CBD and THC: The Differences You Need to Know


More and more people are turning to natural remedies for their chronic conditions, forgoing some pharmaceutical options because of their side effects.


More and more people are turning to natural remedies for their chronic conditions, forgoing some pharmaceutical options because of their side effects.

Medical marijuana can offer patients a natural alternative to pain relief and other troubling symptoms—specifically, two compounds in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) work in different ways to alleviate symptoms. 

Continue reading to see how both of these compounds work.   

First, A Lesson

Before we get into the molecular structure of THC vs. CBD, it’s important to know a little bit about how these compounds are related to systems and chemicals naturally found in the body.

Our bodies have a complex Endocannabinoid System which is comprised of cannabinoid receptors found in the brain. Essentially there are two important cannabinoid receptors we need to know about: cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) and cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2).

CB1 receptors are located in the parts of the brain that involve memory, advanced thought processing, emotion, and motor coordination. CB2 receptors are most commonly located throughout the central nervous system and the immune system.

Phytocannabinoids, those found in plants, like THC and CBD interact with the CB1 and CB2 receptors, and this is what allows them to provide affects like elevated mood, pain relief, somnolence, increased appetite, and other effects.

The interaction with receptors is directly related to the different molecular structures of THC and CBD.

Let’s Get Down to the Molecules

Molecularly, THC and CBD are almost identical. They are composed of the same number of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms, but, importantly, these atoms are arranged differently. This difference is significant!

THC and CBD have molecular structures that allow them to bind with CB2 receptors. And while THC can bind to CB1 receptors, CBD cannot bind with CB1 receptors.

Binding with CB1 receptors is what produces the psychoactive effect of THC creating an elevated mood, or high. CBD on the other hand cannot bind with CB1 receptors. In fact, CBD can even break the bond between THC and CB1 receptors.

For those who prefer not to have any psychoactive effects from cannabis treatment, CBD’s inability to bind with CB1 receptors is an added benefit, because it is able to provide many benefits without causing a high.

Legal Issues

Because CBD oil doesn’t bind with CB1 and produce an intoxicating effect, it is generally considered legal—though this is a gray area under the law.

Some federal laws have legalized CBD derived from hemp, but these laws don’t legalize CBD derived from marijuana.

Furthermore, states can pass their own laws and regulations pertaining to CBD legalization, and federal law does not cancel out state law.

There is hope that in the future CBD will be broadly legalized.

In Conclusion

Both THC and CBD provide many important therapeutic properties, and neither is better than the other. Rather, THC may benefit some more than CBD, and vice versa.

Knowing a few of the bigger differences between the two can be the beginning step on deciding which one is best for your treatment.

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