CBD vs. THC: what’s the difference, anyway?

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Despite the growing popularity of cannabis in health and wellness conversations, the difference between CBD and THC still remains blurred for some. It’s easy to see why—cannabis, hemp and marijuana are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably when talking about the benefits and differences between CBD vs THC. To be clear, they are not the same. 

What is the difference between CBD and THC?

The roots of their differences are in the plants themselves. Cannabis is a genus of flowering plants in the family Cannabaceae, which include hemp and marijuana, among other species.

Both hemp and marijuana contain cannabinoids – naturally occurring compounds – and there are at least 144 currently known. Two of the most well known cannabinoids are Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Hemp and marijuana plants also differ in how they grow, what they look like, and how they are farmed. This also determines their legality in different countries and states in the US. In Canada, products made of industrial hemp are legal. It is also legal to grow hemp with the appropriate licence. Hemp farming is licensed under the Industrial Hemp Program. In Canada, hemp products and marijuana are both regulated under The Cannabis Act (Bill C-45).

CBD vs THCCBD vs THC: why one gets you high and the other doesn’t

To break the plant down further, the cannabis genus contains at least three recognizable species: indica, sativa and ruderalis. Industrial hemp falls under the cannabis sativa species. “Industrial hemp” is defined as Cannabis Sativa specifically cultivated for non-drug use — i.e. it contains less than 0.3% THC (more on this later).

The biggest differentiator between hemp and marijuana is their chemical makeup. While marijuana contains high amounts  of THC (anywhere between 5-30%), hemp contains no more than 0.3% THC, and comparatively high amounts of CBD.

This distinguishing factor between CBD and THC causes each to interact with the body in different ways – this creates the ultimate discriminator in CBD vs THC: THC gives you a high while CBD does not.

Hemp  has no psychoactive components, meaning it contains so little THC that hemp-derived CBD products won’t get high or cause psychoactive impairment of any kind.

The Endocannabinoid System: what is it and how CBD and THC interact with it

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS), acts as the body’s “universal regulator,” according to a 2018 study.

The ECS plays an important role in helping to maintain homeostasis in the body. This homeostasis encompasses the immune system, the brain and endocrine system. The ECS is so impactful in the body, “due to an abundance of cannabinoid receptors located anywhere from immune cells to neurons,” the same study, published in The Journal of Young Investigators, found.

This study also links cannabis to the ECS. It found that the cannabis plant can function as a mass stimulation to the body’s ECS and therefore the body processes these phytocannabinoids (any cannabinoid produced in the trichomes of a cannabis plant) as endocannabinoids.

This is all very scientific speak to basically say CBD and THC naturally interact with the body, but they do so in different ways. THC binds to the ECS and CBD does not. This is why THC gets you high and CBD does not.

What is the difference between CBD and THC

THC, CBD, & CB1 receptors

THC interacts or activates the cannabinoid 1 receptors (CB1) in the body’s ECS. CB1 receptors are primarily found in the brain and central nervous system. When the CB1 receptors are activated, a psychoactive effect is produced – you get high.

CBD on the other hand, does not bind with CB1 receptors and therefore no psychoactive effects occur. As a phytocannabinoid, CBD stimulates ECS receptor responses that can bring about therapeutic effects to the mind and body.

CBD continues to grow as a natural treatment for common ailments and pain from skin issues, to headaches, anxiety to arthritis. While scientific studies and research on the full effects and benefits of CBD are ongoing, what research has found so far is that CBD’s natural interaction with the body’s ECS can offer an alternative and natural solution to ibuprofen and other synthetic anti-inflammatory medications.

What is the difference between CBD and THC

CBD: a natural solution to OTC medication

CBD works with the ECS to regulate hormone-related issues, which is one of the reasons why CBD is so effective for those who suffer from anxiety and sleep disorders. By creating a feeling of homeostasis for mental and physical balance, CBD helps to relax the body and mind, making sleep easier to achieve and keeping anxiety and depression at bay for better sleep.

The body’s ECS also impacts parts of our digestive and immune systems. When consuming cannabidiol or CBD oil, the compound interacts directly with the ECS receptors, helping to stimulate the body’s immune system, among other body systems.

CBD is believed to treat joint pain and inflammation because of the interaction between CBD and the ECS that causes the anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects that help to achieve homeostasis. CBD may be very useful for athletes, runners, and everyday gym warriors for this very reason. In addition to reducing pain and inflammation, it can also combat oxidative damage, enhance blood flow, and reduce muscle spasms. Muscles become inflamed when strenuously exerted, CBD can therefore assist athletes in their post-workout recovery due to its strong anti-inflammatory properties.

CBD has proven to be safe for most people, with little to no side effects, including non-psychoactive effects and impairments — it’s a solution that can be used by almost anyone. CBD may interact with certain medications however, so it’s best to check with your doctor if you’re using prescription medication while trying CBD.

CBD has also proven successful in helping to treat pets. CBD is safe for most, if not all animals and can offer a ton of benefits for your furry friends, including treating pain, anxiety, seizures and epilepsy, managing bowel disease, protecting the nervous system and heart health.

Hemp-derived CBD

CBD is found in much higher quantities in hemp. In fact, in order for a cannabis plant to be classified as hemp it must contain less than 0.3% of THC. Hemp naturally contains very high amounts of CBD, which is why hemp-derived CBD is essential for those who do not want any type of psychoactive effects from their CBD products but do want its therapeutic benefits for the body.

While we work to differentiate CBD vs THC, we should also mention that CBD oil and hemp oil come from very different sources of the hemp plant. CBD oil is made from the flowers, stalks and leaves from the hemp plant, which are the only parts of the plant where CBD oil (cannabidiol) is found.

Hemp oil is made from hemp seeds that contain little to no CBD at all. Hemp oil also has many health benefits but is best known for its positive effects on skin health, which is why you may have noticed a ton more hemp skin products pop up at your favourite stores. Hemp oil helps to treat wrinkles and prevent breakouts. 

What is the difference between CBD and THC

Types of CBD extracts

There is often a misconception that all types of CBD are the same, a similar problem with the conflation of cannabis, marijuana, and hemp when terms are used in an all-encompassing way.

Where CBD is used broadly, there are actually three types of CBD extractions that are used in CBD products: full spectrum, broad spectrum, and isolate.

Full spectrum CBD

Full spectrum CBD is a whole plant extract that contains CBD and more than 100 other cannabinoids, amino acids and essential oils found within the plant. These compounds all have various benefits and work together in what is known as the “entourage effect” to increase efficacy. 

The entourage effect is the synergistic interactions between the various cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, amino acids and essential oils found in a whole-plant (full spectrum) extract. The entourage effect is more likely to occur with full spectrum products offering higher levels of relief from inflammation, pain and anxiety than other CBD extract products of the same done. 

For this reason, full spectrum CBD is often considered the best type of extract as it most-closely resembles the plant’s chemical composition. resolveCBD products contain full spectrum CBD.

Broad spectrum CBD

Broad Spectrum CBD is very similar to full spectrum with one key difference: all trace amounts of THC have been removed completely. Although the hemp plant naturally contains very little amounts of THC (less than 0.3% by dry plant weight) broad spectrum CBD is devoid of virtually all THC. 

CBD isolate

Isolate CBD is ~99% pure CBD. With isolate CBD, the whole plant extract has been further refined to isolate the CBD compound, thereby removing all other cannabinoids, essential oils, and amino acids. While this is the purest form of CBD, it lacks other cannabinoids and compounds and is therefore incapable of producing the “entourage effect” mentioned above.

CBD extracts are the foundation of most CBD products including capsules, gummies and topicals such as creams, balms and salves. When looking for the best CBD product for you be sure to look for what type of CBD extract is used and how much is in each product. 

For instance, CBD gummies and capsule packages should include the amount of CBD for the whole package and for each individual capsule and gummy. Some CBD oils, including resolveCBD oil will have measurement lines on the dropper to help with doses and should also indicate the full amount of CBD per bottle on the label. 

Not all brands use the same quality CBD or follow a standard packaging system, here are 10 tips to buy safe and effective CBD to help with your product search. 

While the difference between CBD and THC is mainly the psychoactive effects of getting high, both have benefits and drawbacks for the consumer – it all comes down to the relief you are looking for. Both interact with the body’s ECS for natural benefits, but offer very different outcomes. Understanding the two not only makes users (and non-users) more informed, it helps to clarify a lot of misconceptions around cannabis, hemp and marijuana. If you take anything away from this blog, we hope it’s a clearer understanding of this: CBD is a naturally occurring compound found in the highest quantities in hemp. It works with our body’s “master regulator” aka the Endocannabinoid System to help achieve homeostasis and is a natural form of pain relief for a variety of ailments. In all – it works to make you feel better, while keeping your head out of the clouds.

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