Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are the two most prominent cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, a genus comprising of marijuana and hemp. These chemical compounds have an effect on the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is an essential regulatory system that can enhance many physical and psychological functions, including metabolism, mood, sleep, appetite, immunity, memory, and much more. While both CBD and THC provide many health benefits, they have significant differences.
Here, we break down the characteristics of each chemical compound, including the effects they have on the human brain and body once consumed.
What is CBD?
CBD is the second-most abundant cannabinoid found in cannabis, after THC. Unlike THC, it does not produce any mind-altering effects. As such, it is widely used as a health supplement or medical treatment. This cannabinoid does not work by interacting directly with cannabinoid receptors. Instead, it sends signals to prompt naturally-occurring endocannabinoids to activate the receptors. It also interacts with non-cannabinoid receptors and deactivates receptors to produce its beneficial effects. According to research, CBD can help with pain, inflammation, anxiety, depression, seizure, addiction, and other conditions.
Derived from the stalks and seeds of hemp, CBD oil is a natural botanical concentration that contains a high concentration of CBD and other nutritious material such as omega-3 fatty acids, terpenes, vitamins, chlorophyll, amino acids and trace levels of other cannabinoids.
CBD is one of over 85 cannabinoids so far identified in the cannabis plant. Like all cannabinoids, CBD interacts with receptors throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems and the immune system to alter the release of neurotransmitters.
Among the many different reasons why people incorporate daily CBD oil into their lives, many individuals use CBD as a nutritional supplement, as it encourages balance and wellness and provides a good variety of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants that support health.
It is important to reemphasize that CBD oil will not cause you to experience a euphoric effect, or a “high.” Because CBD oil is derived from hemp, and naturally contains very low trace levels (0.3%) of THC, it is a completely non-psychoactive supplement. In fact, studies show that CBD can actually help battle the symptoms of psychosis by inhibiting anandamide deactivation.
This means that after taking CBD oil, you will not notice any adverse effects on your sensory awareness, perception, behavior, consciousness or reaction time. CBD may have different effects on people depending on their weight, height, age, and other factors.
The common response after taking CBD oil is a sensation of increased relaxation or calmness. Others consumers have also reported experiencing slight awakening or energizing effects.
With regular CBD oil use, users may experience effects and sensations related to a more active Endocannabinoid system. Your body and its functions will likely operate more efficiently from the consistent use of CBD. Individuals may also notice CBD’s balancing effects positively impacting sleep habits, a healthy appetite, and a stable, overall good mood.
What is THC?
THC is the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis. Unlike CBD, THC is responsible for creating a state of euphoria, a feeling that is commonly referred to as a “high.” It works by copying the effects of a neurotransmitter called anandamide.
Anandamide plays important roles in memory, motivation, movement, pain, appetite, fertility, and even potentially inhibiting cancer cell proliferation. Because of anandamide’s role in neurogenesis (the formation of new nerve cells), it also acts as an anti-anxiety and antidepressant agent. However, like other neurotransmitters, anandamide quickly breaks down in the body, meaning that this euphoria will not create a perpetual or lasting effect.
Also known as the “bliss molecule,” this neurotransmitter is an endocannabinoid that is naturally produced by the human body. Since THC has a similar chemical structure to anandamide, it is readily accepted by the body. It interacts with cannabinoid receptors to produce psychoactive effects and provide benefits such as anxiety relief, appetite enhancement, sleep improvement, disease prevention, and others.
Both cannabinoids anandamide and THC demonstrate a strong affinity for binding to the ECS’s CB1 and CB2 receptors. It is the binding to CB1 that produces euphoric effects.
Given that THC and anandamide share similar properties, consuming cannabis can produce similar euphoric effects. When people ingest cannabis through smoking or vaping, THC hits the brain within seconds, immediately affecting the brain’s neurons.
THC, acting through cannabinoid receptors, also activates the brain’s reward system, which includes regions that govern the response to healthy human behaviors like eating. Similar to most other drugs of abuse, THC is said to stimulate neurons in the reward system of the brain to release the signaling chemical dopamine at higher levels than typically observed in response to natural stimuli.
Main Differences Between CBD and THC
Even though they come from the same source, CBD and THC are different in the way they work and the effects they produce. They also differ in terms of application and legal status. Here is a closer look at the differences between the two compounds.
While both CBD and THC contain therapeutic properties, they are not always used for the same purposes. THC is commonly used for recreational purposes because it provides the euphoric experience previously mentioned. It has a high binding affinity to CB1 receptors, which are receptors concentrated in the central nervous system, including the brain. These receptors cause mind-related effects when activated, which explains why THC makes people feel a “high.”
Since CBD does not interact directly with CB1 receptors, it does not produce any mind-altering effect whatsoever. Additionally, researchers believe that it possesses antipsychotic properties, meaning CBD can in fact suppress the euphoric feeling that results from the activity of CB1 receptors. When you ingest both CBD and THC cannabinoids, CBD will act as a countermeasure to the psychoactive effects of THC, keeping users more sober, and without compromising its health benefits.
THC is widely used as a sleep-inducer. Its psychoactive properties can cause drowsiness and sleepiness, making it an ideal sleep aid, especially for individuals with insomnia or other sleep disorders. CBD, on the other hand, is rumored to promote wakefulness and boost energy levels. However, a study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that high doses of CBD can result in longer, deeper sleep. So it may depend heavily on the dosage amount. More research needs to be conducted to be sure.
Side Effects and Safety
Along with its psychoactive effects, THC can also cause anxiety and paranoia. It has been reported that one in five people report these feelings of anxiousness and temporary distress. THC has been proven to have both temporary and long-term adverse effects on the brain, such as memory and cognitive impairment. By contrast, studies show that CBD has minimal to no immediate or long-term side effects. In fact, CBD counteracts the anxiety and cognitive impairments caused by THC. Even when administered on its own, CBD provides anxiety-reducing benefits.
Although both CBD and THC can be found in marijuana and hemp, they may vary greatly in terms of proportions. Generally, there is a significantly higher concentration of THC in marijuana. In fact, marijuana is mostly cultivated with the intention of maximizing THC content, so that it can provide stronger psychoactive effects.
Meanwhile, hemp contains large amounts of CBD and minimal traces of THC. Usually, its THC content is no more than 0.3 percent, which is nearly 10 times less than the least potent strain of marijuana. Additionally, various strains of hemp have been bred to maximize the concentration and percentage of CBD. Because of these reasons, most CBD products are derived from hemp.
Legal Status and Perception
Due to their differences in psychoactivity, CBD and THC are also perceived differently in the eyes of the law. THC has been misleadingly labeled the “dangerous cannabinoid” while CBD has been named the “beneficial cannabinoid.” This stigma is both harmful and deceptive, as THC has many beneficial therapeutic properties as well. As a result of this, many states are pushing for the legalization of marijuana, and may be joining Colorado, California, Nevada, Massachusetts, Oregon, Maine, Washington, and Alaska, in legalization in the near future. CBD, on the other hand, is legal throughout all of the U.S. and in many countries around the world.
While progress is being made on distinguishing the legality of CBD in its entirety, it is unclear at the moment due to the different laws in various states.
A major distinguishing factor lies in whether the CBD is derived from hemp. Because CBD from hemp has no psychoactive effects, the purchase, sale, or possession of hemp CBD products is federally legal in all 50 states.
Medical Applications of CBD and THC
Although it may demonstrate some negative side effects and psychoactive effects, some people consume THC to help with many medical conditions, including:
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Crohn’s Disease
- Muscle Spasm
- Appetite Loss
- Sleep Disorder
CBD is currently gaining popularity as a health supplement for its beneficial properties and its non-psychoactive effects. It is often used to help with conditions such as:
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Heart Disease
- THC produces mind-altering effects; CBD does not
- CBD opposes the action of THC in the brain, thereby lessening the psychoactive effects of THC
- The jury is still out on the idea that cannabinoids and terpenes may work better together rather than in isolation
- CBD is federally legal in all 50 states, while THC is legal in 29 states
- CBD is non-psychoactive and will not produce the “high” associated with the consumption of cannabis and cannabis products.
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