Everyone is talking about CBD and THC. Which are two important chemicals found in cannabis called cannabinoids. Before we can attempt answering the question of what the differences between THC and CBD are, we first need to establish what exactly these two substances are.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the compound that makes up the highest percentage of the chemical composition of the Cannabis plant.
It is also the Cannabinoid that is responsible for the psychoactive ‘high” that a user embarks on when using Cannabis recreationally.
Contrary to what most people may think, THC does have some very significant medical benefits: Such as enhancing the appetite of someone who needs to eat more in order to curb certain conditions, or to relieve pressure in the eyes of glaucoma sufferers and reduce nausea caused by chemo therapy in cancer patients.
Cannabidiol (CBD) make up the second highest percentage of the chemical composition of the Cannabis plant but, in contrast to THC, CBD does only have very low psychoactive properties. However, this cannabinoid has many potential health benefits.
One significant difference between the two substances is probably the property of CBD to relieve anxiety, whereas THC tends to cause anxiety rather than relieve it. CBD has also shown to have antipsychotic properties meaning reduce psychotic symptoms in patient with Schizophrenia, and to lower anxiety levels in patients with social anxiety disorder
A small but significant difference in chemical structure
What you may notice is that their chemical structures seem almost identical. They have the same molecular formula which is C21 H30 O2 and both of their masses clocking at 314 grams per mole.
But there is one extremely important structural difference. Where THC contains a cyclic ring, CBD contains a hydroxyl group. And this difference in biochemistry actually controls whether or not you feel high.
The difference lies in the effect on the endocannabinoid system
With cannabis legalization becoming mainstream, what is the actual difference between CBD and THC. Inside you right now there’s a biological pathway at work called the endocannabinoid system. It helps regulate your mood, appetite, memory, pain sensation and much more. THC and CBD though interact with this system.
In order to fully understand why you need to first know about the cb1 receptor. In your unstoned to sober body your cb1 receptor is affected by a neurotransmitter called anandamide, which controls generation of pleasure motivation and feeding behavior. In your unstoned body anandamide is released for example after exercising and it’s what causes a runner’s high.
Direct and indirect interaction with the receptors
THC structure is so similar to anandamide that it fits in perfectly to the cb1 receptor, therefore causing you to feel high.
CBD on the other hand because of the hydroxyl group is different in shape and does not fit into the cb1 receptor, therefore it doesn’t make you feel high.
But CBD does bind to other receptors in your cannabinoid system, affecting you in other ways.
A lot of excitement came around a 2011 study where a few dozen people with social anxiety disorder were asked to speak in front of a large audience. Some were given CBD some were given a placebo. Those who were given CBD reported significantly less anxiety.
There are also many animal studies showing CBDs anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory properties which can explain why some people say it helps with their anxiety and with chronic pain.
CBD inhibits the psychoactive effect of THC
Research is also discovering that THC can actually aggravate or trigger psychotic symptoms while CBD on the other hand may help with psychosis.
So what happens when you consume them at the same time. One study found that due to CBDs biochemical shape it can actually bind to the cb1 receptor, don’t activate but blocks the access. A binding pattern known to biologists as allosteric inhibition.
This means that CBD actually makes the THC unable to bind as well and therefore decreases how high you feel. The high is reduced, however, the health benefits of THC persist. This mechanism of CBD dramatically increases the scope of cannabis therapy.
The fact that CBD is not psychoactive like THC, but also counteracts the psychoactive effects of THC, leads to a more effective use of THC by simply combining the two substances to maximize the medicinal benefits of THC.
The ratio of these cannabinoids makes the difference
If you vaporize cannabis with 25% THC and 0.1% CBD you will feel high as the THC is going to bind to the cb1 receptor with little interference from CBD. If you consume cannabis with 25% THC and 12% CBD this more CBD will inhibit the THC from binding to the cb1 receptor decreasing THC psychoactive effect and leading you to being less high.
Where cannabis is legally sold likely they will indicate what percentage of THC and CBD is in the product you are choosing. Which will help you to understand the effects that will have on your body. In the end THC is a chemical found in cannabis with a chemical structure that makes you feel high. CBD is a chemical found in cannabis with a different chemical structure that doesn’t make you feel high but it can affect your body in other less obvious ways.
There is still conflicting research and a lot more to understand about both chemicals. With more states and countries legalizing cannabis hopefully increased research can uncover more details about how these two chemicals affect us.