With awareness spreading and a rising demand for natural medicines, cannabis compounds, like CBD and THC, are becoming increasingly popular due to their wide range of health benefits. While the close relationship between the two compounds may lead some to assume that both have the same impact on the body, a comparison between the molecular structure of CBD vs THC reveals the exact opposite. Whether you consider yourself a cannabis connoisseur or know nothing about the plant, learning the difference between CBD and THC is a useful way to get to know the plant better.
Let's take a closer look at what the cannabis plant is made of so we can understand the distinction between CBD and THC.
What Makes Up a Cannabis Plant?
Like most plants cannabis can be either male or female. Male cannabis plants produce seeds, not flowers and female cannabis plants produce flowers. Its the flowers which are usually smoked or consumed and are the desired outcome of growers.
Every gender of a plant has the same basic structure - a stem, branches and leaves. These all contain small amounts of THC, CBD and terpenes (the strains aroma and flavour compounds). However, the majority of these reside in the flowers. Cannabis flowers, once dried and cured, are sticky, aromatic and sparkly in appearance.
Trichomes cause the stickiness, strong smell, and sparkly appearance. If you look closely, trichomes look like tiny translucent mushrooms, covering almost every millimeter of the cannabis flower.
Its Trichomes which make up the cannabinoid compounds (THC, CBD and others) as well as terpenes found in the cannabis plant.
Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System
Before we dive in, it’s important to understand what cannabinoids are and how they work with the body.
Cannabionoids are the stars of the show. There are currently over 100 known cannabinoids found in the Cannabis plant, the most prominent of which are Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD).
A cannabinoid is a compound that interacts directly with our body’s Endocannabinoid System (ECS), which in short, is a network of receptors that interact with cannabinoids to maintain vital functions throughout our body such as mood, sleep, appetite, immune system, pain sensation.
Scientists discovered the first cannabinoid receptor in 1988, and by 1993, they had identified a second receptor. In 1995, the two receptors were classified as the CB1 and CB2 receptors.
CB1 receptors are found abundantly in regions of the brain responsible for mental and physiological processes such as memory, high cognition, emotion, and motor coordination, while CB2 receptors are found throughout the central nervous and immune systems.
The interaction between the CB1 and CB2 receptors with cannabinoids like CBD and THC is the catalyst for health benefits such as pain relief, anxiety relief, appetite stimulation, mood management and more.
Because THC and CBD have different molecular structures, they do not interact with the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the same manner. This greatly differentiates the effects each has on the body, which is likely the biggest concern when comparing CBD to THC.
Without cannabinoids cannabis would only be a decorative plant, not a healing plant, nor would it have any recreational value.
What is THC?
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main chemical compound in cannabis. Well known for its psychoactive effects, THC alters your mental state. While it also has medicinal benefits, like stimulating your appetite, combating insomnia, and lessening depression symptoms, THC gives you a “cerebral high.”
The higher percentage of THC, the higher you will likely feel.
What is CBD?
CBD, or cannabidiol, has gained recent popularity for its myriad of healing properties. In short, CBD is the non-psychoactive cannabinoid used to treat a wide range of medical conditions. CBD will not create a psychoactive effect, in fact, it can counter the cerebral effects of THC. CBD is used in medicinal tinctures, salves, edibles, and other medically focused cannabis products.
CBD vs THC: How Each Affects the Body
While CBD and THC both bind to the CB2 receptor, they interact with the CB1 receptors in different ways.
Because of its molecular structure, THC is able to bind directly with CB1 receptors. When this bond is formed, the reaction creates signals that are sent to the brain, which results in the psychoactive effects of “getting high.”
In stark contrast, research shows that CBD does not bond directly with the CB1 receptor, and its presence can even negate the bond between THC and the CB1 receptors, effectively neutralizing the psychoactive effects induced by THC.
While THC certainly offers tremendous health benefits, its mind-altering effects aren’t preferred by everyone. CBD, on the other hand, can deliver many of the same benefits of THC without inducing its psychoactive effects.
CBD vs THC: Conclusion
In closing, CBD and THC share many similarities, but they also have distinct differences. It seems that neither CBD or THC is better than the other. Both cannabinoids offer tremendous health benefits, and either both or one of the other could provide the relief you need.
To some, the psychoactive effects of THC could be a benefit instead of a negative side effect. It’s all based on the needs of the individual.

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