Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are two compounds commonly found in the cannabis plant, but what is the difference between THC and CBD?
THC and CBD have been characterized as the “yin and yang” of cannabis, with one 2020 review of the limited scientific literature comparing the two compounds stating that an “overall pattern of opposite effect profiles of the two cannabinoids was evident with some degree of consistency.”
If you’re interested in how cannabis can help you make the most of your wellness practices, understanding the difference between THC and CBD — as well as the effects each compound produces — is essential.
Below, we’ll break down what THC and CBD are and how each cannabinoid can potentially promote your overall well-being.
THC is a type of compound called a cannabinoid — or, more specifically, a phytocannabinoid, meaning that it occurs naturally in the cannabis plant. There are over 60 different cannabinoids present in cannabis plants, and THC is one of the most thoroughly studied.
(For context, the other types of cannabinoids are endocannabinoids, which are produced naturally by the body, and synthetic cannabinoids, which are lab-created compounds that cause similar effects to natural cannabinoids when consumed.)
THC was first isolated in 1964 by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam. This breakthrough (along with the isolation of CBD a year prior) launched cannabis science into a new era, eventually helping to illuminate how cannabis works on the body.
The heady effects associated with THC — as well as the compound’s potential wellness-enhancing properties — are the result of THC’s impact on your body’s endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system has two main types of endocannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2. THC is a partial agonist of both receptors. In non-pharmacological terms, this means THC can bind to and act on both receptor types, but it doesn’t produce the “maximum possible response” that a full agonist would cause.
THC’s action on the CB1 receptor type in particular is one of the main reasons for the compound’s psychoactive effects, as well as its wellness-oriented effects associated with appetite, stress, and more. CB1 receptors are located throughout the entire body, allowing THC to produce a wide variety of effects.
“In mammals, high concentrations of CB1 are found in areas that regulate appetite, memory, fear extinction, motor responses, and posture such as the hippocampus, basal ganglia, basolateral amygdala, hypothalamus, and cerebellum,” one review states.
“CB1 is also found in a number of nonneural tissues, including the gastrointestinal tract, adipocytes, liver, and skeletal muscle,” the review adds.
THC has shown a wide range of potential wellness benefits, and is known for its ability to “modulate pain, spasticity, sedation, appetite, and mood,” according to a review of cannabis compounds and their pharmacologies by researchers Ethan Russo and Jahan Marcu.
They also state that there is evidence supporting THC as a neuroprotectant and as an anti-inflammatory agent with “20 times the antiinflammatory power of aspirin and twice that of hydrocortisone.”
THC is also popular among medical patients facing chronic or life-threatening conditions, and many participants in U.S. state-level medical marijuana programs use THC and THC-infused products to help manage the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Like THC, CBD is a well-studied phytocannabinoid frequently present in the cannabis plant — especially in plant varieties labeled 'hemp' rather than 'marijuana'. Unlike THC, however, CBD doesn’t produce any of the psychoactive effects typically associated with traditional cannabis consumption. This makes CBD a great option for folks looking to reap the wellness benefits of cannabis without experiencing the “high”.
“CBD possesses the unique ability to counteract the intoxicating and adverse effects of cannabis, such as anxiety, tachycardia, hunger, and sedation in rats and humans,” Russo and Marcu report.
Some Jointly users have even found that their wellness-oriented cannabis consumption has been more successful when combining the two cannabinoids.
Unlike THC, CBD doesn’t create the majority of its effects by acting on the endocannabinoid system — though, according to Russo and Marcu, there is some evidence suggesting that it can interact with endocannabinoid receptors when consumed alongside THC.
“CBD can produce a wide range of pharmacological activity including anticonvulsive, antiinflammatory, antioxidant, and antipsychotic effects,” Russo and Marcu state.
“These effects underlie the neuroprotective properties of CBD and support its role in the treatment of a number of neurological and neurodegenerative disorders, including epilepsy, Parkinson disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Huntington disease, Alzheimer disease, and multiple sclerosis.”
CBD also possesses significant anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive properties, according to a 2015 study investigating the use of CBD in the context of stem cell transplants.
Researchers have also found CBD to hold potential for treating symptoms of anxiety, especially in high doses — though the strength of the studies supporting this use case is limited by small sample sizes and difficulties in acquiring high-quality CBD products with accurate dose labels, according to a 2019 literature review.
The review’s authors add that the results for using CBD to help with acute experiences of stress and anxiety (as opposed to chronic anxiety) remain inconclusive.
CBD has found growing acceptance in a traditional pharmaceutical context. While CBD is not yet fully regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, the compound has made its way into the world of pharmaceutical medicine in the form of Epidiolex (used to prevent seizures from certain medical conditions) and Sativex (an oral spray containing CBD and THC that has shown promise for treating symptoms of multiple sclerosis).
Cannabis and THC have a long history of medicinal and wellness-focused use in cultures spanning the globe, with records of first uses reaching back thousands of years.
In the United States, cannabis was endorsed by the American Medical Association until the 1930s, when the federal government passed the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act. In 1970, the U.S. labeled cannabis a Schedule 1 drug — a move that not only compounded the prohibition of consumption but also complicated attempts to research the plant and the compounds it produces.
THC remains illegal at the federal level today, though an ever-increasing number of states have individually legalized cannabis consumption in a medical or recreational capacity. The activist group NORML keeps an updated list on state-by-state cannabis laws.
In contrast, CBD has been federally legal in the United States since 2018 thanks to that year’s Agricultural Improvement Act, also known as the 2018 Farm Bill. This legislation allows for the growth and sale of hemp, or cannabis with less than 0.3% THC by dry weight.
The legalization of hemp led to the growth of a massive market for CBD products containing CBD derived from hemp, and consumers can now purchase CBD in the form of tinctures, gummies, drinks, topicals, and more.
Anyone can purchase CBD products directly from producers and have their products shipped through the mail. Due to the lack of regulatory oversight for the CBD industry, we recommend using Jointly Matches for your purchase to ensure you know what will be in your final product.
When you buy a cannabis or CBD product through Jointly Matches, you can rest assured that it comes from a pre-vetted company. Not only can you see the COA for your CBD products, but you can also see how other Jointly users rated products for goals like managing aches and pains and improving sleep.
Jointly is the cannabis discovery app that makes it easy to find and shop the best cannabis and CBD products for your goals. Your matches are calculated from the real product ratings and experiences from hundreds of thousands of people using the Jointly app.
With Jointly, you can shop your top-rated products, and save lists of your favorites to share and bring to your local dispensary to help guide your shopping experience.
The Jointly app also helps you improve your cannabis experiences by uncovering what’s working and what’s not with reflections and personalized insights. In fact, the quality of your diet, how much you slept, who you’re with, and the time of day are just some of the factors that can impact your cannabis experience.
So if you're ready to find your best products and enjoy your perfect cannabis experience, download the Jointly app today on the App Store or Google Play, or shop your matches on the Jointly website. Discovery awaits.