In the ongoing efforts to legalize marijuana for medicinal and therapeutic purposes, you may hear the terms “CBD” and “THC” and think they are one and the same. While both are found in the same plant genus (cannabis, which includes both hemp and marijuana), there are some significant differences between the two. In the simplest terms, CBD such as CBD oil does not produce a user high while THC does. We’ll take a look at what they are, how they are similar, and how they differ, as well as the ways in which both are used to treat a variety of illnesses such as cancer and medical conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the most abundant cannabinoids found in cannabis. More than 100 cannabinoids have been identified, but CBD (like THC) is one of the most studied and best understood by researchers. While CBD is indeed found in flowers, seeds, and stalks of marijuana, it is much more abundant in hemp.
Even those who shun the recreational use of cannabis would be wise to pay attention to the growing use of CBD: it could very well be a treatment you seek for an illness or health condition in the future. Recognized as presenting a therapeutic treatment for epilepsy, a safer alternative to treating chronic pain than deadly opioids, a beneficial tool for those battling anxiety, PTSD, and other mood disorders, and its recently studied ability to shrink tumors, CBD is becoming known as a “miracle” cure of sorts.
Our bodies contain a network of neurons called the endocannabinoid system: these neurons are what allow us to respond to cannabinoids introduced in our bloodstream and, more importantly, benefit from their therapeutic effects. CBD, when binding with these receptors, creates all kinds of changes and positive effects in the body, and researchers are continuing to discover how we can harness these effects for medicinal purposes.
The most popular forms of CBD on the market today are oils, lotions, vaporizers, and edibles. CBD is part of a daily health regimen for many people; it is a safe and gentle natural compound that is destined to continue to grow in popularity as we continue to understand its many benefits.
What is THC?
Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the cannabinoid best known for producing a euphoric sensation: simply put, it gets us high. It is at the center of the legalization debate in many places, though at some levels it has already been legalized for medicinal use.
THC comes from in the female cannabis plant (whereas CBD comes primarily from the male plant or “hemp.”) It is found in resin secreted by the glands of the marijuana plant, primarily around its reproductive organs.
When THC is introduced into the endocannabinoid system in our bodies, it binds to receptors and stimulates the release of dopamine, which, in turn, can create a sense of euphoria or for some simply relaxation. This is of course where THC and CBD differ, and the effects of THC can vary widely from person to person. The pleasurable “high” for one can be entirely unpleasant for another, with side effects such as increased heartbeat or paranoia.
However, THC is also known to have positive therapeutic effects, acting as an anti-inflammatory drug, reducing nausea (which is why it is so often used by cancer patients to battle the side effects of chemo and radiation), managing mood, sleep, and digestive disorders, and fighting chronic pain.
How are CBD and THC different?
While CBD and THC both come from cannabis, and both have known therapeutic benefits, they differ in several significant ways.
- Psychoactive properties: THC produces a user high while CBD does not. Interestingly, CBD actually suppresses the psychoactive effects of THC.
- Origins: CBD is primarily found in hemp, while THC is primarily found in marijuana. They are present in both plants, but marijuana is typically cultivated for THC, whereas hemp is dominated by CBD.
- Effects on endocannabinoid system: both compounds interact with the body’s cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, but THC has been found to have a higher affinity for the CB1 receptors. This interaction produces the high that is absent in CBD interaction with the body.
- Side effects on users: because it is psychoactive, THC can cause rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, coordination problems and lowered response times, and memory impairment. CBD has very few adverse effects, though some users report dizziness or light-headedness, dry mouth, and drowsiness.
- Legal status: most CBD supplements are legal in many places, whereas THC is still at the center of legal debates, though in some places permitted for medicinal use.
CBD, THC, and Cancer
While both CBD and THC have known therapeutic benefits for a wide variety of illnesses and health conditions, they are probably most often associated with cancer patients. While we tend to think of them as the potential “antidote” to the nausea associated with chemotherapy, there is actually growing evidence that cannabinoids can actually slow cancer growth.
Cannabinoids are described as having an “antitumoral effect” after a study showed cancer cells dying after exposure to THC. This breakthrough has led to additional studies paving the way for cannabis to become a major player in the treatment of cancer going forward and for many, it is a welcome alternative to the toxic effects of chemotherapy.
Using CBD and THC Together
CBD and THC can actually interact in a way that maximizes their therapeutic effects, though the dosage will differ from person to person as we respond to these compounds differently. Finding the right ratio will take some trial and error, depending on the individual and the conditions being treated.
For recreational users of THC, CBD can be used to reduce the effects of a high that is, well, too high. CBD can essentially work to calm the euphoria or anxiety triggered by a large amount of THC.
Both compounds are the continued subject of medical research, and cannabis continues to see attention as not only a subject of research but the legal debate as well. All signs point toward a greater utilization of the plant by the medical community, which is likely to increase cultivation throughout the world.