What’s the Difference Between THC and CBD?

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are two of the main organic compounds found in cannabis plants. Multiple studies suggest that both of these cannabinoids offer a variety of medical benefits, inducing reduced anxiety and chronic pain. As a result of this, plenty of people in Australia and around the world are now wanting to buy CBD oils and THC products. As legal restrictions on cannabis products gradually ease up, more and more people will naturally want to know the difference between these two compounds.

So, out of a hundred or so cannabinoids, what makes these two compounds special? What are their differences and commonalities? To help you navigate this ever-evolving world of cannabis-derived products, we are going to have a deeper look at both THC and CBD.

Chemical arrangement

THC and CBD actually share the same molecular formula. This means they both have 21 atoms of carbon, 30 atoms of hydrogen and two atoms of oxygen. The difference, however, comes in the arrangement of these atoms. The different chemical arrangements is what allows THC and CBD to affect the body in their respective ways.

To understand this further, you need to be familiar with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a cell-signalling system that regulates our sleeping habits, appetites, pain sensors and immune system. It uses two major types of receptors: the CB1 receptors and the CB2 receptors. Each of these regulate different aspects of our biology. CB1 is more connected to our nervous system, while CB2 mainly regulates our immune and gastrointestinal systems.

THC and CBD are able to affect our bodies by interacting with these cannabinoid receptors. Because of the difference in chemical arrangement, THC mainly binds to the CB1 receptors while CBD moderately interacts with both the CB1 and CB2 receptors.

Psychoactive effects

One of the major differences between THC and CBD is in their psychoactive properties. Because THC mainly binds to CB1 receptors (directly affecting the brain), it has more psychoactive effects compared to CBD. This means THC alters our cognitive behaviours as well as our sensations. Indeed, it’s the compound responsible for giving cannabis users a high.

CBD, on the other hand, cannot get you high. It has some very minor psychoactive effects, but not in the same way that THC does. In fact, CBD is said to be able to counteract some of the negative effects of THC, including anxiety, psychosis and seizures.

Of course, when it comes to mind-altering substances, it’s also important to talk about dependence. According to a report by the WHO Expert Committee of Drug Dependence, male mice showed signs of tolerance when injected with THC. When it comes to CBD, however, no tolerance was observed regardless of dosage.

Based on this, researchers suggest that CBD will likely not lead to dependence while THC may have some addictive properties. However, many experts agree that further studies are required to fully understand the dependence potential of these compounds.

Medical use

In terms of medical benefits, there is a lot of overlap between THC and CBD. For example, they can both be used to help with a number of issues relating to chronic pain. That being said, there are some distinct differences.

Since THC has more of a psychoactive influence on our bodies, it tends to affect our mood more than CBD. Indeed, THC can provide a feeling of euphoria and relaxation. This can be extremely helpful for those who suffer from insomnia.

When it comes to CBD, one of its major benefits is its ability to reduce the number of seizures experienced by those with epilepsy. In fact, Epidiolex, a CBD product designed to treat epilepsy, was the first cannabis-derived prescription medicine approved by the FDA. CBD also shows some potential being able to treat anxiety and depression.


Though they are often mentioned in tandem, THC and CBD are treated very differently by the law. This is mainly due to the THC’s dependence potential and psychoactive properties.

To grasp the rules and regulations around these two compounds, it helps to understand the legal use of the terms marijuana and hemp.

Although marijuana and hemp are of the same plant species, the terms are separately used to refer to the amount of THC and CBD in a particular cannabis plant. Legally, hemp is a cannabis plant that is mostly composed of CBD. Marijuana (or just cannabis), on the other hand, has a higher proportion of THC.

In most jurisdictions, hemp-derived CBD products are legal just as long as its THC content does not exceed 0.3%. Additionally, if you’re prescribed medical cannabis that contains a significant amount of THC, it is illegal for you to drive due to the compound’s mind-altering effects.

Because the legal status of THC and CBD is still evolving in Australia, it’s important that you do your research before purchasing any products. Make sure you understand the effects it will have on your body as well its legality. If you’re unsure about a product, be sure to talk to a supplier and a health professional for advice.

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