CBD and THC: Understanding the difference and relationships

CBD and THC image

CBD (Cannabidiol) and THC (delta-9 THC) are two of the major cannabinoids found in cannabis and hemp plants. Whether it is hemp-derived or cannabis-derived, both have their unique effects, characteristics, and benefits. Still, they also have an intricate relationship between them that makes them work effectively in your body. 

This article will take a closer look at CBD and THC, their relationships, differences, effects, and much more. We’ll also understand why THC makes you feel high, and why CBD doesn’t.  

What is CBD?

CBD, short for cannabidiol, is one of the many cannabinoids found in cannabis and hemp plants. Unlike THC, CBD does not make you “high”, instead it offers many therapeutic and wellness benefits like managing chronic pain and inflammation and managing stress, anxiety, and sleep problems.

After the legalization of hemp-derived CBD in the US, you can also find all kinds of CBD-infused products in the market , mostly in the form of oils, gummies, capsules, flowers, pre-rolls, topicals,  and beverages. 

What is THC?

THC or “delta-9 THC”, short for tetrahydrocannabinol, is another primary cannabinoid found in cannabis and hemp plants. THC is the primary psychoactive component, which means it’s responsible for the “high” feeling that people experience when they use cannabis.

THC works by interacting with specific receptors in the brain and nervous system, leading to altered perceptions, relaxation, and euphoria. 

Although like CBD, THC also offers many wellness benefits, like chronic pain and inflammation relief, and sleep promotion.

CBD vs. THC: What are the differences?

Image shows all the difference between CBD and THC

Chemical structure:

CBD and THC have a similar chemical formula; C21H30O2, but their chemical structure is different from each other. This variation in structure is a significant factor that contributes to their distinct effects on the body.

CBD THC molecular structure

Psychoactive effects:

THC is psychoactive, meaning it can alter your mind and senses and give you a feeling of being euphoric, which people commonly refer to as “high”. On the other hand, CBD is not psychoactive and doesn’t produce any intoxicating effects.

Wellness benefits:

CBD has gained attention and popularity for its potential wellness benefits, As CBD can exhibit anti-inflammatory, analgesic (pain-relieving), anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing), and antipsychotic properties. Some studies (1, 2, 3) also suggest that CBD can help manage conditions like epilepsy, anxiety disorders, sleep disorders, and chronic pain. 

On the other hand, THC also has potential wellness applications, such as pain relief and appetite stimulation, but its psychoactive effects can limit its use.


After the 2018 Farm Bill, CBD and THC derived from hemp plants with low levels of THC concentration (less than 0.3%) are legal in the US. 

While cannabis-derived THC is federally illegal in the US, but legal in states that legalized cannabis.

Side effects:

THC can cause side effects like impaired memory, increased heart rate, coordination issues, anxiety, paranoia, and munchies, especially at higher doses.

On the other hand, CBD is generally considered to have a much better safety profile, however, some people can experience certain side effects of CBD including, dry mouth, change in appetite, and drowsiness.

Why does THC get you high and CBD doesn't?

The reason THC gets you high and CBD doesn’t lie in how they interact with specific receptors that are present in the brain and the nervous system. There is a cluster of receptors present all over your body, called the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

Both THC and CBD work by interacting with your body’s endocannabinoid system. However, they interact in different ways.

THC has a strong affinity for the CB1 receptors in the brain. When THC binds to these receptors, it influences or activates them. This activation of receptors in certain parts of the brain is what produces its characteristic effect “high” or euphoric sensation.

CBD, on the other hand, has a more complex interaction with the ECS. It doesn’t directly bind to CB1 receptors in the same way that THC does. Instead, it influences these receptors indirectly by modulating their activity and minimizing their agitation. 

CBD can even work to counteract some of the psychoactive effects of THC by altering the way CB1 receptors function.

In addition to its interaction with the endocannabinoid system, CBD also interacts with other receptors and pathways in the body that are involved in pain perception, inflammation, and anxiety regulation. These interactions contribute to CBD’s potential therapeutic effects.

So, in essence, THC gets you high because of its direct interaction with CB1 receptors, which triggers a cascade of neurological responses in your brain and body. CBD, on the other hand, doesn’t strongly bind to these receptors and has a more nuanced effect on various systems, leading to therapeutic benefits.

What is the relationship between CBD and THC?

The entourage effect:

The relationship between CBD and THC is majorly associated with the “entourage effect.” This theory proposes that the compounds in cannabis or hemp plants like, cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids work together synergistically to produce enhanced effects. 

In other words, CBD and THC will have a more profound effect when used together than when isolated. That’s the reason many people prefer to use full-spectrum CBD products that contain a small amount of THC because they work better than pure CBD isolate.

The alteration of effects:

Research (4) suggests that CBD can moderate or dampen the psychoactive impact of THC by interacting with CB1 receptors in a way that reduces the intensity of the feeling known as “high”.

This interaction between CBD and THC can vary depending on factors like dosage and the ratio of the two cannabinoids present in your system.

CBD's potential to counteract THC's negative effects:

CBD also has the potential to counteract some of the unwanted side effects of THC. For instance, CBD could help mitigate anxiety or paranoia that some individuals experience when consuming high-THC, or cannabis products. 

Final thoughts

The relationship between CBD and THC is a fascinating subject that continues to captivate researchers and enthusiasts alike. These two cannabinoids, with their distinct effects and potential for synergy, offer a rich landscape for exploring new dimensions of wellness.

As our understanding of these compounds deepens, it becomes increasingly clear that the world of cannabinoids is vast, intricate, and full of untapped potential that many studies are trying to figure out.

Whether consumed separately or together, these natural compounds hold promise for improving the lives of countless individuals.


The information in this article is intended for general use only and may not always be appropriate for everyone’s needs. Your health and wellness are unique to you, so before acting on anything we say, seek personalized advice from a medical professional.

We value the accuracy and editorial integrity of all our articles, and we strive to ensure that the content we publish is accurate and up-to-date to the best of our knowledge.

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