CBD vs. THC: What’s the Difference?

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

There are hundreds of chemical compounds found in medical cannabis, many with the potential to help alleviate the symptoms of certain diseases. The medical research community has investigated some of these many compounds, unlocking their potential as alternative treatments for conditions like arthritis, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. Of the many beneficial compounds in cannabis, two members of a class of chemicals called cannabinoids stand out: cannabidiol, or CBD, and tetrahydrocannabinol, more commonly known as THC. In this guide, we’ll explore the differences and similarities between these two compounds, with a special focus on alternative health solutions with CBD.

Cannabinoids: CBD and THC

Cannabinoids are natural chemical compounds found in the leaves and flowers of marijuana or hemp plants. These compounds are chemically similar to naturally-occurring compounds in the human body known as endocannabinoids. Our endocannabinoid system is responsible for helping to regulate certain body processes and to support healthy neurological signaling between nerve endings and the brain. The cannabinoids in marijuana, particularly CBD and THC, are able to interact with the endocannabinoid system in much the same way as those compounds produced by our bodies. CBD and THC both possess the same general molecular structure, but the orientation of atoms in these molecules account for the different behaviors and effects they impart on the human endocannabinoid system.

CBD can be extracted from hemp plant material, which typically contains little, if any, of the necessary THC. The fibers from industrial hemp plants are often used to produce textiles, paper products, and biofuels. THC is found in cannabis, especially the upper leaves and the flowering parts (buds) of the mature cannabis plant. Cultivators have bred cannabis plants that exhibit high levels of THC, CBD, or a combination of the two. Each of these strains – which number in the thousands – may have specific and unique attributes, and some of the high-CBD strains are used in alternative health solutions with CBD.

Differences in Effect and Receptor Bonding

Despite the chemical similarities and structure of the cannabinoids CBD and THC, these compounds act very differently in the human body. THC is the psychoactive compound responsible for the euphoric sensations – the “high” so desired by recreational users. THC binds to the human cannabinoid 1 (CB1) and cannabinoid 2 (CB2) receptors found in the brain. THC isn’t only a recreational chemical; in limited clinical trials, it has been shown to help reduce anxiety and depression, and may serve as an alternative treatment for these and numerous other conditions.

CBD, on the other hand, is not psychoactive – in simple terms, it does not produce the high sensations associated with cannabis use. CBD does not bind to the CB1/CB2 receptors except in certain circumstances and concentrations, and even then the binding is weak at best. CBD may actually interfere with THC binding in those receptors, lessening the euphoric effects THC imparts. CBD molecules target several non-cannabinoid receptors and ion channels rather than binding to CB1/CB2 receptors. In clinical studies and trials, CBD has shown to reduce inflammation and to help modulate pain signals, which can be beneficial for those with chronic conditions like arthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases, and musculoskeletal pain. In fact, alternative health solutions with CBD are currently being explored across the medical research community.

CBD in Medical Applications

Because of its legal status in the United States, CBD has benefitted from a substantial amount of clinical research. The chemical compound is legal in all 50 U.S. states. In the research conducted on CBD and its effects in the human body, it has been found to be relatively safe, unlocking its potential as an alternative therapeutic medicine in place of or in conjunction with traditional prescription medications. CBD has powerful anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects. Some of the alternative health solutions with CBD are:

  • Treating the pain associated with certain cancers and cancer treatments.
  • Managing chronic musculoskeletal pain.
  • Helping alleviate the discomfort of arthritis and joint diseases.
  • Reducing or reversing the growth of cancerous cells in leukemia patients.
  • Moderating pain arising from digestive disorders like inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease.



Further research into CBD’s effects, dosage recommendations, and applications is warranted. Today, however, for patients afflicted with painful health conditions, CBD may represent a safer, more effective alternative than many prescription medications.