THC vs CBD: What’s the Difference - Explained by Our Organic Chemist


CBD (Cannabidiol) and THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) are two natural compounds that are found in plants of the Cannabis genus.

CBD can be extracted from hemp or marijuana. Hemp is a cannabis plant that usually contains less than 0.3 % THC; CBD products can have no more than 0.3% THC to be legal under Federal law.

Marijuana is a cannabis plant that contains higher concentrations of THC and smaller concentrations of CBD than the Hemp plant.

Both chemicals interact with the cannabinoid receptors in the human body (and other animals) and brain; this is called the endocannabinoid system. CBD is non-psychoactive and will not give a high or buzz to the end-user, whereas THC does provide a high sensation.

CBD and THC may be sold as a tincture, extract, gummy, oil, supplement, beverage, capsule, or vape.

The Chemistry

CBD and THC chemical structure CBD and THC have the same number of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms with a slight difference in the arrangement of these atoms; this difference in their architectural structures accounts for the difference in how they affect the body.

The interactions with the cannabinoid receptors differ in how neurotransmitters are released from the brain. Neurotransmitters are responsible for relaying messages between cells, which play a part in the areas of pain, immune function, sleep, and anxiety.

CB1 and CB2 receptors on human body

THC binds with the cannabinoid receptor type 1 or CB1 receptor in the brain and produces a sense of euphoria. In contrast, CBD binds very weakly to the CB1 receptor and may well interfere with the ability of THC to bind and thus diminish THCs psychoactive effects.

The Medical Benefits and Possible Side Effects

CBD and THC may have many of the same medical benefits in providing relief from various conditions. These conditions include but are not limited to seizures, inflammation, pain, nausea, insomnia, and depression. However, people may prefer using CBD in that it does not cause the psychoactive marijuana-high effect that THC does.

CBD may help with these conditions:

  • Seizures
  • Inflammation
  • Pain
  • Psychosis or mental disorders
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Nausea
  • Migraines
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

THC may help with these conditions:

CBD is well tolerated by users and without side effects other than those from drug interactions between CBD and other medications.

In contrast, THC can cause temporary side effects, which may include faster heart rate, dry mouth, reddened eyes, slower reaction time, and coordination issues, all part of the psychoactive factor.

CBD and THC are not fatal, although THC has been connected to long-term psychiatric effects on the adolescent brain.

Of course, talk to your doctor if you have any questions about possible interactions and side effects.

CBD vs. THC: Drug Testing


CBD and THC are store in the body’s fat and can be detected on drug tests for days or weeks after you use them.

Not every drug test can detect CBD, but some standard tests will look for chemicals related to THC, so THC or marijuana might show a positive test on a screening.

Furthermore, hemp can contain some THC as well as CBD, so a positive THC test may show up even if you have not used marijuana or THC.

Potential Legal or Employment Problems - Buyer Beware

The bottom line is that CBD or CBD-infused products could result in positive THC test results, in which case you could have a problem with your employer or with law enforcement.

While employers or law enforcement may not be screening for CBD, they are testing for THC or its metabolic by-products.

Therefore, since CBD products could contain a THC concentration that is higher than what is listed on the label, those small amounts could build up in the body to a detectable level.

Make Sure that You Read the Product Label

To make sure that the CBD product you buy does not have more THC than claimed on the label, make sure that the manufacturer can provide a COA or Certificate of Analysis, which will confirm that this is accurate.

Remember, the Federal 2108 Farm Bill, which legalizes hemp cultivation and transport of hemp-derived products across state lines, define hemp as those plants containing less than 0.3% of THC. Plants with more than 0.3% THC are considered marijuana.

[To learn more about finding quality CBD products, please check out our blog on "How to Shop CBD"]


Written by Organic Chemist Frank A. Lewis, ACS Emeritus

To learn about Envy Hemp's core mission, please check out our story and meet the owners!

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