CBD vs. THC: Comparing the Cannabinoids


The world of hemp-derived cannabinoids is expanding, with CBD and THC taking center stage. In recent years, these compounds have gained significant attention for their potential therapeutic and psychoactive properties.

However, understanding the distinctions between CBD and THC is crucial for informed consumption. 

This article explores the comparison between CBD and THC, in terms of chemical structures, types, psychoactive properties, side effects, detection on drug tests, legality, product forms, and potential benefits.

What is CBD?

CBD, short for “cannabidiol”, is a non-psychoactive, natural compound found in hemp plants. Unlike THC, CBD does not produce a “high” or alter one’s state of mind.

Instead, it interacts with the endocannabinoid system, a complex cell-signaling system that is crucial in regulating various physiological processes, such as mood, appetite, and sleep.

What is THC?

THC, short for “delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol”, is the psychoactive cannabinoid responsible for the intoxicating effects commonly associated with marijuana use. When THC binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, it produces a euphoric sensation, often referred to as a “high.” 

While THC is found in both marijuana and hemp plants, commercial THC-labeled products are mostly derived from hemp plants.

CBD vs. THC: Comparison chart





Found in hemp and cannabis

Found in hemp and cannabis

Psychoactive effects

Non-psychoactive; does not produce a “high”

Psychoactive; induces a euphoric sensation

Legal status

Federally legal when derived from hemp with low THC

Subject to strict regulations. However, hemp-derived THC is legal

Potential Benefits

Pain management, anxiety relief, neuroprotection

Pain relief, nausea control, muscle spasm reduction

Interaction with the Endocannabinoid System

Interacts with CB1 and CB2 receptors; modulates ECS activity

Binds primarily to CB1 receptors in the brain; influences neurotransmitter release

Commonly available products

Oils, capsules, edibles, flowers, topicals

oils, edibles, concentrates

Side Effects

Generally well-tolerated; minimal side effects

Can cause temporary memory impairment, coordination issues, and increased heart rate

Detection of drug tests

CBD can not be detected 

THC can be detected

CBD vs THC: What are the differences

Chemical structure:

The primary difference between CBD and THC lies in their chemical structures. While both compounds share the same molecular formula (21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms), the arrangement of these atoms differs. This variance is responsible for the distinct effects each cannabinoid has on the body.

CBD THC molecular structure

Cannabinoid types:

The types of CBD include:

  1. Full-spectrum CBD means the product will have whole-plant extracts, including, a wide range of terpenes, flavonoids, and cannabinoids. It also contains up to 0.3% of THC.
  2. Broad-spectrum CBD contains a wide range of occurring compounds from the whole plant similar to full-spectrum, but it does not contain THC.
  3. CBD isolate means just pure CBD, no THC, and no other compounds.

The most common types of THC include:

  1. Delta-9 THC, popularly known as “THC”, is one of the most abundant psychoactive compounds found in cannabis and hemp plants. This compound is also responsible for the “high” associated with cannabis use.
  2. Delta-8 THC is a minor THC that has a milder psychoactive influence and is considered to be half as potent as delta-9 THC.
  3. THC-A  is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that is found in the raw cannabis and hemp plant. It is the precursor to delta-9 THC.

Psychoactive effects:

CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning it does not produce a “high” or alter one’s mental state, instead, it only offers therapeutic benefits without the cognitive impairment associated with THC.

 THC, on the other hand, is psychoactive and responsible for the euphoric sensations. However, the intensity of the psychoactive effects can vary based on factors such as the THC concentration in a product and an individual’s tolerance.

Side effects:

While CBD is renowned for its favorable safety profile, with most users experiencing no adverse effects, some people may experience side effects of CBD including dry mouth, occasional drowsiness (particularly at higher doses), and potential changes in appetite. 

Importantly, CBD lacks any psychoactive properties that induce cognitive impairment or a “high,” making it safe and well-tolerated by a broad range of users.

In contrast, THC, the psychoactive counterpart to CBD, is associated with a broader spectrum of side effects. These can range from impaired coordination and memory issues to increased heart rate and dry mouth.  

Some users may also experience psychological effects, including heightened anxiety or paranoia, especially with higher THC concentrations.

Nevertheless, with hemp-derived THC products, the concentration of THC is less than 0.3%, so they will be less likely to cause the discomforts that are usually associated with THC.

Detection in drug tests:

Most drug tests are designed to detect the presence of THC or its metabolites only, not CBD. Consequently, pure CBD products, especially those derived from hemp with zero THC content, are unlikely to result in a positive drug test. 

However, it’s crucial to note that some CBD products, particularly mislabeled or full-spectrum extracts, may contain trace amounts of THC. While these amounts are legally permissible, they could accumulate over time, potentially leading to a positive result in certain drug tests.

THC, on the other hand, will test positive since its psychoactive nature makes it the primary focus of most drug tests. The metabolites of THC, particularly THC-COOH, are what drug screenings typically identify. 

If you are subject to regular drug testing, you should avoid using THC products.

CBD vs THC: What are the similarities


CBD is derived from both hemp and marijuana plants. It is one of over 100 cannabinoids found in these plants. Similarly, THC can also be derived from both hemp and cannabis plants.

While the cultivation and processing methods can vary, the foundational source remains consistent for both. 

However, the commercial CBD and THC products available in the market are mostly derived from the hemp plant and contain less than 0.3% THC to be legally sold in the US.

Interaction with the Endocannabinoid System (ECS):

Both CBD and THC can interact with the endocannabinoid system, a complex network of receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes that play a crucial role in maintaining homeostasis within the body. This interaction is the reason for CBD and THC’s therapeutic effects.

Although, they both interact differently with the ECS.

Such as CBD only interacts with the CB receptors and influences their activities to help them reach a balanced state. While THC binds with the receptors to modulate their activities, which leads to intoxicating effects.

Legal status:

According to the 2018 farm bill, both hemp-derived CBD and THC products are federally legal in the US, as long as the THC concentration does not exceed the 0.3% mark. 

While most states follow this law, some have decided to restrict certain THC products. Check the current THC law of your state.

While hemp-derived CBD and THC products with more than 0.3% THC concentration and cannabis-derived CBD and THC products remain illegal under federal law, they are legal in states where cannabis is allowed.

Product forms:

CBD and THC are available in a diverse range of product forms, allowing you to choose a product based on your personal preference and intended use. 

Both cannabinoids can be found in oils, tinctures, capsules, edibles, and topicals. This variety of product options ensures you can experience their benefits in various ways.

Wellness benefits:

While the specific therapeutic properties of CBD and THC can differ, both cannabinoids have been associated with potential wellness benefits.

CBD is generally known for its anti-inflammatory, chronic pain relief, sleep promotion, antioxidant, anti-anxiety, and anxiolytic properties (1). 

On the other hand, THC is recognized for its potential in pain management, appetite stimulation, muscle relief, anti-nausea, sleep promotion, and relaxation (2).

In certain cases, a combination of CBD and THC, along with other cannabinoids and terpenes, can offer a broader range of therapeutic benefits. This is known as the “entourage effect.”

Final thoughts

In the dynamic landscape of cannabinoids, understanding the differences and similarities between CBD and THC is paramount. Whether you are seeking therapeutic relief or recreational enjoyment, you should always make informed choices based on desired effects and the legal landscape in your region. 

As research continues, the nuanced relationship between these two compounds will undoubtedly reveal even more about the potential benefits they offer. 

CBD and THC are both considered safe but there is still a possibility of side effects, so always consult with a healthcare professional before incorporating cannabinoids into your wellness routine.


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.

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