CBD vs THC: What's The Difference?

Just a quick disclaimer; we don’t make health claims about CBD, we just share the research. You'll always find references to scientific literature to substantiate what we share. This is for informational use only. Always speak to your doctor before making any changes to your healthcare regimen.  

Cannabis is a plant (C. plants) of many varieties and molecules. Its becoming incredibly popular across the world as its therapeutic potential is slowly realised.

Some concern a lot of folks have about C. plants and CBD is that it is either illegal or will get them high.

So, we’re going to clear that up in this article, by explaining the difference between the two most prominent ingredients of C. plants, and how it can be enjoyed safely and legally.

What is CBD?

CBD (cannabidiol) is one of over 100 compounds called cannabinoids that come from the plant species C. Sativa L.

Its use has become widespread because of the numerous ways it can help support the bodies natural ability to maintain health and wellbeing.

Its one of the cannabinoids which does not produce intoxicating effects, and has been given the green light by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a safe, non-additive and well tolerated substance. 

What is THC?

THC is another cannabinoid found in specific varieties of C. plants called MJ. THC is psychoactive and is what causes the notorious ‘high’ when MJ is smoked or eaten. THC is illegal in many parts of the world for this reason.

THC is listed as a schedule II drug by the WHO, but it still remains a schedule I substance under US Federal law.

Besides being psychoactive, THC shares some therapeutic properties with CBD, and also has some of its own. In the UK, its use has been approved for treating Multiple Sclerosis (7).

In the UK and EU, levels of THC of up to 0.2% in products is considered safe as this is not sufficient to produce a high when consumed.

0.2% is also the legal limit for THC, and products must be below this concentration if they are to be legal.


At first glance, the molecular structure of THC and CBD appears to be identical. They have the exact same chemical makeup: 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. 


                         THC                                                                                           CBD

But if you look closely, you’ll notice a subtle difference in the way some of those atoms are arranged. This minor difference in molecular arrangement means that each of them have unique effects on biology.

Despite their chemical differences, THC and CBD are both from the same family of molecules. They’re both cannabinoids. So they do have some similarities in the way they work.

They both tap into a chemical messaging system in the body called the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

The ECS is at the root of controlling how the body works, and ensures all the bodies systems are connected and in sync. Think of how a conductor leads an orchestra to play in harmony. Thats basically what the ECS does, and it co-ordinates the bodies systems to operate in health giving harmony.

You’ll be shocked to learn that your body already runs on its own cannabinoids, called Endocannabinoids. Endo meaning they occur naturally within us. The ECS uses its own (endo)cannabinoids as messengers to sync all the bodily systems up.

Endocannabinoids deliver messages by ‘binding’ to special (cannabinoid) receptors which receive their messages, and translate them into changes in biological function.

These cannabinoid receptors come in two different varieties and are found all throughout the body. They are cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) and cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2).

Cannabinoids like THC and CBD can also interact with cannabinoid receptors, and play a role in governing the health of the body.

This is where the molecular difference between CBD and THC starts to matter. It affects the way they interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors, which means they have different effects.

THC vs CBD Effects: The Key Differences

The major difference between CBD and THC is of course that THC can get you high, whereas CBD doesn’t. This is all due to one key difference in CBD’s mechanism of action to THC.

THC directly binds and activates the CB1 receptor, which produces feelings of euphoria, and the characteristic cannabis high.

Some users of THC report feelings of distorted perception, atypical thought patterns, diminished awareness of one’s surroundings, and intensified introspective understanding of one’s sense of identity and emotional status (8). This is an enjoyable experience for a lot of people.

However, some folks find the ‘high’ associated with THC a little unsettling, as it promotes a state of consciousness that can seem scary and unfamiliar if you’re not used to it.

THC can have a profound effect on mood, either for the best or worst, depending on whats going on in your life, prior experience(s), the environment you take it in and the amount you take.

THC also increases appetite by activating CB1, which is responsible for the infamous munchies that comes with using cannabis.

In contrast to THC, CBD does not activate the CB1 receptor, which is how it cannot get you high.

In fact, it actually does the opposite. CBD has been shown to directly and indirectly block the CB1 receptor, preventing THC and other endocannabinoids from activating it (9).

This means that CBD can offset some of the negative effects of THC, such as anxiety and increased appetite.

CBD is also useful for blocking high levels of the bodies own endcoannabinoids from activating CB1. Endocannabinoid concentrations are very high in obesity and diabetes, and are part of what drive weight gain, increased appetite and metabolic problems because of CB1 over activation.

THC vs CBD: Therapeutic Differences and Similarities

While both THC and CBD differ in psycho-activity they actually have some shared therapeutic properties. They also have unique properties to one another. Bear in mind that clinical trials using cannabinoids are lacking, and much of the evidence below comes from using animals.







(1), (2)





(4), (6)


↑/↓ (Dose)

(1), (2)




Muscle relaxant




? (5)

(1), (5)

Analgesic (Pain reduction)

(1), (3), (4)

(1), (2)

Antiemetic (vomiting)















Immune regulation



(3), (4)


THC and CBD both occur naturally within C. plants, albeit at different levels based on what variety of C. plant it is.

So by nature they come packaged together. Because of legal reasons and where you live, CBD and THC are often used separately.

A lot of people who’d rather not experience the high from THC are perfectly happy using just CBD, for things like anxiety, sleep, recovery from exercise and reducing inflammation.

A very small subset of people might use THC on its own, although its effects are usually complemented by the addition of some CBD.

Whilst both can be useful on their own, some people benefit from a combination of the two. Sometimes CBD alone just doesn’t cut it.

For example, most studies investigating effects on pain use Sativex, a pharmaceutical THC:CBD spray (delivers 2.7 mg THC and 2.5 mg CBD per actuation). These trials have shown that neuropathic pain in Multiple Sclerosis is effectively reduced by a THC:CBD combo (10), (11), (7)

Although CBD (2.5 mg CBD per actuation) was effective at managing pain, the pain killing effect was greater when combined with THC (12).

On the flip side, using THC alone can produce anxiety, hunger, sedation and increase heart rate. Adding CBD to the mix has been shown to reduce these side effects (13).

Also, when CBD is taken in a similar proportion to THC, it can offset the cognitive and memory deficits associated with THC (14).

The complimentary effects of CBD and THC is known as the entourage effect, whereby the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In places where THC is legal, products can contain different ratio’s of THC:CBD to meet each persons unique needs.

THC and CBD: Legal Considerations

CBD can be enjoyed legally in most parts of the world so long as it comes from Hemp (C. plants that contain <0.2% THC).

Hemp contains very low levels of THC and high levels of CBD, whereas MJ contains high levels of THC and low to moderate levels of CBD. 

In the UK and EU, most CBD comes from hemp because its naturally legal and extraction of the CBD is easier, since you can extract the whole plant without having to take extra steps to remove the THC.

Some CBD extracts can come from MJ, and then have the THC removed. This is done because the MJ varieties of C. plant tend to be a richer source of other cannabinoids, and similar chemicals called terpenes.