If you are acquainted with cannabis and its numerous benefits, you may be aware of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). But you may be wondering what sets one apart from the other. This article explores in detail the five major differences between these two phytocannabinoids and how they interact with the human body to optimize physiological processes.
5 key differences between THC and CBD
1. THC is abundant in marijuana but not in hemp
Many people often mistake hemp and marijuana to mean one and the same thing. Hemp, which is cultivated for industrial uses, ideally should contain less than 0.2% – 0.3% THC. Marijuana, on the other hand, is usually cultivated for recreational use and can contain as much as 25%-30% THC.
Generally, hemp has little amounts of THC and is therefore non-psychoactive. Marijuana, on the other hand, has high amounts of THC and is usually psychoactive. You will understand more about the psychoactive properties of THC later in this article.
2. The difference in Chemical structure
THC and CBD are derived from cannabigerol acid (CBGA). This happens to be the precursor for all cannabinoids as well. CBGA is broken down into THCA and CBDA, which then yield THC and CBD respectively.
The molecules in CBD and THC are identical; they each contain 30 hydrogen atoms, 21 carbon atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. However, their chemical structure is different because of the placement of a single atom.
Whereas THC forms a cyclic ring, CBD forms a hydroxyl group. This slight difference in the arrangement of one atom accounts for the vast differences in how the two compounds interact with the human body.
3. Interaction with cannabinoid receptors
Phytocannabinoids interact with receptors in the cannabinoid system in different ways. This interaction allows them to exert effects that promote homeostasis and promote healing.
There two kinds of cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are prevalent in the central nervous system while the CB2 receptors are prevalent in the immune and peripheral systems.
THC binds directly to the CB1 receptor and is able to cause euphoria due to this interaction. CBD does not bind to either receptor. It interacts indirectly with the CB2 receptors and plays a key role in immune and peripheral systems.
It also follows that CBD does not have any effects in the higher centers meaning that it does not cause psychoactive effects.
CBD vs. THC in Drug testing
Now that we know what sets apart THC from CBD, should any of these make you worried when it comes to taking a drug test? It is first good to note that drug tests ordered by employers or other such parties are mostly screening for the use of illegal substances that may compromise one’s judgment and rationality. They hardly want to check what nutritional regimen a potential employee is following.
Because THC alters the state of the mind causing euphoria, it is a subject of interest for both prospective employers and the government. As it is, marijuana, which contains significant levels of THC, is classified as a schedule 1 drug in the US and is therefore screened for in any standard drug test.
Standard drug tests can either be 5, 10 or 15-panel tests. Whichever the panel, marijuana is usually tested for in all three. Most tests check for the presence of THC or its metabolites in plasma, serum, saliva, and urine or hair specimen. Given the trace amounts of THC in cannabidiol oil derived from hemp, it is highly unlikely that it will cause you to fail a drug test.
Theoretically speaking, if you were to consume the upwards of 1,000mg of cannabidiol daily, you could accumulate enough THC in your system to fail a drug test. But even in this case, most assays are still designed to detect higher amounts of THC; only about 11%-18% of tests can detect such low levels of THC or its metabolites.
Practically speaking, 1,000mg of THC would mean that you are ingesting the equivalent of 40 capsules each containing 25mg of CBD on a daily basis.
Considering this, cannabidiol products obtained from legal hemp in the US have a close to nil chance of making one fail a drug test.
Which Is The Poster Child?
Even with all the differences listed above, THC and CBD have striking similarities. Of all the cannabinoids, they are the most studied and they both offer significant therapeutic benefits.
THC can be used to treat the following:
- Lack of appetite
- Muscle spasticity
CBD can be used to treat the following:
- Mental disorders
For recreational use of cannabis, THC triumphs over CBD. But when it comes to medicinal use, CBD is king! Most patients prefer CBD to THC because the former lack psychoactive properties. Also, in most countries, THC compounds are prohibited.
Is Delta-8THC A Solution For Psychoactive Activity of THC?
Delta 9 Tetrahydrocannabinol is the most commonly known form of THC. The “delta” indicates the place in which a double bond is found on the molecule. Delta 8 is Delta 9’s isomer, which means that it comes with a similar number of atoms in its molecular structure.
The main difference between the two is based on the exact position of the double bond, as it is slightly shifted in the subsequent molecule. This implies that Delta 8 THC is subtly different from Delta 9, and researchers have speculated that its interaction with cannabinoid receptors is different than that of Delta 9 THC. This also means that delta-8-THC does not cause psychoactive effects.
Government researchers in 1974 carried out a study on mice to learn whether Delta 8 THC has harmful effects on the immune system.
Instead, they discovered that cannabinoids have incredible cancer-killing abilities. As this was hard to believe, it took the government decades to admit the relevance of Delta 8 THC. A number of Delta 8 cancer treatment success cases have been reported thereafter, and people are continually appreciating the usefulness of this compound.
The National Cancer Institute reports that Delta 8 THC has the following therapeutic uses:
- Antiemetic: helps in combating nausea
- Anxiolytic: fights anxiety and panic
- Analgesic: relieves pain
- Appetite stimulating
- Neuroprotective: Supports your nerve cells
As much as delta-8-THC cannot be a substitute for delta-9-THC, it offers significant health benefits without causing undesirable psychedelic effects.
1. Medical Express (2019): THC more important for therapeutic effects in cannabis than previously believed. Retrieved from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2019-02-thc-important-therapeutic-effects-cannabis.html
2. National Cancer Institute: Antineoplastic Activity of Cannabinoids. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/jnci/article-abstract/55/3/597/912322?redirectedFrom=fulltext
3. Research Gate: Molecular structure of THC and CBD. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Molecular-structure-of-cannabidiol-CBD-9-tetrahydrocannabinol-THC-11-hydroxy-THC_fig1_321371353
4. National Cancer Institute: Delta-8-THC. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/search/results