The availability of the cannabis plant is growing for users of both THC and CBD. Marijuana is now recreationally available in eleven states. More importantly, marijuana for medical use is legal in thirty-three states! There are many compounds called cannabinoids within the plant. The two we are most familiar with are tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol, or THC and CBD for short. There are a lot of misconceptions about the distinction between THC and CBD. This post will dive into what exactly differentiates the two compounds, from their chemical structure to their effects on the body.
Essentially, THC gives you a ‘high’ feeling while CBD does not. CBD doesn't have any psychoactive effects at all. It primarily affects the body while THC primarily influences the brain. We have receptors for these compounds in our endocannabinoid system, namely CB1 and CB2. CB2 receptors are mostly found in the immune system and the central nervous system, while CB1 receptors are found all across the body. THC fits into the CB1 receptors. CBD can interact with both CB1 and CB2 receptors, but it doesn’t exactly fit into either one. This indirect mechanism is still being studied. However, something to note is that CBD inhibits the psychoactive ability of THC. Since CBD can bind to both receptors, it is able to limit how many receptors are available to THC.
Photo courtesy: Colorado Botanicals
The chemical formula of CBD and THC is exactly the same: C21H30O2. However, the small changes in their structure causes large differences in the bodily effect. The only difference is the presence of a ringed structure in THC, and a hydroxyl group in CBD.
This seemingly small structural difference means that THC is psychoactive and CBD is not. CBD has been shown to treat anxiety, pain, inflammation, depression, epilepsy (seizures), and is in medical trials for many other potential uses. THC is still medically beneficial and can be used to treat some of the same and some different medical conditions. However, THC does generally have more negative side effects (although these are minor) and produces a much more intense feeling. For many people, CBD provides a safe medical alternative for anxiety and pain relief, without the psychoactive components of THC.
CBD Awareness Project. (2020, January 13). CBD vs. THC: What's the Difference? Retrieved from https://www.cbdoil.org/cbd-vs-thc/
P, Surat. (2019, August 30). Crystal Structure of the Human Cannabinoid Receptor CB2. Retrieved from https://www.news-medical.net/life-sciences/Crystal-Structure-of-the-Human-Cannabinoid-Receptor-CB2.aspx