Here's your guide to all things cannabis, including THC vs CBD, the difference between marijuana and hemp plants, and what cannabinoids really are. Is CBD psychoactive? Many people are wondering since pro-cannabis laws came into effect. Here, a chart to learn the differences between CBD and THC. In 2020, CBD versus THC is a hot topic. Both are natural compounds derived from the same plant– cannabis sativa. So whats the difference between CBD and THC?
What’s the Difference Between CBD, THC, Cannabis, Marijuana, and Hemp?
Your primer on all things cannabis, including how to make the most of the therapeutic benefits with or without the high.
Cannabis is still one of the buzziest wellness trends out there and it continues to gain momentum. Once associated with bongs and hacky sacks, cannabis has made its way into mainstream natural medicine — and for good reason. Research shows that cannabis has proved useful in helping with a series of neurological and mental health illnesses including epilepsy, schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety to name a few. It has also gained recognition for its pain relieving properties and has helped people with neuropathic pain as well as those will illnesses like arthritis. Not only that but pre-clinical trials have also proved its efficacy in preventing the spread of cancer.
CBD is hands down the most popular component of this herbal remedy. Largely because CBD doesn’t have a psychoactive component, which appeals to a range of enthusiasts — including those who aren’t trying to get high or who might have adverse reactions to THC (more on that later).
If you’re a CBD or THC rookie (and these acronyms are totally throwing you off), don’t worry: We’ve got a primer. Here are the basics. No bong required.
Cannabinoids (the compounds in cannabis plants)
Depending on the type of cannabinoid, it’s either a chemical compound in a plant or a neurotransmitter in your body (part of the endocannabinoid system).
“A cannabis plant has over 100 components,” says Perry Solomon, M.D., anesthesiologist, and former chief medical officer of HelloMD. “The primary [components] that people talk about are the active cannabinoids in the plant, known as phytocannabinoids. The other cannabinoids are endocannabinoids, which exist in your body.”
Yes, you have a system in your body to interact with cannabis! “The phytocannabinoids you’re used to hearing about are CBD and THC,” adds Dr. Solomon. Now let’s get to those.
CBD (short for “cannabidiol”)
A compound (phytocannabinoid) found in cannabis plants.
CBD is what touts the aforementioned benefits associated with mental health, neurological diseases, and other illnesses. The best part? It’s not addictive like some prescription medications can be.
The CBD compound can be put into oils and tinctures for sublingual (under-the-tongue) delivery, as well as in gummies, candies, and beverages for consumption. Looking for faster relief? Try vaporizing the oil. Some patients find that topical CBD products can provide anti-inflammatory relief for skin ailments — and there are studies that verify these claims.
“People are looking to use cannabis for medicinal purposes, but don’t want to experience high or psychoactive effect,” says Dr. Solomon. He did mention that CBD can be more effective when used with THC (more on that later). But on its own, it touts bonafide healing properties. (Here’s a full list of CBD’s proven health benefits.)
That being said, it does not work for everyone. Factors like your age, lifestyle, gender, and overall health will have an impact on how your body metabolites the compound. It’s also worth noting that CBD is not regulated by the FDA, which means there are no official dosage recommendations. So it’s important to talk to your doctor before adding any kind of medication into your regimen, including natural, plant-based medicines. (See: Your Natural Supplements Could Be Messing with Your Prescription Meds)
THC (short for tetrahydrocannabinol)
A compound (phytocannabinoid) found in cannabis plants, THC is known to treat a number of maladies and to be exceptionally effective. And yes, this is the stuff that gets you high.
“THC is commonly known and is helpful for pain relief, anxiety control, appetite stimulation, and insomnia,” says Dr. Tishler. “However, we’ve learned that THC does not work alone. Many of those chemical [compounds in marijuana] work together to produce the desired results. This is called the entourage effect.”
For example, CBD, though helpful on its own, works best with THC. Indeed, studies show the synergy of the compounds found in the entire plant deliver enhanced therapeutic effects versus when they’re used solo. While CBD is often used as an isolated extract, THC is more frequently used for therapy in its whole flower state (and not extracted).
“Start low and go slow” is the term you’ll hear from many doctors when it comes to medicinal THC. Because it’s a psychoactive compound, it can cause feelings of euphoria, a head high, and in some patients, anxiety. “Everyone’s reaction to THC is variable,” says Dr. Solomon. “A tiny bit of THC for one patient won’t make them feel anything, but another patient could have the same amount and have a psychoactive response.”
Laws are continuing to change but, currently, THC is legal (regardless of medical necessity) in 17 states. In 37 additional states, you can use THC with a doctor’s prescription. (Here’s a full map of every state’s cannabis rules.)
Cannabis (the umbrella term for marijuana or hemp)
A family (genus, if you want to get technical) of plants, comprising both marijuana plants and hemp plants, among others.
You’ll often hear a doctor use the term cannabis in lieu of more casual terms like pot, weed, etc. Using the term cannabis also potentially creates a softer barrier to entry for those who have been a bit apprehensive when it comes to using marijuana or hemp as part of a wellness routine. Just know, when someone says cannabis, they could be referencing either hemp or marijuana. Keep reading for the difference between those.
Marijuana (a high-THC variety of cannabis plant)
Specifically the cannabis sativa species; typically has high amounts of THC and moderate amounts of CBD, depending on the strain.
Stigmatized and outlawed for decades, marijuana receives a bad rap thanks to government efforts to crack down on its use. The truth is that the only potentially “negative” effect of consuming medicinal marijuana is intoxication, but for some patients, that’s a bonus. (Keep in mind: There aren’t enough long-term studies on marijuana to know if there are negative effects from prolonged use.) In certain cases, the relaxing effects of THC in marijuana can also alleviate anxiety.
However, smoking marijuana could have negative implications, as with all types of smoking (this is as opposed to consuming marijuana via an edible form or tincture). The smoke itself “contains a similar range of harmful chemicals” that could lead to respiratory disease, according to the University of Washington.
Side note: CBD is found in marijuana, but they’re not the same thing. If you’re interested in using CBD on its own, it can come from either a marijuana plant or a hemp plant (more on that, next).
If you want to use marijuana therapeutically, you’ll reap the benefits of the aforementioned entourage effect. Consult with your doctor (or any doctor you trust who’s versed in cannabis) to determine the right combination for your needs.
Hemp (a high-CBD variety of cannabis plant)
Hemp plants are high in CBD and low in THC (less than 0.3 percent); a chunk of commercial CBD on the market now comes from hemp because it’s super easy to grow (while marijuana needs to be grown in more controlled environments).
Despite the higher CBD ratio, hemp plants don’t typically yield tons of extractable CBD, so it takes a lot of hemp plants to create a CBD oil or tincture.
Keep in mind: Hemp oil doesn’t necessarily mean CBD oil. When shopping online, it’s important to know the difference. What’s even more important is to know where the hemp was grown. Dr. Solomon warns that this is imperative because since CBD is not regulated by the FDA, it could put your body at risk if it was derived from plants grown overseas.
“Hemp is a bioaccumulator,” he says. “People plant hemp to cleanse soil because it absorbs anything the soil has in it — toxins, pesticides, insecticides, fertilizers. There is a lot of hemp that comes from overseas, and it may not be grown in a [safe or clean] way.” American-grown hemp-especially from states that produce both medically and recreationally legal cannabis tends to be safer because there are stricter standards, according to Consumer Reports.
He advises that when buying and using a hemp-derived product, to make sure the product has been “independently tested by a third-party lab,” and to “find the COA (certificate of analysis) on the company website,” to ensure you’re consuming a clean, safe product.
Some brands willingly provide the COA so you can ensure you’re getting a safe (and potent) hemp- or marijuana-derived medicine. Leading the market is what’s considered the Maserati of CBD, Charlotte’s Web (CW) Hemp. Pricey but powerful, their oils are known for being effective and clean. If a gummy-vitamin style is more your speed, try Not Pot’s CBD gummies (a portion of the proceeds go to The Bail Project, an organization that works towards mitigating the effects of the criminalization of marijuana) or AUR Body’s sour watermelons which are an exact replica of Sour Patch Watermelon with CBD. If you’d rather try a beverage, try Recess’s superfood-powered, full-spectrum hemp-derived CBD sparkling waters for a La Croix-meets-CBD refreshment.
Key Differences to Know About CBD vs. THC
Jaime Herndon is a freelance health/medical writer with over a decade of experience writing for the public.
Verywell Health articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and healthcare professionals. These medical reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.
David Snyder, PharmD, BCPP, is a board-certified clinical pharmacist and psychopharmacology expert at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts.
Cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are both substances that are extracted from various species of plants in the Cannabis genus. However, they are two distinct compounds with different effects. They are not the same thing.
In 2018, the Farm Bill was signed into law. It removed hemp (a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant) and derivatives of cannabis with low levels of THC (0.3% or less) from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act.
Read on for more information about CBD and THC, and what to keep in mind about these substances.
Kanawa_Studio / Getty Images
There are many misconceptions and much misinformation circulating. When reading about CBD and THC, it’s essential to know what various terms mean. Without knowing what different terms mean, it’s easy to get confused.
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the naturally occurring substance in the cannabis plant that produces the “high” or the effects of marijuana.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a cannabinoid compound found in the cannabis plant. It does not produce a high because it does not have THC in it. It can produce relaxation or sleepiness. It has antioxidant (neutralizes destructive oxygen free radicals in cells) and anti-inflammatory properties.
|CBD vs. THC Chart|
|Source||Aerial parts of the cannabis plant (stalk, leaves, flower), can be derived from low-THC hemp.||Leaves and the flowering part of the cannabis plant|
|Psychoactive Effects||There is no high, but it can promote relaxation and reduce anxiety and depression.||Euphoria, heightened senses, changes in time perception|
|Medicinal Effects||Anti-seizure effect, pain relief, reduces inflammation||Tachycardia (increased heart rate), increased appetite|
|Legality||Technically legal federally, state legality depends on the state||Not legal federally, state legality varies by state|
|Detected on Drug Test||Cannabidiol is not detected, but if the preparation has any THC in it, that could be detected.||Yes|
Hemp vs. Marijuana
Hemp and marijuana are technically the same kind of plant—cannabis. However, hemp plants have no more than 0.3% (by dry weight) of THC. Marijuana has 5%–20% THC. Hemp cannot get you high.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a psychoactive substance is a substance that, when consumed, impacts mental processes (thinking, mood, perception, consciousness). This definition doesn’t necessarily only refer to recreational drugs—it can also include substances like nicotine or caffeine.
Synthetic vs. Natural
Synthetic CBD is made in a lab with chemical or biological ingredients. Natural CBD is taken from cannabis plants.
Both CBD and THC are cannabinoids from the plant Cannabis sativa. They both have the same chemical makeup: 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms. However, the arrangement of the atoms differs. The body reacts to them as two different substances.
Effects of CBD vs. THC
The effects of CBD and THC on the body are quite different. Knowing the difference between the two can help you know what to expect if you use these substances.
CBD can have many different medicinal effects, and has multiple mechanisms of action—at least 20 have been identified thus far. It has been found to:
- Mediate antiepileptic effects: It binds to a protein called GPR55 that triggers seizures.
- Mediate pain signaling and inflammation: It acts on receptors in these pathways.
- Relieve neuropathic pain and have an antidepressant effect: It acts like selective serotonin receptor inhibitors (SSRIs), which are medications used to treat depression.
- Decrease psychotic symptoms: This effect may be seen in people with schizophrenia (a mental health condition in which there is an altered perception of reality). It may have an additive effect when used with traditional antipsychotic drugs (when used together, there may be better control of hallucinations and delusions).
- Reduce anxiety symptoms
More studies are needed to evaluate CBD’s mechanisms of action and whether its effects are clinically significant consistently.
Drugs with cannabinoids (CBD and/or THC) can be helpful in treating nausea and vomiting in people undergoing cancer chemotherapy, and weight loss and loss of appetite associated with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and AIDS. They may also help with chronic pain and symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
CBD is not used as a recreational drug like marijuana is. While it can help you feel more relaxed or less anxious, it doesn’t make you “high.”
Recreationally, effects of THC can include:
- Alteration of the senses
- Alteration of your sense of time
- Mood changes
- Trouble with body movement
- Impaired memory
- Trouble thinking or problem-solving
- Hallucinations or delusions (losing touch with reality): Risk is highest when regularly using high-potency marijuana.
Industrial and Cosmetic Uses of CBD
CBD can offer relief for various conditions, including skin and cosmetic disorders such as eczema (an inflammatory skin condition) and psoriasis (an autoimmune skin condition).
The human endocannabinoid system (ECS) helps with bodily homeostasis (maintaining a steady state). It helps to maintain skin homeostasis, and when it is dysregulated (out of balance), hyper/hypopigmentation (skin patches with increased or decreased color), atopic dermatitis, hair growth or loss, itch, and acne can occur.
Because CBD has anti-inflammatory properties, it can help with disorders that cause inflammation and/or itching, like atopic dermatitis. More research needs to be done, but CBD may also help with acne because it may inhibit bacterial growth and the production of more oil-making skin cells.
Although CBD shows promise for cosmetic uses for the skin and hair, more studies need to be done to evaluate its effectiveness.
Although CBD is not a psychoactive substance, it isn’t legal in every state. In order for CBD to be legal in your state, it needs to be legal at both the federal and state levels.
While the Farm Bill legalized the production of any part of the cannabis plant with a THC concentration of 0.3% or lower, states have the final say.
CBD Legal States
Even though CBD cannot get you “high,” it is not legal in every state. While some states have no restrictions on CBD, others have legalized CBD only for medical purposes. Some regulate it depending on whether it was derived from hemp or marijuana. Others have not legalized it at all.
Laws continuously change. Before you purchase or use any CBD product, even without THC, it’s best to check your state laws. One resource to do so is the National Conference of State Legislatures, on their State Medical Cannabis Laws page.
THC Legal States
Laws regarding THC are actively changing. It is important to check the most current laws in each state. Some state laws vary in the level of THC that is legal, or for what purpose THC can be consumed.
The National Conference of State Legislatures State Medical Cannabis Laws page may be helpful, as is the state information at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) website.
On a Drug Test
Drug tests specifically look for THC and its breakdown products. CBD should not produce a positive test.
While CBD shouldn’t show up on a drug test, some CBD products do have THC, so it may cause a positive THC result on a drug test. Many CBD products are not regulated, so you don’t know what exactly is in them or how much THC they contain.
The bottom line is that if CBD or THC is illegal in your state or is forbidden in your workplace, it’s best to not use them or limit your usage.
As with any ingested substance, there are potential side effects to both CBD and THC. Additional side effects of CBD than the ones already listed can include:
- Changes in alertness, usually drowsiness
- Gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea or lack of appetite
- Mood changes like irritability or agitation
Side effects of THC (in addition to the recreational ones) may include:
- Changes in blood pressure and heart rate
- Red eyes
- Increased risk of mood disorders
- Lung irritation with chronic usage
Types of CBD and THC
There are different types of CBD and THC. Knowing the differences can help you make a choice about which is best for you.
The types of CBD include:
- Whole plant CBD: Uses all of the hemp compounds but is usually too thick for general use
- Full spectrum CBD: Contains none of the waxes or oils from whole plant CBD, but has traces of THC
- Broad spectrum CBD: Contains no THC but has other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids
- Pure CBD (isolate): Contains only CBD, no THC, and no other compounds
The types of THC include:
- THC-a: This is the most common type of THC in cannabis, and is the precursor to the other kinds. It does not produce psychoactive effects.
- Delta 9 THC: This is responsible for producing the typical psychoactive effects of marijuana, and also helps relieve bodily tension and increases appetite.
- Delta 8 THC: This makes up less than 1% of the cannabis plant and is supposed to be half as psychoactive as delta 9.
- THCP (tetrahydrocannabiphorol): This is said to have approximately 33% more potency and strength than delta 9 but medicinal benefits are unknown.
- THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin): This is not as effective in binding to receptors. In large doses it can be psychoactive, but not in low doses.
While CBD and THC are from the same plant, the cannabis plant, they are very different. Both can increase relaxation and sleepiness, improve mood, and relieve pain, but CBD does not have the same psychoactive properties that THC does.
There are different kinds of CBD. It’s good to know what kind you are using because some may have traces of THC in them. Knowing more about CBD and THC can help you make informed decisions about what you choose to consume.
A Word From Verywell
While CBD and THC may be legal in some states, in other states there are restrictions on both. Before ordering or using these substances, it’s always a good idea to check the laws in your state about both CBD and THC.
Frequently Asked Questions
Smoking a product containing THC (like a marijuana “joint”) or vaping CBD oil can start relieving pain in a few minutes. Creams and edibles can take a bit longer, even up to a few hours for edibles, since they have to go through the digestive tract.
The effects of delta-8 THC are more potent than CBD. Whereas CBD does not get you high, delta-8 does. It is similar to delta-9, which produces the high and side effects of marijuana than it is to CBD.
Everyone’s experience with THC or CBD is different. While THC in low doses tends to reduce anxiety, THC has been shown to increase anxiety in high doses. CBD has been found to decrease anxiety at multiple doses.
It’s good to let your healthcare provider know if you use CBD or THC. They can interact with certain medications and may cause physical health issues, so your healthcare provider should know if you use these substances.
CBD Oil Vs Weed
In 2020, CBD (cannabidiol) versus THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is a hot topic. Both are natural compounds derived from the same plant– cannabis sativa. So what is the difference between CBD and THC?
CBD and THC are two of the most prominent cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Both cannabis and hemp produce CBD and THC. However, cannabis has a higher concentration of THC. Hemp has a higher concentration of CBD.
CBD and THC have the same chemical makeup, 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms. The difference is that they don’t have the same chemical arrangement, and the body receives them as different compounds. These compounds bind to neurotransmitters in your brain and affect things like mood, pain, sleep, and memory.
The THC compound is the one known most famously for the high sensation you get from it, a psychoactive response. And in many states, it is still illegal.
CBD, alternatively, is considered a “non-psychoactive” compound, meaning that you do not get that high that we associate with THC. Although CBD legally may have trace amounts of THC up to .3%, it is not enough to result in a psychoactive response.
CBD is known to have many of the promising health benefits, minus the psychoactive side effects.
Both compounds communicate with your body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). According to Norml , the endocannabinoid system is, “perhaps the most important physiological system involved in establishing and maintaining human health.” It plays a role in regulating many functions and processes, including, sleep, mood, appetite, memory, reproduction, and fertility.
Although they both interact with the ECS system, they have separate properties with different medicinal benefits.
There are many health benefits associated with taking CBD oil. CBD connects to your body’s cannabinoid receptors, and people report that CBD helps with complex problems like arthritis, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and cancer treatment. Others use it to treat more mild everyday issues like skin health, sleep, anxiety, general pain, and brain health.
There are many ways to take CBD. CBD is available in capsule or oil tinctures (like the ones you see here on our website), edibles, or you can even lather it on in cream form.
More than half of US states have made “medical marijuana” legal, which means in order to use it you must have a doctor’s prescription. The effects of THC have been known to offset many otherwise painful symptoms associated with chronic pain and nausea.
CBD rarely exhibits any noticeable side effects, even when taken in very large doses. The World Health Organization (WHO) has said in its research that, “CBD was tolerated in all patients, with no signs of toxicity or serious side effects.”
If side effects were detected, it was usually a result of CBD interacting with another drug the person took at the same time. Always consult a doctor, especially if you are considering taking CBD while taking other drugs.
THC, on the other hand, does have a few well-known side effects such as increased heart rate, coordination problems, dry mouth, red eyes, slower reaction time, and memory loss. These side effects are associated with the compound’s psychoactive properties.
Standard drug tests typically look for chemicals related to THC, so you can expect that THC would show up on a screen.
Does CBD contain THC?
The short answer is yes. CBD products may contain trace amounts of THC, up to 0.3 percent. Although almost negligible and such a small amount would never be enough to cause any of the psychoactive side effects, it is still likely to show up on a drug test.
A Final Word
CBD and THC are derived from the same cannabis plant. But these two compounds have distinct properties that separate them from one another. THC is associated with the high feeling or psychoactive effects, and CBD is more well known for its health benefits. Before using either, be sure to check with your doctor and consider how these will affect other medications you are already taking.