CBD and THC are both associated with cannabis — but what’s the difference between them? Here’s what you need to know.

In recent years, interest in medical cannabis has increased. You might have seen discussions about CBD and THC, which are two compounds in the family of compounds known as cannabinoids that only exist in the natural world in cannabis.

CBD and THC are two of the most abundant cannabinoids found in cannabis, but there are more than 100 others in the plant.

Here’s what you need to know about the difference between CBD and THC.

Cannabis is a plant with both recreational and medical uses. It contains cannabinoids like CBD and THC:

  • Cannabidiol (CBD) is commonly found in health products. You’ll find CBD gummies, tinctures, topicals, and more. It’s said to have a range of health benefits. CBD is nonintoxicating. Tiny amounts of THC may be found in full-spectrum CBD products as they can legally contain up to 0.3% THC.
  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the chemical in the cannabis plant that makes you feel “high.” However, it can also have some beneficial effects on the body.

Cannabinoids work, in part, by affecting your endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is present in your skin, brain, eyes, cardiovascular system, bones, muscle, and more. Its main function is keeping your body in a state of homeostasis (healthy balance).

Your body produces its own cannabinoids (called endocannabinoids) that bind to cannabinoid receptors to produce certain effects.

Cannabinoids found in plants (also called phytocannabinoids) are chemically similar to endocannabinoids. That’s why they can sometimes affect your endocannabinoid system. Each cannabinoid seems to have a unique effect on the body.

CBD and THC are both phytocannabinoids. Anecdotally, consumers report using both to help with certain health conditions, including but not limited to:

  • inflammation
  • migraine
  • nausea
  • pain
  • insomnia
  • anxiety

Below are further details on the different potential effects each cannabinoid has on the body, although many of these effects must be studied further.

There are a few key differences between CBD and THC.

THC is intoxicating (in other words, it can make you high) while CBD is nonintoxicating.

CBD is often referred to as “nonpsychoactive,” but this is inaccurate: “Psychoactive” means it affects the brain, and CBD does do that — but it does not make you feel intoxicated.

THC has the potential for addiction, whereas according to the World Health Organization, there’s no evidence that CBD results in misuse or dependence. In fact, CBD might be able to help with addiction to certain substances like opioids, although this needs to be studied in more detail.

The laws relating to THC differ to the laws relating to CBD. THC is a much more regulated substance at the state and federal level than CBD.

A note on legality

Legally, hemp has to contain less than 0.3% THC to be classified as hemp. While hemp and cannabis are the same species of plant, the law defines them based on THC content.

Because of the 2018 Farm Bill, it’s now federally legal to grow hemp and sell hemp-derived products in the United States. CBD products are also federally legal, provided that they’re hemp-derived and contain 0.3% THC or less.

Each individual state has its own legislation regarding legal levels of CBD and THC. For this reason, you’ll need to check your state’s laws on THC and CBD and keep them in mind while traveling.

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CBD and THC also have different benefits. Although they share some reported benefits, CBD is used for some purposes that THC isn’t used for, and vice versa.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), there’s some evidence that cannabinoids such as CBD and THC may help with chronic pain.

CBD is associated with some benefits that THC doesn’t have.

The NCCIH reports that a few studies have connected CBD with reduced anxiety.

CBD may help with seizure conditions. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved a CBD-based prescription medicine, called Epidiolex, to treat rare forms of epilepsy.

Likewise, THC may have benefits that CBD doesn’t. For example, according to a 2004 study, THC has sedating effects, which means it could help with insomnia. This wasn’t observed with CBD.

In addition, THC is an appetite stimulant, which can be useful for those who have appetite loss. It may also relieve nausea and vomiting.

Marinol (dronabinol) is a prescription medication that’s a form of THC approved by the FDA for HIV- and AIDS-induced appetite loss as well as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

THC generally carries more risks than CBD due to its intoxicating effects and potential for misuse. THC can also worsen psychosis.

CBD is not intoxicating. There’s no evidence of CBD use disorder or that it can worsen psychosis. However, CBD is not without its risks. The side effects of CBD might include:

  • fatigue
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • weight loss or gain

CBD can also interact with medication that carries a “grapefruit warning”: Both grapefruit and CBD can magnify the side effects of certain medications.

Whether you’re using CBD or THC, it’s a good idea to keep your doctor in the loop. If you’re trying to medicate with either cannabinoid, it’s best to talk with your doctor beforehand, as they’re best equipped to advise you on whether it’s safe or not.

CBD and THC are both compounds found in cannabis. However, they have different effects on the body. Namely, THC can be intoxicating. CBD, on the other hand, isn’t intoxicating.

Both CBD and THC have certain health benefits, including potentially helping with pain. CBD in particular might help with mental health conditions like anxiety, where THC in particular might help with appetite stimulation or nausea.

If you’d like to use CBD or THC for any medical reason, consider speaking with a doctor who’s knowledgeable about CBD and cannabis. A healthcare professional will be able to advise you on using it safely and effectively.