What's the difference between CBD and THC?

Updated 4-05-2020

What is the difference between CBD and THC?

The most important difference between CBD and THC is that CBD does not produce a high. Before you jump into your first CBD experience, let shopCBD introduce you to the science of CBD.

Cannabis sativa has two primary species; hemp and marijuana. Both contain CBD, but there's a much higher concentration in hemp, which also has very low levels of THC compared to marijuana.

CBD and THC have the same chemical composition – 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms and 2 oxygens. So why does one get you high (THC) and the other doesn’t (CBD)? Because each one acts differently on different receptors in your brain and in your body.

Although they are nearly twins, one atom makes all the difference. But before explaining what that means, it’s worth knowing how CBD and THC react within our bodies.

The cannabis plant has 113 known cannabinoids – CBD and THC are the most prominent. They interact directly with a network of receptors in our bodies called the Endocannabinoid System and it maintains our vital functions.

There’s a good reason why there is so much interest in cannabinoids for their medicinal uses. They interact with receptors in the brain, lungs, vascular system, colon, immune system, spleen, pancreas, reproductive organs, muscles and bones. In short, with everything we need to stay healthy.


What are cannabinoids?

So by now we know that both CBD and THC are cannabinoids. But what are cannabinoids?

Long story short: they are chemical compounds that interact with a certain type of receptor in your brain – receptors that are part of the aforementioned endocannabinoid system.

Despite what the name might indicate, they are not found only in cannabis – cannabinoids are found in all types of plants and are even naturally produced by your body.

Along with cannabis and hemp, cannabinoids are commonly found in:

  • Echinacea
  • Kava
  • Tea
  • Black truffles

And more! These little compounds are found all over the place.


Different cannabinoids for different uses

THC and CBD have some similar properties and some that are very different. Because of the way they interact with your body, the way you use them is different, too.

Because THC produces a high, it’s not recommended for those who need to keep a clear head. If you need something to help you relax throughout the workday, you probably want to stay away from THC, as it could impair your performance at work.  

It’s always important to do your research when using cannabinoids to address a particular ailment. If you have questions, we’re always here to help.

And, arguably most important – because CBD doesn’t produce a high like THC does, it’s better suited for day-to-day applications where you don’t want to (or can’t) be impaired.


Differences in detection

Something that a lot of people wonder when they’re curious about CBD is how long it stays in your system, and if it shows up on drug tests.

Good news: pure CBD, as in a CBD isolate that’s devoid of all other cannabinoids, does not ping on a drug test for THC or cannabis.

The main reason for this is that drug tests are looking for intoxicants, so they’re calibrated specifically for THC. If your CBD product is made with an isolate CBD compound, there’s no THC in it – and therefore it won’t ping on a test.


Can they work together?

Short answer: yes. Many experts believe that the effects of CBD are enhanced by the presence of trace amounts of THC.

CBD that contains the full range of cannabinoids is called full-spectrum CBD, and taking full-spectrum CBD results in what’s called the entourage effect.

The entourage effect is the idea that the effects of cannabinoids are enhanced by the presence of other cannabinoids. i.e. CBD with trace amounts of THC, along with other cannabinoids like CBG, CBN, CBC, CBA and more, will produce more effective results than CBD on its own.

So, while every product on shopCBD is within the legal tolerance of THC (0.3% or less), some are full-spectrum products with trace amounts of THC – and many people believe these products produce enhanced results.

Take a look at all of our full-spectrum CBD oils and tinctures.


How does it work?

The identification of cannabinoid receptors is relatively new. CB1 receptors were identified in the late 1980s and were found mostly in the part of the brain where mental and physiological processes such as memory, emotion, motor coordination and cognition take place. CB2 receptors identified a few years later were found throughout the central nervous and immune systems.

Here’s where that atom comes in: while CBD and THC react the same way to CB2 receptors, it’s the reaction to CB1 receptors in the brain that makes CBD non-intoxicating, while THC produces a high.

THC binds directly with CB1 receptors and alters signals to the brain that result in psychoactive effects, or “getting high”. CBD does not bond with these receptors and may even cancel out the bond between THC and receptors, eliminating the high altogether.

All that to say,  CBD is a better choice for those not seeking the psychoactive effects of THC. If you’re ready to get started, check out shopCBD’s selection of CBD oils, which are easy to take, convenient to manage and appropriately potent.