It’s the battle of the abbreviations today at Natural Remedy Arena. Today we’ll find out how CBD and THC differ from one another, since that’s a huge source of curiosity when people consider whether or not to try CBD.
Sometimes, rumors that people hear about CBD may be true of THC, though they may be true of both or not true of either. There’s definitely confusion. We’re here to clear it up.
Intro to CBD and THC
The first thing to know about these substances is that they both belong to the category of chemicals called Cannabinoids. To explain what a Cannabinoid is, let’s identify the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). OK, stick with us here. Cannabinoids are chemicals that naturally occur in our bodies, and they are part of the ECS. But they are just a part. Other components of the system are the receptors and the enzymes that break the cannabinoids down.
What Does the Endocannabinoid System Do?
The ECS is a big protector for us. The system is distributed throughout the body and it interacts with many other systems—a network, if you will. It works with the Central Nervous System, for one, and also plays important roles in the immune system. In fact, most of the cells in the immune system are made up of endocannabinoids. So when someone talks about the ECS, it’s not some sort of hippy thing from Woodstock—it’s about fighting off colds. At the end of the day, what the ECS is all about is homeostasis. This is another way of saying “balance.” As we’ll explore throughout the article, the ECS is there whenever there’s a problem to get things back into whack.
OK, so this shows us that Cannabinoids help protect us and fight off illness and keep balance, etc. What does that have to do with THC or CBD? Well, there are three major types of cannabinoids:
- Endocannabinoids-those produced naturally in our bodies
- Phytocannabinoids-those that come from plants
- Synthetic Cannabinoids-those that are manufactured in a lab.
As you may guess, CBD and THC are both Phytocannabinoids. Because they are “siblings” within this classification, it’s only natural that they’d be mistaken for one another, etc. So, we can see that they stand next to each other on the Cannabinoid family tree—neither of them comes from the other.
No one wants to be seen around town with their brother or sister all the time, and CBD and THC go to different places. We have CB1 and CB2 receptors inside us. THC binds with CB1 and CBD with CB2. As will become fleshed out a bit more, while CB1 receptors are mostly in the brain, CB2 receptors are strewn throughout the body (which is one of the ways that CBD helps with a variety of pain). Because THC binds with receptors mostly in the brain, the table is set for it, due to its chemical makeup, to have psychoactive properties. Because CBD doesn’t bind with these receptors, it has no psychoactive qualities.
How Do THC and CBD Affect The Body?
Let’s take a look at the science, the step-by-step ways in which both THC and CBD do their work, and how they make us feel.
First, THC, also known as delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol. OK, we’ve lain the groundwork on Cannabinoids, the ones in our bodies naturally. Well, one type is called Anandamide, and it’s also a neurotransmitter, a chemical that carries messages throughout the brain. Anytime we do anything, it’s the work of a neurotransmitter. Well, THC has a chemical structure similar to that of Anandamide, meaning that it works like an imposter of it. Remember that Cannabinoid receptors live on the surface of cells throughout the body and brain. So, when THC enters the system and binds to these receptors, it overwhelms other neurotransmitters, so that we’re feeling it instead of other things. To illustrate this, Anandamide is found in chocolate. One of the reasons for chocolate’s popularity is that after one eats it, one feels a flood of pleasant sensations, a near euphoria. Thus, the Anandamide has taken over, making its presence known more than that of other neurotransmitters.
One area in which THC disrupts the workings of the mind and central nervous system is by touching on the brain’s reward system by releasing increased dopamine. The reward system is what allows us to feel pleasure, to enjoy the taste of food, etc. It goes into overdrive on THC, which is where the high comes from.
THC also interferes with parts of the brain that help us with basics such as coordination, balance, judgment, memory, etc. Thus, it’s hard for a person to perform at peak after taking in marijuana and why one may feel sluggish or lethargic.
CBD and our Minds and Bodies
Remember, CBD binds to CB2 receptors, not CB1. Now, class, who can tell me how these receptors are different? That’s right, Billy, CB2 receptors are a network, spread throughout the body, performing a wide variety of functions. But it’s important to understand that, in addition to CB2 receptors, CBD also interacts with other receptors, too. In fact, it tends to react with the “good” ones, not the “bad” ones, meaning it produces much-needed and positive effects without gumming up the motor system, etc. CBD does interact with opioid receptors, and also with dopamine and serotonin receptors. Let’s dig in.
- Opioid receptors
You may have heard of people taking CBD to ween themselves off of very addictive and dangerous opioids. Well, CBD does bind to the same receptors. It just isn’t, at recommended doses, as heavy-duty as Fentanyl or Vicodin. But the fact that CBD binds to these receptors is one reason that it cuts down on pain. But it’s important to understand that by giving opioid receptors something to chew on (if you will), it cuts down a person’s cravings for opioids, including illicit ones like heroin. You can see that CBD is of incredible benefit when it comes to its impact on opioid receptors.
- Dopamine receptors
Dopamine is part of our reward system—if dopamine is flowing, we feel great. So, while CBD is constituted in a way that cannot cause a high, it does contribute to some pleasant brain waves. In fact, part of the reward system is increased motivation. In this way, rather than inspiring one to eat chips or lie on a beanbag, CBD helps with motivation and can keep one clear-headed.
- Serotonin receptors
When a person suffers clinical depression, he or she is thought to have a deficiency in serotonin, which can include serotonin being uptaken rather than circulating properly throughout the person’s system. The data on CBD binding with Serotonin 1A receptors has, so far, come only from studies on animals.
However, there have been clinical studies that have shown improvements in studies’ depression. You’ve probably known people who’ve told of anti-depressant qualities of CBD. Sometimes this is a sort of pleasant side effect for people turning to CBD for pain or some other reason. And that brings us to another important point of comparison.
CBD and THC for Pain Relief
CBD is the new kid on the block in this comparison. Without getting into ancient history, marijuana has been used medicinally in modern Western culture since the 19th century. Because CBD is still in its infancy in this regard, you’re probably aware of far more people turning to THC for various conditions. There are, of course, far more studies. However, it looks as though CBD may overtaken its older family member for pain relief and other issues.
As for the medical purposes of THC, it delivers positive effects for a variety of conditions:
- Chronic Pain
Possible side effects include red eyes, dry mouth, dizziness, compromised brain function, and depression, and paranoia, among other possible side effects.
Cancer is one of the most severe and well-known conditions associated with medical marijuana. While THC does not “cure” cancer, it’s often used to include the quality of life of patients. A person going through chemotherapy may experience nausea or loss of appetite, and this one of the main reasons cancer patients turn to THC.
Glaucoma is another of the conditions for which people commonly turn to the medicinal benefits of THC. Glaucoma is a malady in which a person experiences increased pressure to the optic nerve, which is called intraocular pressure, or IOP. In short, THC can relieve this pressure. Anecdotal evidence (personal stories) about people getting glaucoma relief from THC are easy to come by. However, many voices addressing the issue say that one would have to smoke nearly a dozen joints a day to acquire adequate relief in this way.
CBD For Pain
As to the pain-relief properties of CBD, they include relief of:
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Breast cancer
- Chronic pain
Above, we saw that CBD has the ability to bind with Opioid receptors. This is definitely one factor in Cannabidiol being able to soothe pain. But it isn’t the main one. Remember that CBD is part of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). As such, it helps to bring balance. One of the ways it does this is to fight inflammation, since inflammation is itself an imbalance. It’s caused by an excess of white blood cells, which promote swelling. CBD plays a regulatory role, smoothing over that imbalance.
A boss trait of chronic illnesses such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, Crohn’s Disease is inflammation; that is why CBD gives so much pain relief to patients of those conditions. A relaxation and pleasant sensations often associated with CBD are a sort of icing on the cake in terms of pain relief.
CBD has also been associated with breast cancer, specifically, because one of its main components, Anandamide, inhibits the growth of cancer cells. While no one is calling CBD a wonder cancer drug or a cure-all, it is important to understand the research that has been done, and in turn, the natural options available to you.
Do CBD and THC Come From the Same Place?
The short answer to this is “no.” Both come from Cannabis plants. Since this is the plant world, of course there are many species of Cannabis. THC happens to be a compound present in Cannabis—sometimes more than at other times. Technically, a Cannabis plant with less than 0.3% concentration of THC are hemp plants, while the other are what we think of Cannabis Sativa or marijuana. CBD is extracted only from hemp plants—the plant has less than 0.3% THC and any product made with CBD has less than 0.3% THC. So, it’s not that CBD has had THC stripped from it, but that it didn’t have it in the first place.
Legality: CBD vs. THC
The distinction here is easy: CBD is legal throughout the United States. Federally, it is legal. Don’t listen to the rumblings, hints, or hand-wringing. It has no THC, so there’s no reason for it to be any less legal than coffee beans. THC, on the other hand, is legal for medicinal purposes in many states and for recreational purposes in a handful. It is completely illegal in a few states.
Here’s the breakdown of THC legality:
Legal for Recreational and Medicinal Use
Not Legal for Medicinal or Recreational Purposes
Individual states have the ability to legalize marijuana either for medicinal purposes or overall. Sometimes, these efforts are championed by governors or legislators in the state, and sometimes they stem from ballot initiatives. Once marijuana is legalized in a particular jurisdiction, it is then regulated. Legislative bodies draw up rules for the sale of the drug. These regulations often include such things as how old one has to be to buy it, what stores can sell it, how much one can buy at once, etc.
Now, as we’ve said, CBD is completely legal as a matter of federal law. The regulations for its sale are pretty minor and broad, and that is why one is now seeing CBD sold in convenience stores, video game shops, etc., in addition to tobacco shops. The age required for purchase isn’t set federally. There are some local governments that set minimums, but much of the time it’s the retailer itself that sets any applicable minimum age. The difference, of course, comes from the absence of THC in CBD.
How Do People Use these Cannabinoids
- How Do People Use CBD?
There can also be some confusion between CBD and THC when it comes to how it is used. Everyone is familiar with the iconic marijuana leaf and associates THC with smoking. Yet, people may wonder if CBD can be smoked? Isn’t it an oil? What does one do with it?
Well, first, to quickly explain CBD oil, that is indeed a sort of base for all CBD products. The hemp leaf has no value for human consumption—it’s the oil extracted from it that contains the Cannabidiol. The plant matter goes into a big container of a solvent of one sort or another, and as the CBD fills the liquid, one gets CBD oil. The oil then infuses various products, search as edibles, gummies, capsules, etc. When one uses the oil directly, one is using tinctures or vaping.
Vaping CBD oil has become a natural outgrowth of the vaping craze. Many people are turning to CBD because they’re looking for a new variety of vaping juice. Some may not be comfortable with capsules. CBD vape juice comes in disposable pens, cartridges, and pods, in a variety of added flavors, and in a variety of doses. New users should start at low doses and take breaks while vaping so that the CBD’s effects will come on slowly, and so the vaper can monitor how he or she feels throughout.
Perhaps the second-most common way of using CBD is with tinctures. This involves taking little drops from a bottle and holding them under the tongue for 90 seconds to two minutes, as directed on the package. Gummies and lollipops can be found in most retailers of CBD, and some people use forms such as brownies or cookies. A person may feel some difference between taking the same dosage of CBD through the methods that digest a bit differently.
How Do People Use THC?
Smoking remains the most common way people take in tetrahydrocannabinol, even for medical purposes. In addition to rolled joints, pipes and bongs remain popular. But the legalization of recreational use of marijuana in many states is causing an explosion of many THC products. It may be an effort to decrease stigma, and it may be an effort to rope in a larger audience, but states with legal recreational use are flooded with brownies, cookies, coffees, waters, gummies, vaping juices, on and on.
The bottom line is that the superficial similarities of THC and CBD are not as important as the differences. While you can find each of them in a variety of forms, CBD is more readily available legally; it addresses a wider variety of illnesses and medical conditions; and lends itself to mental clarity and a mildly-relaxed state than does THC.