CBD vs. THC: The Difference Between The Two Cannabinoids


THC and CBD are the most well-known and sought-after chemicals produced by the cannabis plant. But in the battle of CBD vs THC, who comes out on top? Is it the legendary THC, producer of wonderful sensations and euphoric elation? Or will it be CBD, the newcomer surging in popularity due to its wide-ranging health and wellness benefits? What are the differences between the two cannabinoids? And is framing it as a contest— as THC vs CBD —the best way to think about those differences?

As cannabis markets expand, consumers have more choice than ever. And one of the most important choices cannabis consumers have to make is how much THC and CBD they want their products to contain.

Knowing the differences between CBD and THC is essential for making mindful, intentional choices in the dispensary. Understanding how they work together can help you create cannabis experiences that best meet your needs and desires.

CBD: A Very Short Introduction

Cannabidiol, or CBD, was one of the first cannabinoids scientists discovered and is, today, one of the most researched compounds in the cannabis plant. We can summarize all that research into two simple points—the most important things to remember about CBD.

First, CBD is non-psychoactive. In other words, it won’t make you feel high. This point is crucial because it makes CBD derived from hemp available in some places where marijuana is prohibited. However, hemp-derived CBD is still not technically legal in all 50 states under federal law.

Second, CBD is responsible for many of the significant medical and therapeutic benefits of cannabis. And that’s why you’ll always hear people talking about CBD products when they’re using cannabis for health and wellness.

THC: A Very Short Introduction

Even non-consumers of cannabis have heard about THC. Tetrahydrocannabinol, a.k.a. THC, is the chemical that produces the euphoric, stimulating sensations from cannabis use we call being “high.”

THC isn’t the only cannabinoid that produces those effects, but it is the only one that exists in significant enough quantities in cannabis products to get a consumer high. For this reason, THC is the sine qua non of recreational cannabis use.

But that’s not to say there aren’t medical or therapeutic uses for THC. In fact, the mostly cognitive and psychological effects of THC on the human body, including pleasing alterations in mood, perception and thought, have a wide range of medicinal applications.

CBD vs THC: Key Differences for Recreational Consumers

Now you know about CBD and THC in a nutshell. And since we’re simplifying things, here are the two most important points of difference between the cannabinoids.

  1. CBD doesn’t produce a high, while THC will definitely get you high.
  2. Medical, health, and wellness users tend to put an emphasis on CBD, while recreational consumers tend to favor THC.

It’s important to stress that those neat divisions are only useful as a quick point of reference. The reality is that there are plenty of reasons for recreational consumers to want products with CBD. Just as there are many medicinal benefits to THC.

So, let’s dive deeper into the question of THC vs CBD. Beyond the simple difference that THC will get you high and CBD won’t, what are the key differences between the two for recreational consumers?

CBD vs THC: Mental and Emotional Effects

For most cannabis consumers, THC produces a palette of pleasing sensations that include euphoria, sensory stimulation, positive mood alterations and even feelings of improved cognition. Generally, these experiences aren’t overwhelming. But sometimes they can be, tipping into anxiety and paranoia.

CBD doesn’t produce any mental and emotional effects of its own. But it absolutely influences how THC creates those effects. For recreational users, CBD can act as a counterweight to balance and level out a strong reaction to THC.

Of course, the opposite is also true. For people who crave the sensations of THC and want nothing to stand in their way, eliminating CBD can effectively make a product more potent. That’s the point behind THC concentrates.

THC vs CBD: Physical Effects and Therapeutic Benefits

Recreational users who prefer a more body-focused high can benefit from cannabis products containing CBD. Cannabidiol has a calming effect on the body. It reduces inflammation and helps treat pain by blocking pain receptors.

These mellowed, relaxed bodily sensations can help round out a cerebral high for a more whole-body experience. The physical effects and therapeutic benefits of CBD can even highlight and emphasize the pleasurable effects THC has on your body in the first place.

THC vs CBD: The Key Differences for Medical Cannabis Users

For medical cannabis users, the differences between THC and CBD are very important. Both cannabinoids offer therapeutic and medicinal benefits. But CBD offers them without psychoactive side effects. For that reason, CBD is ideal for patients who do not desire the effects of THC or who cannot as safely consume THC, like children.

Indeed, CBD is so well-researched for medical applications because of the fact that it doesn’t produce the effects of a high. In many places, that’s enough to make CBD products legal, as long as they don’t contain THC above a certain threshold.

CBD vs THC: Health Benefits

In terms of their health benefits, one of the main differences between THC and CBD is the parts of the body that they affect. The endocannabinoid receptors in our body that bind with CBD are distributed throughout the nervous system and concentrated in the spleen. THC receptors, on the other hand, are concentrated in the brain.

CBD, therefore, produces strong anti-inflammatory effects on the body. And that’s good for a number of health reasons. Many diseases involve or are worsened by inflammation, so reducing it can help treat those diseases.

But CBD goes one step further. It can also protect cells, especially nerve cells, from damage and deterioration due to inflammation. This makes CBD a possibly effective treatment for seizures, epilepsy, MS, and arthritis. Some studies have shown that CBD can stop the spread of cancer cells and in some cases, shrink tumors.

THC vs CBD: Treatable Symptoms

THC, like CBD, also has anti-inflammatory properties. This makes it great for treating pain, one of the most commonly recommended uses for THC. But because THC receptors are concentrated in the brain, many of the health benefits of the cannabinoid stem from the chemicals it releases there.

Often, medical cannabis users consume THC in order to produce the same effects sought after by recreational consumers. But in the medical context, those effects can actually help treat many of the complicating symptoms associated with severe diseases.

For example, THC can reduce the nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy treatments. It can stimulate appetite in people losing weight due to illness or treatments for the illness.

And importantly, THC can help treat mental and cognitive problems associated with illness. Often, severe and chronic diseases cause anxiety and depression, which THC’s euphoric effects can help remedy. Indeed, a recent study on THC and Alzheimer’s patients found that the cannabinoid can reduce agitation and other mood disorders in people with dementia.

CBD vs THC? More Like CBD Plus THC!

To conclude this guide to the major differences between CBD and THC, we should address the elephant in the room. That little “vs” standing between THC vs CBD.

That “vs,” or versus, implies conflict, a winner-take-all battle between the two most prominent cannabinoids. While CBD and THC compliment some of each other’s effects, that’s not the result of two warring chemicals—it is the result of their working together.

In the same way that CBD can balance a strong THC high and alleviate some of the perceived negative effects of THC, some of the effects of CBD are more potent if the cannabinoid is consumed with THC.

This cooperative relationship between cannabinoids is called the “entourage effect” or “ensemble effect.” It’s based on the principle that the cannabinoids in cannabis reach their full potential when they operate in concert.

CBD vs THC: Crafting Your Ideal Cannabis Experience

The differences between CBD and THC are real, and they make all the difference in your cannabis experience. So whether you like to think about it as CBD vs THC, or THC vs CBD, now that you know a little bit about what makes them unique, you can make more mindful, intentional choices about the cannabis products you use, while feeling confident that those products will produce the effects you want.