CBD vs THC
For the longest time, marijuana has always been associated with THC. It wasn't until we had a chance to take a closer look that we finally learned about all the intricacies of the plant.
When CBD first hit the mainstream - mostly as a supplement extracted from industrial hemp sold in the United States - it was marketed as a cure-all with a slew of beneficial long term effects.
THC, meanwhile, remains the central theme of marijuana, both as a medical and recreational drug.
THC and CBD are found at different concentrations in the cannabis plant and derived from hemp plant. Cannabis itself actually refers to a plant genus, which consists of hemp (cannabis sativa L.) and marijuana (cannabis sativa).
Hemp is mostly made up of CBD, with CBD levels of around 99.7%, while marijuana is the go-to for THC. However, a lot of medical and recreational producers have been breeding high-CBD marijuana strains. Although there's more CBD in hemp, the concentration is lower. This means it takes a lot more plant material to extract the same amount of CBD from hemp as it would from a CBD-rich marijuana plant.
On a chemical makeup level, CBD is the same, regardless of its source. But if you buy your CBD from a legal dispensary, the licensed producers have strict regulations in place to ensure safety and quality. CBD extracted from hemp and sold by supplement companies - not so much.
Regardless of where you get your cannabis or how you use it, knowing the differences between THC and CBD is essential if you want to make the most out of your experience.
Let's start with the easiest one. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the compound found in marijuana known for its much sought-after high.
THC content has increased quite a bit in the last few decades. Marijuana back in the '60s and '70s typically contained THC levels in the single digits, and it didn’t come close to reaching the record high levels we have today. Now, some strains clock in at over 30% level of THC, which is astronomical, even for experienced users.
But for some medical patients, high-THC marijuana can be very good or very bad, depending on the condition in question. Also, while the THC bar might have been raised, it's still easy to come by low-THC strains at any recreational or medical dispensary.
How Does THC Work?
In order for THC or any other cannabinoid to affect us, there has to be a gateway. In this case, the gateway is our endocannabinoid system. This is a complex network of naturally-occurring cannabinoids and receptors within our bodies. It's this system that allows us to experience the benefits of both THC and CBD.
The receptors in question consist of two types - CB1 and CB2. They were discovered in 1988 and 1993 respectively and eventually classified as CB1 and CB2 in 1995.
CB1 receptors are located primarily in the brain, in addition, specific places like the lungs, heart, and muscles. CB2 receptors, on the other hand, are found in the central nervous system and immune systems.
THC interacts with both receptors, but the way it binds with the CB1 receptors is what makes it unique compared to CBD. THC binds directly with the CB1 receptors, which creates an express, one-way ticket to the brain. This is precisely why THC causes us to get high.
The presence of CB1 receptors in other places, like the muscles, help contribute to the human body high we get from certain strains.
Is THC Safe?
This is a bit of a tricky question, so let's answer it in two parts. THC on its own is relatively safe. Lethal overdoses are impossible due to the sheer volume needed. That being said, taking too much can be unpleasant, leading to issues like nausea, vomiting, severe dizziness and hallucinations. Getting sick from too much weed is often referred to as "greening out". THC is also dangerous to young children, so if you have edibles lying around, make sure they're safely locked up. What might cause an adult to green out could put a toddler or young child in the hospital.
The only time when THC could be really dangerous is if you have any underlying health issues. For instance, THC is known to increase heart rate, so using it if you have a heart condition isn't the best idea. Some THC strains seriously impair your motor functions, which increases your risk of getting hurt on the job, in a car accident or even a slip and fall.
Ultimately, THC is mostly safe if used correctly and responsibly.
THC for Recreational Use
Those of us who use THC recreationally are more than aware of its purpose. We want to get high. However, everyone has different goals and tolerance levels. Some of us just want to relax, so a moderate THC strain will do the trick. But on the other side of the spectrum, we have those who are looking for a really strong experience, which is why all those new, super-potent strains come in handy.
Interestingly, THC doesn't always turn you into a couch potato. All it does is make you high. The exact nature of the high varies depending on the strain in question. Certain strains - specifically ones that fall into the "sativa" category - make you feel energized and uplifted. Indica strains, on the other hand, are usually pretty sedating and knock you out.
However, this isn't always the case. In fact, some sativas are relaxing while certain indicas give you a boost. This makes the category more of a guideline than a rule.
THC as a Medicine
Before we get into this, we need to make one thing clear. Marijuana isn't universal. A lot of people like to say that pot helps with a variety of things, but that all depends on the strain. If you don't educate yourself on the right strains, the one you choose could actually make some conditions worse. The key is to know your terpenes - oil compounds found throughout the plant kingdom - and their effects. A good licensed medical marijuana provider will offer a terpene profile on their products.
But with over 3,000 strains currently in existence, finding the right one can make be a tad difficult. Fortunately, there are plenty of credible sources out there to help, in addition to Internet forums where users can share their experiences.
Pain is one of THC's most useful conditions. From migraines to multiple sclerosis, people have been using marijuana to treat temporary and chronic pain. While admittedly, THC isn't as effective at relieving severe pain, such as post-surgery or severe injuries, it's pretty good at taking on a variety of conditions marked by chronic pain relief.
Nausea and Weight Loss are also well-known to be treated with THC. Cancer patients often obtain a prescription to help deal with the lack of appetite and nausea from chemotherapy. It can also be tremendously helpful for people with eating disorders.
However, keep in mind that not all strains give you the munchies. In some cases, it can actually suppress appetite. This is because some weed contains a terpene called humulene. This terpene offers several benefits, but it's also known for its unique ability to reduce hunger.
So if you need an appetite boost, avoid humulene like the plague. Depression can also be treated with THC. However, this is where we get into some seriously dangerous territory. If there's any instance when knowing your strains is important, it's in cases of mental health.
For one thing, THC's effects vary depending on the dosage. We now know that low doses of THC are good for fighting depression. High doses can actually make the condition worse. If you've never used before, start at the lowest dose possible and increase as needed.
Again, it all boils down to terpenes. You'll want to research the strain, but typically sativas are good for this condition due to their (usually) uplifting nature.
Specific terpenes you'll want to look out for are caryophyllene and limonene. Anxiety is another condition known to respond well to marijuana treatment. Like depression, dosage and strain choice matter. Many strains cause anxiety and paranoia, which is the last thing you would want.
Dosage is critical, since overdoing it could trigger anxiety. Start with a lower dose and work your way up.
In this case, indica strains are better because they're (usually) more on the relaxing side. Linalool, terpineol, and myrcene are two terpenes you'll want to look for - although linalool is a bit hard to come by.
Insomnia often responds well to THC treatment, but once more, it's about terpenes and strains. In this case, the sedating effects of indica strains are the ideal choice (but again, this isn't universal).
Specific terpenes to look for are terpineol, myrcene, linalool, caryophyllene and limonene.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is another one of many cannabinoids found in cannabis. While there's some overlap with THC regarding its medical benefits, there are some unique ones as well. Want to learn more about CBD, check out What is CBD - A Beginner's Guide to CBD.
Unlike THC, CBD's legality was in a gray area until 2018, when industrial hemp plant and CBD was finally legalized on a federal level in order to match state laws.
CBD is available in various forms, just like regular marijuana. Edibles, capsules, CBD vape juice, oils, topicals and drinks are all options you can easily find in dispensaries or through online supplement companies.
However, if you want to smoke or vape CBD dry herb, you'll need to have a medical prescription or live in a state where marijuana is legal.
How Does CBD Work?
Earlier, we discussed how cannabinoid receptors work with THC. The same principle applies to CBD, but with very different results.
Unlike THC, CBD doesn't bind with the CB1 receptors. Consequently, it won't affect your motor and cognitive skills the way THC does. In fact, it often flat-out negates THC's connection with the receptors, breaking the bond. This is why CBD is used as a way to either balance or reduce the effects of THC. Even if you're not a regular CBD user, it can't hurt to have it on hand as a kill switch in case you get too high.
However, CBD does effectively bind with the CB2 receptors, which aren't located in the brain, but rather the central nervous system, immune system, colon, spleen and bones.
Is CBD Safe?
CBD is probably one of the safest substances you can use. To date, there's no known overdose level for CBD. The only limit to your CBD intake is your wallet, as these cannabis products can get quite pricey.
One of CBD's biggest selling points is that it doesn't cause a high. This is huge, considering that it offers some of the same benefits as THC. Many adults don't like being high, while the effects of THC on children are also a concern. But because CBD doesn't take a direct route to the brain the way THC does, our precious gray matter remains relatively untouched.
In some cases, users reported some mild side effects, like nausea and diarrhea. However, these were very rare.
The only instance where CBD might cause a problem is if it interacts with certain medications. It's unknown what the complete list of medicines is, but a study done on children with severe epilepsy found that CBD can increase liver function with certain seizure medications, in some cases forcing the researchers to stop the experiment for some subjects.
They also found that, thanks to the increased liver activity, CBD's presence enhances the effects of the medication, increasing the likelihood and intensity of side effects. At that point, reducing the prescription dose was needed to balance it out.
Bottom line, if you're using CBD without any other medications, you're golden. If you take any prescription meds, talk to your doctor first about CBD.
CBD for Recreational Use
Given that CBD doesn't make you high, you'd think that people wouldn't use it recreationally. But surprisingly, this isn't the case. CBD still offers a variety of benefits. On its own, CBD is actually capable of providing some extra energy. But if you use a product containing terpenes ("full spectrum"), those compounds could change the way the item affects you.
Typically, recreational users try CBD as a way to relieve stress, just like THC. The difference, of course, is that they can achieve their desired results without the brain fog or risk of greening out.
CBD as a Medicine
As we mentioned earlier, the medical benefits of THC and CBD often overlap. In fact, every benefit mentioned in our THC section applies to CBD. However, the effects might not be as overt, since there's no high to muddle your brain. But there are two specific areas where CBD shines.
Inflammation is a condition that CBD is particularly good at treating. This covers a broad and wide range of conditions. Virtually any issue that causes inflammation can be easily countered with CBD. Things like arthritis or swelling due to injuries come to mind. But people often find it useful as a counter to Crohn's Disease or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Epilepsy is arguably CBD's biggest strong point. Following studies in children with severe epilepsy, doctors discovered that the substance is effective against certain types of seizure disorders.
Researchers found that Dravet Syndrome and Lennox Gastaut Syndrome respond well to CBD treatment. This is huge, because these childhood epilepsies rarely respond to conventional treatment. Worse still, the conditions can be severe, leaving children bedridden and susceptible to brain damage or even death.
After CBD treatment, the subjects found that their seizure frequency decreased. Some lucky patients saw their seizures disappear entirely. This finding eventually led to Epidiolex, the first FDA-approved drug made entirely of CBD isolate.
That being said, little research has been done into other forms of epilepsy. So far, no evidence is available to show that CBD is effective against more common seizure disorders, like generalized epilepsy.