On a chemical level, CBD and THC are almost identical. However, the effects of THC have caused the cannabis plant hundreds of years worth of demonization. The high created by consuming THC is caused by one subtle difference between the two molecules. But our interaction with CBD and THC is more complex than ‘one gets you high, the other gets you healthy.’ Our bodies are more complicated and can’t be explained by a short, catchy instagramable quote (even though we sometimes wish they could be).
Both cannabinoids have an interaction with our bodies, but it happens differently. Understanding the difference between CBD and THC is important if you are interested in or are currently taking CBD products.
We created this short guide to help consumers who aren’t experts understand how these molecules interact with our bodies. Below are the three areas we will cover to help you better comprehend cannabis science and properly use cannabinoids to improve your life.
- The chemical composition of CBD and THC
- The interaction between CBD, THC, and our bodies
- Different types of CBD products
CBD Vs. THC – Chemical Composition
Both CBD and THC are derived from the cannabis plant and both synthesized from the same compound during the plant’s lifecycle. CBGa is the precursor to all naturally occurring cannabinoids including, CBD and THC. As a plant matures, CBGa naturally converts into the acidic forms of THC and CBD (THCa and CBDa). To become active, THCa and CBDa are decarboxylated using heat during the manufacturing process or during consumption.
While CBD is federally legal in the United States, THC remains prohibited in the majority of the country. Each compound is similar, but the interaction in our bodies and potential benefits differ. While THC does have the potential medical application, the high created after a user consumes marijuana is the sole reason for cannabis prohibition.
CBD has been deemed legal by the US government because it is non-intoxicating. No matter how much CBD you consume, you will not get high. This difference is caused because of CBD’s chemical composition and ability to interact with receptors in the brain.
CBD and THC have the exact same molecular formula, C21H30O2, twenty-one carbon, thirty hydrogen, and two oxygen atoms. Their molecular mass is also nearly identical both coming in at about 314.46 g/mol. So how can THC deliver a high, but CBD can’t? The answer lies in how each molecule is structured.
H3 The Molecular Structure of CBD and THC
The biggest difference between CBD and THC is created by each molecules' chemical structure. If you look at a structural formula of THC and CBD, you will notice a subtle difference. THC possesses a cyclic ring where CBD has a hydroxyl group.
Seemingly a minute difference, the chemical structure of molecules has a huge effect on our bodies. When we ingest cannabinoids like CBD and THC, their structures are what creates the benefits and effects.
How CBD and THC Interact with Our Brains
Both CBD and THC can change the chemical reactions in the brain, central nervous system, digestive system, and other parts of the body. We have written extensively on popular questions such as: does CBD oil make you hungry, and is it ok to take CBD and alcohol at the same time. Understanding how each compound works and interacts with your brains is at the center of how CBD and THC are used medically. Once a CBD user comprehends how CBD works biologically, they are much more likely to experience the benefits.
What is the ECS?
The endocannabinoid system, or ECS, is a complex network of neurotransmitters, receptors, and enzymes that exists in the bodies of all mammals. Our bodies naturally produce endocannabinoids (neurotransmitters) that interact with receptors in the brain and around the body. The receptors that are primarily concentrated in the brain and central nervous system are known as CB1. The receptors localized in the immune and digestive systems are called CB2.
After consuming THC, CB1 and CB2 receptors activate. THC’s structure closely resembles a naturally produced endocannabinoid called anandamide. If you have experienced a runner’s high, you can thank anandamide for the release of serotonin. Because anandamide and THC are structured similarly, they both can bind with CB1 and cause a release in dopamine and serotonin. THC’s ability to bind with CB1 is why marijuana users experience a high after consumption.
CBD isn’t able to bind with CB1 or CB2 receptors. However, it can inhibit enzymes that slow or stop the production of anandamide. CBD can cause the release of CB1 receptors, but the process is not direct. To experience increased levels of endocannabinoids, a CBD user must consistently dose. Taking CBD doesn’t work the same as THC. There isn’t an instantaneous release of chemicals. The process takes time and consistency for the user to experience the benefits.
How THC and CBD Work Together
Cannabis is a complex plant. As we learn more about how its chemical compounds react with our bodies, we discover they produce different results when delivered together. The phenomenon is known as the entourage effect.
Many companies selling full spectrum products claim that THC is required to activate CBD or that THC is required for CBD to deliver results. This is a misleading claim. While there is evidence that suggests that a full-plant extract containing both THC and CBD could be more beneficial in treating specific conditions, THC isn’t required for CBD to be useful. Even in examples like the 2015 Jerusalem study, the CBD isolate performed well on its own.
Experts believe that when taken together, CBD limits THC’s affinity to bind with CB1. The CBD molecules aren’t able to activate the receptors, but they can manipulate them, creating a decrease in psychoactive effects. Dr. Ethan Russo further expands on this idea in his famous research article, Taming THC.
Our understanding of the limitations and exact application for the combination of THC and CBD is not yet understood. Currently, the consensus of the industry is that a full plant extract has more potential to deliver benefits than an isolate.
Different Types of CBD Products
CBD products are broken down into three main categories, full spectrum, broad-spectrum, and isolate. We choose to provide our customers with broad-spectrum products because we believe in the added benefits of other cannabinoids and terpenes that exist in a full-plant extract. However, because of legality issues and the adverse effects, we choose to remain THC-free.
CBD alone has proven in multiple double-blind trials to deliver benefits. The idea that CBD has to have THC to be beneficial is not rooted in any data. To experience the benefits of CBD, we highly recommend understanding CBD’s structure and ability to increase the production of endocannabinoids in the ECS. We hope to provide our customers with the resources and products to create the most beneficial CBD experience possible. Try our CBD hemp oil for stress, CBD softgels for sleep, or CBD balm for pain relief and see for yourself.
TL;DR: THC and CBD are almost identical. Some people think that the only difference is ‘one gets you high, the other gets you higher,’ but there is actually more complexity to it. While CBD and THC have similar chemical makeups, they differ in their molecular makeup and each interact with our brain in a unique way. Once a CBD user comprehends how CBD works biologically, they are more likely to experience the benefits.
Visit our website if you are looking to buy CBD hemp oil products for stress, sleep or pain. Yesterday offers a full-line of hemp derived CBD oil, containing broad-spectrum hemp extract and zero THC. To learn more about the CBD basics, we recommend reading more from our CBD 101 articles, available here.