THC and CBD both come from cannabis, but they have different effects on the body and mind, and they aren’t always legal. Learn more. Is CBD psychoactive? Many people are wondering since pro-cannabis laws came into effect. Here, a chart to learn the differences between CBD and THC.
CBD vs. THC: What’s the Difference?
You’re probably hearing a lot about cannabis and marijuana products as they become legal in more and more states. Two natural compounds are getting the most attention: CBD and THC.
Cannabis is a plant that makes a thick substance full of compounds called cannabinoids. There are more than 100 of these chemicals in cannabis. They cause drug-like reactions in your body.
CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) are the most common cannabinoids found in cannabis products.
THC and CBD are in both marijuana and hemp. Marijuana contains much more THC than hemp, while hemp has a lot of CBD.
CBD and THC have the same chemical formula — 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms. The difference lies in the way the atoms are arranged. That gives CBD and THC different chemical properties, and they affect your body differently.
Both CBD and THC work with receptors that release neurotransmitters in your brain. They can affect things like pain, mood, sleep, and memory.
How CBD and THC Affect the Body
THC is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana. It’s what makes people feel “high.”
We have two types of cannabinoid receptors in our bodies. THC binds with receptors — mostly in the brain — that control pain, mood, and other feelings. That’s why THC can make you feel euphoric and give you that so-called high.
CBD doesn’t cause that high. Instead, it’s thought to work with other elements in the body linked to feelings of well-being.
People take CBD products to help with everything from arthritis and Crohn’s disease to diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Some say it helps with anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. So far, there’s little evidence that CBD helps with any of these.
The FDA has approved one CBD-based drug. Epidiolex is a treatment for several severe forms of rare childhood epilepsy.
CBD is a hot topic for researchers. The National Institutes of Health clinical trials database shows more than 160 trials involving CBD that are either active or recruiting.
Some states authorize the use of THC as part of medical marijuana, THC may help ease things like:
- Problems with concentration
- Memory loss
Side effects from CBD can include:
- Upset stomach
CBD can also change the way some medicines work. Talk with your doctor about it.
Laws are changing all the time on cannabis. Many states allow medical marijuana, containing THC, for several uses, but it is still illegal under federal law. Some states have made recreational marijuana with THC legal for personal use. But it’s also illegal under U.S. law.
As part of the Farm Bill in December 2018, Congress legalized hemp. But there are still rules about where and how you can sell products that contain CBD. You can’t sell some across state lines, for example. All CBD products are illegal if they’re sold with the promise of medical benefits.
Check your state’s laws before buying products with CBD or THC.
National Cancer Institute: “Cannabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ) — Patient Version.”
Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience: “Cannabis, cannabinoids, and health.”
Echo Connection: “4 Differences Between CBD and THC,” “What Are the Differences Between CBD and THC?”
American Council on Science and Health: “CBD And THC – The Only Difference Is One Chemical Bond.”
Harvard Health Publishing: “Answers to the top questions about cannabis extract,” “Medical marijuana.”
FDA: “FDA approves first drug comprised of an active ingredient derived from marijuana to treat rare, severe forms of epilepsy.”
U.S. National Library of Medicine ClinicalTrials.gov: “CBD.”
UW Health: “Do You Vomit When You Smoke Pot? Here’s Why.”
Alcohol and Drug Foundation: “Medical cannabis.”
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Marijuana and Cannabinoids.”
Key Differences to Know About CBD vs. THC
Jaime Herndon is a freelance health/medical writer with over a decade of experience writing for the public.
Verywell Health articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and healthcare professionals. These medical reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.
David Snyder, PharmD, BCPP, is a board-certified clinical pharmacist and psychopharmacology expert at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts.
Cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are both substances that are extracted from various species of plants in the Cannabis genus. However, they are two distinct compounds with different effects. They are not the same thing.
In 2018, the Farm Bill was signed into law. It removed hemp (a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant) and derivatives of cannabis with low levels of THC (0.3% or less) from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act.
Read on for more information about CBD and THC, and what to keep in mind about these substances.
Kanawa_Studio / Getty Images
There are many misconceptions and much misinformation circulating. When reading about CBD and THC, it’s essential to know what various terms mean. Without knowing what different terms mean, it’s easy to get confused.
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the naturally occurring substance in the cannabis plant that produces the “high” or the effects of marijuana.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a cannabinoid compound found in the cannabis plant. It does not produce a high because it does not have THC in it. It can produce relaxation or sleepiness. It has antioxidant (neutralizes destructive oxygen free radicals in cells) and anti-inflammatory properties.
|CBD vs. THC Chart|
|Source||Aerial parts of the cannabis plant (stalk, leaves, flower), can be derived from low-THC hemp.||Leaves and the flowering part of the cannabis plant|
|Psychoactive Effects||There is no high, but it can promote relaxation and reduce anxiety and depression.||Euphoria, heightened senses, changes in time perception|
|Medicinal Effects||Anti-seizure effect, pain relief, reduces inflammation||Tachycardia (increased heart rate), increased appetite|
|Legality||Technically legal federally, state legality depends on the state||Not legal federally, state legality varies by state|
|Detected on Drug Test||Cannabidiol is not detected, but if the preparation has any THC in it, that could be detected.||Yes|
Hemp vs. Marijuana
Hemp and marijuana are technically the same kind of plant—cannabis. However, hemp plants have no more than 0.3% (by dry weight) of THC. Marijuana has 5%–20% THC. Hemp cannot get you high.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a psychoactive substance is a substance that, when consumed, impacts mental processes (thinking, mood, perception, consciousness). This definition doesn’t necessarily only refer to recreational drugs—it can also include substances like nicotine or caffeine.
Synthetic vs. Natural
Synthetic CBD is made in a lab with chemical or biological ingredients. Natural CBD is taken from cannabis plants.
Both CBD and THC are cannabinoids from the plant Cannabis sativa. They both have the same chemical makeup: 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms. However, the arrangement of the atoms differs. The body reacts to them as two different substances.
Effects of CBD vs. THC
The effects of CBD and THC on the body are quite different. Knowing the difference between the two can help you know what to expect if you use these substances.
CBD can have many different medicinal effects, and has multiple mechanisms of action—at least 20 have been identified thus far. It has been found to:
- Mediate antiepileptic effects: It binds to a protein called GPR55 that triggers seizures.
- Mediate pain signaling and inflammation: It acts on receptors in these pathways.
- Relieve neuropathic pain and have an antidepressant effect: It acts like selective serotonin receptor inhibitors (SSRIs), which are medications used to treat depression.
- Decrease psychotic symptoms: This effect may be seen in people with schizophrenia (a mental health condition in which there is an altered perception of reality). It may have an additive effect when used with traditional antipsychotic drugs (when used together, there may be better control of hallucinations and delusions).
- Reduce anxiety symptoms
More studies are needed to evaluate CBD’s mechanisms of action and whether its effects are clinically significant consistently.
Drugs with cannabinoids (CBD and/or THC) can be helpful in treating nausea and vomiting in people undergoing cancer chemotherapy, and weight loss and loss of appetite associated with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and AIDS. They may also help with chronic pain and symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
CBD is not used as a recreational drug like marijuana is. While it can help you feel more relaxed or less anxious, it doesn’t make you “high.”
Recreationally, effects of THC can include:
- Alteration of the senses
- Alteration of your sense of time
- Mood changes
- Trouble with body movement
- Impaired memory
- Trouble thinking or problem-solving
- Hallucinations or delusions (losing touch with reality): Risk is highest when regularly using high-potency marijuana.
Industrial and Cosmetic Uses of CBD
CBD can offer relief for various conditions, including skin and cosmetic disorders such as eczema (an inflammatory skin condition) and psoriasis (an autoimmune skin condition).
The human endocannabinoid system (ECS) helps with bodily homeostasis (maintaining a steady state). It helps to maintain skin homeostasis, and when it is dysregulated (out of balance), hyper/hypopigmentation (skin patches with increased or decreased color), atopic dermatitis, hair growth or loss, itch, and acne can occur.
Because CBD has anti-inflammatory properties, it can help with disorders that cause inflammation and/or itching, like atopic dermatitis. More research needs to be done, but CBD may also help with acne because it may inhibit bacterial growth and the production of more oil-making skin cells.
Although CBD shows promise for cosmetic uses for the skin and hair, more studies need to be done to evaluate its effectiveness.
Although CBD is not a psychoactive substance, it isn’t legal in every state. In order for CBD to be legal in your state, it needs to be legal at both the federal and state levels.
While the Farm Bill legalized the production of any part of the cannabis plant with a THC concentration of 0.3% or lower, states have the final say.
CBD Legal States
Even though CBD cannot get you “high,” it is not legal in every state. While some states have no restrictions on CBD, others have legalized CBD only for medical purposes. Some regulate it depending on whether it was derived from hemp or marijuana. Others have not legalized it at all.
Laws continuously change. Before you purchase or use any CBD product, even without THC, it’s best to check your state laws. One resource to do so is the National Conference of State Legislatures, on their State Medical Cannabis Laws page.
THC Legal States
Laws regarding THC are actively changing. It is important to check the most current laws in each state. Some state laws vary in the level of THC that is legal, or for what purpose THC can be consumed.
The National Conference of State Legislatures State Medical Cannabis Laws page may be helpful, as is the state information at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) website.
On a Drug Test
Drug tests specifically look for THC and its breakdown products. CBD should not produce a positive test.
While CBD shouldn’t show up on a drug test, some CBD products do have THC, so it may cause a positive THC result on a drug test. Many CBD products are not regulated, so you don’t know what exactly is in them or how much THC they contain.
The bottom line is that if CBD or THC is illegal in your state or is forbidden in your workplace, it’s best to not use them or limit your usage.
As with any ingested substance, there are potential side effects to both CBD and THC. Additional side effects of CBD than the ones already listed can include:
- Changes in alertness, usually drowsiness
- Gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea or lack of appetite
- Mood changes like irritability or agitation
Side effects of THC (in addition to the recreational ones) may include:
- Changes in blood pressure and heart rate
- Red eyes
- Increased risk of mood disorders
- Lung irritation with chronic usage
Types of CBD and THC
There are different types of CBD and THC. Knowing the differences can help you make a choice about which is best for you.
The types of CBD include:
- Whole plant CBD: Uses all of the hemp compounds but is usually too thick for general use
- Full spectrum CBD: Contains none of the waxes or oils from whole plant CBD, but has traces of THC
- Broad spectrum CBD: Contains no THC but has other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids
- Pure CBD (isolate): Contains only CBD, no THC, and no other compounds
The types of THC include:
- THC-a: This is the most common type of THC in cannabis, and is the precursor to the other kinds. It does not produce psychoactive effects.
- Delta 9 THC: This is responsible for producing the typical psychoactive effects of marijuana, and also helps relieve bodily tension and increases appetite.
- Delta 8 THC: This makes up less than 1% of the cannabis plant and is supposed to be half as psychoactive as delta 9.
- THCP (tetrahydrocannabiphorol): This is said to have approximately 33% more potency and strength than delta 9 but medicinal benefits are unknown.
- THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin): This is not as effective in binding to receptors. In large doses it can be psychoactive, but not in low doses.
While CBD and THC are from the same plant, the cannabis plant, they are very different. Both can increase relaxation and sleepiness, improve mood, and relieve pain, but CBD does not have the same psychoactive properties that THC does.
There are different kinds of CBD. It’s good to know what kind you are using because some may have traces of THC in them. Knowing more about CBD and THC can help you make informed decisions about what you choose to consume.
A Word From Verywell
While CBD and THC may be legal in some states, in other states there are restrictions on both. Before ordering or using these substances, it’s always a good idea to check the laws in your state about both CBD and THC.
Frequently Asked Questions
Smoking a product containing THC (like a marijuana “joint”) or vaping CBD oil can start relieving pain in a few minutes. Creams and edibles can take a bit longer, even up to a few hours for edibles, since they have to go through the digestive tract.
The effects of delta-8 THC are more potent than CBD. Whereas CBD does not get you high, delta-8 does. It is similar to delta-9, which produces the high and side effects of marijuana than it is to CBD.
Everyone’s experience with THC or CBD is different. While THC in low doses tends to reduce anxiety, THC has been shown to increase anxiety in high doses. CBD has been found to decrease anxiety at multiple doses.
It’s good to let your healthcare provider know if you use CBD or THC. They can interact with certain medications and may cause physical health issues, so your healthcare provider should know if you use these substances.