With the recent proliferation of interest in medicinal marijuana, as well as increased legalization of recreational marijuana across various states in the US, there has been growing curiosity about the chemicals within the drug and their effects. Most people have heard the terms “CBD” and/or “THC” in the past, but may not know about exactly what they are, their properties, ad their particular impact. This article explains each so that you know what is really going on when people compare CBD vs THC.

CBD vs THC – How are they different?

a heart smoking weedMarijuana, also known as cannabis, is a psychoactive drug known for being used recreationally and medicinally. It is generally ingested via smoke or vapour, but there are many methods to consume weed. It is grown from the cannabis plant and contains 483 known compounds, including at least 66 cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are a type of chemical compound that works by binding to cannabinoid receptors, a part of the endocannabinoid system which regulates appetite, pain, mood, and memory.

Two of the main cannabinoids in marijuana are phytocannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the compound responsible for most of marijuana’s psychoactive properties, like changes in perception, mood, cognition, behaviour, or consciousness. To put it simply, THC is what causes the feeling of being “high.” Meanwhile, CBD has more of a therapeutic effect and is often used to treat pain, anxiety, sleep deprivation, and epilepsy, among other conditions.

CBD is not intoxicating on its own and will not get you high… When ingested with THC, it is even known to change the impact of THC on the body, namely reducing adverse effects like intoxication and sedation. Depending on the desired result, users may take just THC, just CBD, or a combination of both, like what is found naturally in the cannabis plant. For now, think of it like a herb.

Weed Cannabinoids

macro photo cannabinoidsAs mentioned above, cannabinoids are a type of chemical compound that acts on cannabinoid receptors, altering neurotransmitter release in the brain. It wasn’t until the 1980s that scientists began to understand how cannabinoids work. Previously, the hypothesis was that they produced their effects through non-specific interactions with cell membranes.

The discovery of cannabinoid receptors helped lead scientists to the understanding that cannabinoids function via interaction with specific membrane-bound receptors. There are two types of cannabinoid receptors known to exist in the human body, CB1 and CB2, though there is evidence that other types may exist, as well.

CB1 receptors are mostly found in the nervous system and brain, while CB2 receptors exist mostly in the immune system. THC produces the psychoactive effects marijuana is known for by binding to CB1 receptors in the brain. In contrast, CBD does not bind with either CB1 or CB2. Rather, it is an agonist of the CB1 receptor, which may be why it tends to temper the intoxicating effects of THC.

Chemical Structure of THC VS CBD

thc vs cbd

THC is a lipid, or a biomolecule that is soluble in nonpolar solvents but has low solubility in water. Its molecular formula is C21H30O2. In fact, this is also the molecular formula for CBD, which also has nearly the same molecular mass as THC. The only chemical difference between the two cannabinoids (CBD and THC) is the structure of the chemical bonds between the molecules. In CBD, the hydroxyl group is not bonded to one of the carbons. In THC, it is.

That means that CBD and THC are chemically quite similar and theoretically, CBD can be synthetically modified to turn into THC. One 2016 study even found that this could happen naturally in the body, though this finding was challenged and, in fact, never conclusively proven. Users ingesting CBD do not need to worry that it might spontaneously turn into or profer the effects of THC.

CBD VS THC Infographic

Why THC Gets You High and CBD Doesn’t

When THC binds with the C1 cannabinoid receptor, the user experiences a myriad of effects. These include analgesic effects, relaxation, euphoria, altered perception and sensation, appetite stimulation, and fatigue. The combination of these factors makes up the signature marijuana “high” sensation including what is colloquially known as “the munchies”. THC is also known to reduce nausea and vomiting as well as feelings of aggression.

In contrast, CBD is a negative allosteric modulator of C1, meaning it weakens the ability of THC to bind to C1 by changing the shape of the C1 receptor. This means that CBD not only does not trigger the same psychoactive effects as THC, it also reduces the effects of THC. As a result, it tempers certain negative effects of THC like anxiety, paranoia, and short-term memory impairment.

Because of the different effects of THC and CBD, they are often administered separately from one another. Both are often sold as oils, capsules, drops, and sprays. The fact that it is easier for drug companies to develop, test, and regulate products with a single active ingredient has led to the status quo that cannabinoid medicines are generally only produced with just THC or CBD, as opposed to both. This is despite the fact that they might have better results when taken together.

In fact, proponents of whole plant medicine argue that it is best to consume both chemicals together, as they are found in nature, in the cannabis plant. The “entourage effect” suggests that users will only experience the full benefits of marijuana by consuming all of the compounds and chemicals found within the plant together, as nature supposedly intended. Like with many claims about cannabis, this theory has to be studied further, as there is no current conclusive evidence for or against it.

Psychoactive Components

When the term “psychoactive components” is used in regard to marijuana, the reference is usually to THC, which produces psychoactive effects in the user. This is in contrast to CBD, which is popularly referred to as a nonpsychoactive compound. This is most often referenced when justifying the medicinal use of CBD.

Critics who look down on cannabis use because of the perception that it is a recreational drug used for getting high may feel more at ease about its legitimacy as a therapeutic tool when they are told that CBD is like cannabis but without the “psychoactive components.”

artistic brain drawingThe truth is that CBD is, in fact, psychoactive. It is not intoxicating, but it does cross the blood-brain barrier and affect the central nervous system, creating a change in mood and perception.

The popular mistake of referring to CBD as “non-psychoactive” stems from a misunderstanding of what it means for a compound to be psychoactive, and a negative connotation associated with the word. When the layperson calls THC psychoactive and CBD non-psychoactive, what they mean to say is that THC is intoxicating while CBD is not.

Medical Benefits & Bioavailability

The medical benefits of CBD and THC are numerous. Both cannabinoids share many of the same medicinal advantages, though each does have its own therapeutic properties. Both THC and CBD have analgesic effects, making each a good option for pain relief. THC and CBD have also both been found to improve anxiety and even the cognitive function of patients with schizophrenia.

Studies have shown that THC, specifically, can be of benefit to AIDS patients and those suffering from cancer, who often experience nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. THC’s anti-emetic and appetite stimulant effects are a good option for people in this situation.

marijuana posterGlaucoma patients have been known to find relief by using THC to reduce pressure in the eye. THC also may help with spasms and pain that are common symptoms of multiple sclerosis. There is even evidence that THC can prevent Alzheimer’s and help mitigate the tics that characterize Tourettes Syndrome. Finally, THC is known to be a helpful sleeping aid.

In addition to anxiety, CBD is also often used to treat depression and psychotic disorders. It has also been shown to help with digestive issues such as those stemming from irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease. And it has been used as an anti-inflammatory drug for conditions such as arthritis.

In 2018, The FDA even approved a CBD-based drug for use in helping treat epilepsy disorders, representing one of the few federally legal uses of the cannabinoid. The other is THC as a relief for nausea and low appetite associated with AIDS and chemotherapy. Ultimately, most of these uses still need to be clinically researched further in order to be viewed and treated as legitimate options.

One thing’s for sure, CBD is incredible at helping other vitamins and herbs enter the circulatory system in your body. For example, I take vitamin D every day, but it doesn’t really do shit unless I take with CBD. The same can be said with proteins, fruits and veggies – unless you’re eating them a lot, you’re probably not getting all the required nutrients. So in my experience, CBD really helps administer the bioavailability of whatever you’re trying to get more of in your body.

Legality & Regulations In Amurica, WTF

Cannabis is a Schedule 1 controlled substance in the United States. That means it has been found to have either a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, or a lack of accepted safety under medical supervision. As a result, it is forbidden from being prescribed for medical use and, certainly, recreational use.

Some states have decriminalized or legalized medical and/or recreational marijuana use, including Colorado, Washington, California, Florida, Massachusetts, and Oregon. However, this does not affect the federal illegality of the drug. There is no official stance on how use of marijuana in states where it is legalized will (or will not) be prosecuted by federal law. How fucked up is that!?

usa map of legal cannabis states

Only the cannabidiol drug Epidiolex, a CBD-based drug for epilepsy, and a synthetic form of THC called dronabinol, used for AIDS and chemotherapy patients can be legally prescribed in the United States.

The contradiction of having legally prescribable and FDA-approved cannabinoid-based drugs, while classifying cannabis as having “no accepted medical use,” is clear. The World Health Organization has even recommended that marijuana be rescheduled. It remains to be seen if this is a possibility in the coming years.

The belief and hope among proponents of medical marijuana are that further research as to cannabis’ many medicinal benefits will help bring about a change in how it is legislated and viewed by the public. It is undeniable that both CBD/THC can have a potentially powerful impact on the medical community should they be fully legalized.


You’ve likely already seen products at dispensaries or online that use ratios to explain the relationship between CBD & THC. Using a common 1:1 tincture as an example, it means that there are equal parts CBD and THC contained in the bottle. To properly understand the synergies between these two cannabinoids, here’s a realistic explanation for the most basic ratios you’ll come across.

Ratio CBD: THC

The High

The Feels


Classically high… With zero CBD in the mix, all your getting is the psychedelic head high that we all love weed for.

Giggles, body tingles, euphoria, love, pleasure, and personal insight. On the flip side, you may experience some paranoia or anxiety.


Luxury High… You’ll still get stoned, but you’ll get a little bit of balance from the CBD synergetically.

Same feels as above but everything is more manageable. The flip side is a little less freaky. You’re less likely to get paranoid or anxious. Let’s call this mild.


The sweet spot. Kind of like the right mattress.

You’re gonna chill the fuck out. You probably won’t get too high, or high at all, and you’ll likely be very happy with the result. This is the most popular ratio for good reason.


The optimal ratio for the therapeutic effects of CBD starts to reveal itself.

You definitely won’t get stoned because this ratio starts to lean towards CBD. You’ll get enough CBD to help with specific ailments, and the THC actually assists in the process. They work really well as a team at this ratio.


Straight up CBD… This ratio is for people who just want to try the cannabinoid by itself.

Anti-psychotic and relaxing with no negative side effects. It can be used with vitamins and other herbs to help bioavailability of the desired substance.



High THC Strains With No CBD

Many strains contain little to no CBD content and are extremely high in THC. These strains carry those psychoactive effects we’ve spoken about in spades. Without the benefits provided by CBD.

1. White Widow

White widow is named as such due to its dense white nugs caked in crystallized resin. A  world-renowned 60/40 Sativa dominant hybrid known for its energy inducing effects. The strain was created by the ever-impressive Green House Seeds out of Amsterdam in the 1990s.

With an average THC content of 20% – 25% and a 0% CBD content White Widow carries the psychoactive effects of THC without the benefits and effects of CBD. The strain is a cross between Brazilian Indica and South Indian Sativa landraces. White Widow is a very valued strain for producing hash. The high is energetic and euphoric encouraging creativity. A legendary strain that has been a fan favorite in the industry since its arrival in the early ’90s a rich history of quality makes this some of the best weed in Amsterdam.

2. OG Kush

First cultivated in Florida in the early 90’s. Close to 20% THC content and 0% CBD, encouraging feelings of happiness, euphoria, and relaxation. An extremely famous strain known around the world as a staple Kush. One of the most well-known strains in the world.