CBD vs THC? A Quick Guide.


It is very likely that you’ve already heard about CBD. Cannabidiol has been getting a lot of good press lately, whilst THC is the main reason that cannabis is still illegal in most countries around the world. Both of these constituents of the cannabis plant interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system but in very different ways. And they both produce very different effects.

Read this quick guide for a brief overview of both cannabinoids, and discover how they differ.

Cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol are naturally occurring cannabinoids derived from plants.

It is known that cannabis contains over 113 cannabinoids, the two most well-known cannabinoids are cannabidiol(CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol(THC). They are both classed as phytocannabinoids, the word “phyto” is derived from the Greek word “phyton” which means plant.

Both compounds interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors which are present in the human endocannabinoid system and are also found in every other mammalian species.

What is the endocannabinoid system?

The mammalian endocannabinoid system can be thought of as a system of receptors and keys. The system is made up of two primary receptors CB1 and CB2 as well as two main endocannabinoid molecules, named anandamide and 2-Ag. CB1 and CB2 receptors are found on cells throughout the human body. CB1 receptors are common throughout the central nervous system whereas CB2 receptors can be found in abundance on immune cells as well as in the gastrointestinal tract and also in the peripheral nervous system. The endocannabinoid system is extremely important for mammals as it helps to regulate a large number of bodily functions. The list of bodily functions regulated by the endocannabinoid system is extensive but some of the primary ones include:

  • Homeostasis (The ability of the body to maintain optimal balance and return to health)
  • Sleep and wakefulness cycles.
  • Hunger and thirst.
  • Mood.
  • The immune system.
  • Pain and pleasure.
  • Reproduction.
  • Fertility.
  • Memory.

It’s plain to see that a well-functioning endocannabinoid system is critical to the well-being of every mammal. There is even a theory of disease known as “clinical endocannabinoid deficiency” which proposes that many diseases are caused by either a lack of endocannabinoids or a problem with the functioning of the endocannabinoid system.

So how do CBD and THC affect the endocannabinoid system?

Both of these cannabinoids affect the endocannabinoid system but in different ways. THC mimics the body’s own endocannabinoids and locks into the receptors, whereas CBD prevents the breakdown of the body’s natural endocannabinoids and enables a higher percentage of natural endocannabinoids to lock into the receptors. When people experience a psychoactive high from smoking cannabis it is caused by the psychoactive action of THC locking into the CB1 receptors which are found mostly in the central nervous system including the brain. CBD however, due to its different method of action, causes no such high. Of all the 113 plus cannabinoids found in cannabis, THC is the only phytocannabinoid that produces the feeling of being high.
It’s worth noting that full-spectrum CBD oil is considered superior to CBD isolate due to the wide range of cannabinoids contained in the oil. The “entourage effect” is the name given to the interaction of phytocannabinoids, so it’s worth educating yourself on whole plant CBD versus Isolate.

CBD and THC work well together

CBD and THC are like yin and yang. For thousands of years, wild cannabis plants contained a natural balance of both phytocannabinoids, and It was only as recently as the 1970s that humans began to breed cannabis plants with much higher percentages of THC. Researchers are well aware of the “entourage effect” which is a term for how various constituents complement each other to produce a more powerful effect, balanced is best. However, cannabis plants high in psychoactive THC produce higher highs and growers were eager to satisfy demand. Most people who wanted cannabis just wanted the feeling of being high, research into the medical applications of cannabis would not become popular for a few more decades.

It’s never been a great idea to play around too much with nature, and although the new highly psychoactive plants fulfilled demand, they also created a problem. Prior to the 1970s, most “street” cannabis contained approximately 3 to 7% THC. compare that to 2018 when it’s now possible to buy hybrid strains with concentrations of up to 30%. In addition to the increase in THC, prior to selective breeding, most cannabis contained a high proportion of CBD. But when analyzing current street cannabis, researchers have discovered that the CBD concentrations have dropped to as low as 1 – 2%.

So where to next for phytocannabinoids?

Humans have used cannabis for at least 8000 Years. It has been used by many cultures for food and medicine as well as for making clothes, oils, paper and building products. CBD and THC are the two best known and most widely studied phytocannabinoids and are both able to increase the number of cannabinoids in the human endocannabinoid system and thereby affect its functioning. It seems more than a coincidence that these two cannabinoids happen to work in harmony with our endocannabinoid system, and future research may well be able to create optimal formulations based on individual requirements in order to achieve desired outcomes.

It’s a very exciting time for all of us who are fascinated by the possibilities that lie ahead.

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Rafael Castro