The Difference Between THC & CBD

Cannabis is having a cultural moment right now. And it’s about time. Everyone from business suits to grandmas are curious about the beneficial effects of this powerful plant. However, even the stoniest of stoners have a hard time explaining the main component of cannabis medicine: the cannabinoids.

Cannabinoids are the driving force behind the many medicinal properties associated with cannabis. There are many cannabinoids inside cannabis’ plant matrix that work together with other compounds to produce the overall experience felt from consumption.

But for the purpose of this piece we are going to dive into the two major cannabinoids, THC and CBD, and try to remove some of the mystery associated with their purported properties.

Cannabis has a diverse range of secondary compounds within its plant matrix. The diversity of its secondary compounds is what makes cannabis so medicinal. Cannabinoids make up the main class of secondary compounds found in cannabis. If you think of the cannabis experience as a car, you can think of the cannabinoids as the engine. They are the driving force behind the many medicinal properties associated with cannabis. They are also responsible for getting us high. That deliciously euphoric cerebral experience would not be possible without the cannabinoids.

The two major cannabinoids found in cannabis are THC and CBD. If you know anything about cannabis, you are probably aware of THC. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main psychoactive component of cannabis. And for a long time it was the only compound associated with the cannabis plant. Drug tests designed to detect weed test for THC. Until recently, THC was the solo star of the cannabis plant. But with the implementation of regulated legal cannabis programs, a new star is on the rise. And that star is CBD. CBD, or cannabidiol, is the second most prominent compound found in cannabis, however it has quite a different impact on human physiology compared to THC.

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THC is responsible for the psychoactive experience associated with cannabis. In other words, it’s the compound that will get you really damn high. However, THC is not just a one trick pony - it is also associated with many medicinal properties. Research has shown that THC can act as an anti-inflammatory and analgesic agent. It also has many reported anti-proliferative properties that may explain why cannabis can be so effective at fighting cancer. It can even help some people reduce their anxiety, relax and de-stress.

On the other hand, too much THC may cause anxiety. An almost universal experience among novice cannabis users goes something like - I took a huge bong rip at a party once and couldn’t speak for hours because I thought everyone hated me OR I tried one of my friends homemade pot brownies and thought that I was going to die. These anxious, paranoid experiences are almost always a result of a THC overdose. Too much THC gets the heart pumping, the ears thumping and the thought spirals winding into strange, uncharted territories. So if you’re a novice cannabis user, looking to get down with a good time or a patient looking to cannabis for its variety of medical benefits, THC may be the cannabinoid for you! But make sure to start slow to avoid an uncomfortable experience. Take half of a hit of a joint, ingest 2mg THC to begin with. A little goes a long way.

Unlike THC, CBD does not induce the intoxicating high that can make for a great time or an anxious meltdown. However, CBD is still considered to be psychoactive. This is because CBD does engage with receptors in our central nervous system, or psyche, to induce changes in our physiology. CBD is associated with a plethora of medicinal properties. These include, but are not limited to anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anxiolytic, anti-spasmodic, anti-proliferative, muscle relaxing properties. CBD can help manage many ailments including autoimmune disorders, anxiety, depression, neuropathy, digestive disorders, seizure disorders, the list goes on and on.

CBD also helps to cut the intoxicating experience mediated by THC. For this reason, I like to call CBD the epipen of cannabis. If you’re in the middle of a THC-induced paranoia episode, consuming CBD may help to bring you back down to earth. Because consuming CBD does not usually have intoxicating effects it is a good place for a novice consumer to start experimenting with cannabis. The best analogy used to describe CBD’s influence on mood compares the experience to a lengthy soak in a hot tub. When you exit a hot tub after soaking for hours, the body typically feels very relaxed, sometimes the muscles even feel heavy, and the mind is calm and dreamy. This is most usually the effect felt from consuming CBD.

Because CBD is not associated with the ‘drug-cultivar’ cannabis, like THC is, it is accessible nationwide. If you’re interested in trying CBD medicine but don’t live in a legal state, look no further than your neighborhood health food store or online marketplace. Just be careful of the source - make sure the company is reputable and tests their products for both potency and pesticides.   

While THC and CBD are different in their effects and associated properties, it’s important to note that they often work better together. THC is the yin to CBD’s yang and oftentimes patients and consumers experience a more beneficial reaction when there’s a balance of both cannabinoids in relatively equal concentration.

Whether you’re seeking a purely medicinal experience or looking to have a good time, cannabis has got you covered. And it all starts with the cannabinoids - THC and CBD. Now that you know a bit more about what each cannabinoid is all about, it’s just about finding the ratio of these cannabinoids that might work best for you.


Russo, Ethan & Marcu, Jahan. (2017). Cannabis Pharmacology: The Usual Suspects and a Few Promising Leads. Advances in Pharmacology. 80. . 10.1016/bs.apha.2017.03.004.