side effects. CBD’s side effects are considered to be much milder than THC’s side effects, with some warnings issued about the safety of using THC over a prolonged period of time. CBD has been declared completely safe for use by the World Health Organisation, but still may cause a few minor issues.

  • CBD may cause drowsiness and nausea
  • THC may cause anxiety, paranoia, lethargy and reduced cognitive functions
  • Prolonged use of THC may affect mental health
  • Both CBD and THC may affect the use of pharmaceutical medication

CBD may cause drowsiness and nausea

Minor side effects of CBD are drowsiness and nausea, although not enough for warning to be issued about using whilst driving or operating machinery. From the small amount of people who do suffer the minor side effects of CBD, most advise that it’s not enough to deter them from consuming it.

THC may cause anxiety, paranoia, lethargy and reduced cognitive function

The side effects for THC are much more pronounced and obvious to the user. It will cause feelings of intoxication, which for some is pleasurable but for others isn’t. Some users advise that the side effects of THC are worth it for the relief they seek, others advise that it isn’t.

Prolonged use of THC may affect mental health

Studies conducted into THC shows that consistent and heavy use over a prolonged period of time may cause mental health issues, particularly when used by teenagers during adolescence. However, some long-terms users appear to be unaffected by mental health issues, raising questions that it only affects though that are pre-dispositioned to them.

Both CBD and THC may affect the use of pharmaceutical medication

Both cannabinoids are metabolised in the liver by cytochrome p450, which is also responsible for metabolising a host of pharmaceutical medications. This could cause changes into how these medications work, so talking to a GP or medical professional before consuming either is advisable.

The Benefits of CBD and THC

Because CBD and THC are very similar in chemical structure, they have quite similar medical effects on the body in terms of treating medical conditions. However, their is some slight variance in the applications of either.

CBD is commonly used for: -

  • Seizures
  • Anxiety
  • Pain relief
  • Inflammation
  • Immune disorders

THC is commonly used for: -

  • Glaucoma
  • Spasticity
  • Pain relief
  • Low appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety

You will notice some of the categories between both overlap.

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The Key Differences Between CBD and THC

Both CBD and THC are found in cannabis and they will interact with the human body. In particular they interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, causing a variety of effects. The key differences between THC and CBD are worth noting.

Getting High?

THC will cause intoxicating effects to the user. CBD will not cause intoxicating effects to the user. Cannabis that contains both THC and CBD will cause intoxicating effects because it has THC in it.

Marijuana vs. Hemp

Cannabis can be categorised into Marijuana and Hemp, depending on how much THC is present. In the UK, Hemp is cannabis that contains less than 0.2% THC by weight, with any plants containing more than that being classified as marijuana.

Products such as CBD oil are made from hemp to minimise THC in the product. Consequently, it’s just as easy to make THC oil from marijuana as it is to make CBD oil from hemp.

Atomic differences

Both THC and CBD share the same molecular weight of 314.4 grams per mole and the same molecular formula of C21H30O2. The difference comes from the arrangements of the atoms in space, where THC forms an ester and the CBD forms a hydroxyl group and an alkene ring.


In the UK, THC is completely illegal unless supplied via the pharmaceutical drug Sativex as part of a medical prescription. Hemp plants are allowed to contain less than 0.2% THC, but this must be removed and disposed of from any products sold. Subsequently, hemp buds are illegal to be sold in the UK because of the small amount of THC present in them.

CBD and any CBD products are legal in the UK, requiring they don’t contain any THC.

Cannabinoid receptors - THC and CBD

Both CBD and THC interact with the body's endocannabinoid system - a complex network of molecules and receptors that react to cause physiological changes to the body. The differences in how THC and CBD interact with these receptors forms the basis for the differences in physiological effects.

There are two types of endocannabinoid receptor, CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are found predominantly in the brain and central nervous system and CB2 receptors are found in tissues around the body.

THC has a high affinity for CB1 receptors and mimics anandamide, called the bliss molecule and is responsible for runner’s high. Because of this THC causes feelings of being high. CBD on the other hand has no affinity for the CB1 receptor, so doesn’t cause feelings of being high.

In fact, CBD doesn’t directly bind to the CB1 or CB2 receptors. Its effects are believed to be caused by affecting how other molecules bind to them, which explains why people report that CBD dampens the intoxicating effects of THC.


Both THC and CBD are molecules in cannabis. They can both be consumed by humans by smoking or vaping the cannabis plant, or they can both be extracted and placed into products, such as oil and consumed that way.

Any products sold as CBD in the UK must not contain THC in the UK, because THC is illegal due to its intoxicating effects, despite it also having medical benefits which are similar to the ones CBD possesses.