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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? They differ in effects, structure, legality and benefits – get the truth on the difference between CBD and THC here in our guide. 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.

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.

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Clarifying Terms

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
CBD THC
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.

Psychoactive

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.

Chemical Differences

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.

Medicinal

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.

Recreational

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.

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Although CBD shows promise for cosmetic uses for the skin and hair, more studies need to be done to evaluate its effectiveness.

What’s Legal?

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.

Side Effects

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.

Summary

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.

CBD vs THC

UNDERSTANDING THE DIFFERENCES
BETWEEN CBD AND THC

Understanding the effects of CBD is confusing when THC is sometimes mentioned too. Do they come from the same plant? Do they both make you ‘high’? How are they different, and how does a game of CBD vs THC play out? In order to help you, we’ve put together an informative guide on how to explain their differences.

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Explained by our CEO Dr. Henry Vincenty

What is CBD?

CBD stands for Cannabidiol
It’s a cannabinoid – a natural compound – that’s found in cannabis plants (also known as Cannabis sativa). It is not considered a controlled substance and is 100% non-psychoactive, which means it doesn’t make you feel “high”.

What is THC?

THC stands for Tetrahydrocannabinol
Is also a cannabinoid found in cannabis plants (there are over 100 different cannabinoids in total). THC is the compound that’s responsible for causing the marijuana ‘high’. Because it’s considered a controlled substance, it is often deemed illegal.

DOES CBD HAVE THC IN IT?

CBD does not have any THC in it as they are two different compounds.

However, it’s important to know that CBD hemp products often have a very small percentage (0.2%) of THC, due to both compounds being in the cannabis plant when the CBD product is made – be it tinctures, oils, edibles, etc.

The main differences lie in how differently they react and affect the body. When introduced to your system CBD and THC both interact and have an effect on the endocannabinoid system.

IS CBD PSYCHOACTIVE?

The cannabidiol compound isn’t psychoactive, its chemical structure doesn’t allow it to bind to your body’s cannabinoid receptors. CBD and THC may look very similar in chemical structure but this subtle change lowers CBD’s binding affinity and causes it to have mild stimulating effects and helps your receptors to create more endocannabinoids, while THC alters the function of cannabinoid receptors by binding to them.

HOW IS CBD DIFFERENT TO THC?

The main difference between CBD and THC is the effects they have on you.
Put simply, THC gets you ‘high’ while CBD won’t.

This is because CBD does not bind effectively to our endocannabinoid system – the body’s unique system that regulates elements such as sleep, appetite, and our immune system. It’s this binding action that gives you that ‘high’ feeling.

THC initiates a psychological response via the endocannabinoid system’s cannabinoid 1 receptors (CB1), found primarily in the central nervous system and the brain. When the CB1 receptor is activated, it produces a psychoactive effect.

CBD doesn’t bind with the CB1 receptors and so has no effect on your perception or sensorial experiences. In fact, research has suggested that when CBD is taken with THC, it can lessen the psychotropic effects of THC by suppressing the CB1-activating qualities and so protecting the consumer from getting too high.

THEIR ATOMIC ARRANGEMENT IS DIFFERENT

Without getting too scientific, CBD and THC may share the same chemical composition, but their atomic arrangements are different.

Both of them are considered cyclic compounds, which means one or more of the atoms in the compounds connect to form a ring. CBD has an open ring, while THC has a closed ring.

Why does this matter? It’s this arrangement that means they interact differently with the endocannabinoid system’s receptors.

CBD IS ABUNDANT IN HEMP,
THC DOMINATES OTHER FORMS OF CANNABIS

While THC and CBD are both found in cannabis plants, THC is most plentiful in other forms of cannabis while CBD is found in higher quantities in hemp.

Hemp is dominated by CBD. In order for a cannabis plant to be classified as ‘hemp’, its THC content is to be no more than 0.3%.

When other types of cannabis are grown, the THC content tends to be maximized to produce more powerful intoxicating effects.

CAN YOU SMOKE CBD OIL?

While cannabis is often synonymous with smoking, smoking CBD oil is not advisable. There are other forms of CBD available that are more suitable for smoking, this includes CBD crystals (CBD isolate), hemp flowers, and CBD e-liquid. Handheld and tabletop vaporizers or e-cigarettes are popular for smokers that want an alternative to the traditional rolling papers and natural flowers.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU SMOKE CBD OIL?

Most CBD oils are made with carrier oils such as hemp seed oil, olive oil, or coconut oil. As with any oil-based product, when heated at high temperatures it can be dangerous, causing smoke, damage to the integrity of the cannabinoid, or cause injury to your lungs if inhaled. Smoking CBD can be achieved through none oil-based products.

WHAT DOES SMOKING CBD DO?

The inhalation method has a high bioavailability and is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream through the lungs. Smoking CBD gives fast results, However, this method does have the risk of inhaling toxic chemicals if you use low-quality e-liquid or Isolate products. CBD Isolates and e-liquids must be high quality and pure to make sure they aren’t mixed with dangerous chemicals that could do damage to your lungs or harm your health. Always do your own research before smoking CBD.

DOES CBD WORK BETTER WITH THC?

In a 1998 study by Professors Raphael Mechoulam and Shimon Ben-Shabat, it was discovered that cannabinoid activity is increased when there is a broad spectrum of cannabinoid present at one time.

This effect is called the ‘entourage effect’ which sees cannabinoids work in synergy with each other to enhance their effects. Full-spectrum and broad-spectrum formulas contain more than just CBD and are thought to be more effective than when CBD is used by itself.

HOW DOES CBD AFFECT THC?

Medical studies into the effects of CBD show it has the ability to lessen the psychoactive effects of THC, it is thought that the ‘entourage effect’ – when there’s more than one compound present at a time, helps regulate the effect of each cannabinoid, causing a balancing effect in the plant. CBD works in partnership with other cannabinoids to regulate the effects of THC.

IS THERE CBD IN MARIJUANA?

Marijuana contains high amounts of THC (of up to 30%) and low amounts of CBD. The composition of each type of cannabis plant has different levels of cannabinoids, which gives each species varying effects. No one cannabis species has just one type of cannabinoid. There are over 100 different variations found in the plant, which includes CBD, CBC, CBN, CBG, and many more.

We are avid believers in the wonderful benefits of CBD oil. And medical studies have suggested that CBD can help with social anxiety and panic attacks.

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THC, on the other hand, can in fact worsen anxiety and increase paranoia in some people, as suggested by other medical studies. However, some studies have suggested that when THC is combined with CBD, the negative effects are lessened.

HEMP-DERIVED CBD IS LEGAL IN MOST COUNTRIES.
THC IS NOT.

Other forms of cannabis and cannabis-derived CBD will get you ‘high’ because of their large amounts of THC (around 30%). This means that they’re often illegal in many countries around the world.

However, when CBD is derived from the hemp plant, it has such minute levels of THC that many countries have no laws against its use. Click here to see if CBD is legal in your country.

HOW CBD AND THC INTERACT WITH THE BODY

THC initiates a psychological response via the endocannabinoid system’s cannabinoid 1 receptors (CBD1), found primarily in the central nervous system and the brain. When the CB1 receptor is activated, it produces a psychoactive effect.

CBD doesn’t bind with the CB1 receptors and so has no effect on your perception or sensorial experiences. In fact, research has suggested that when CBD is taken with THC, it can lessen the psychotropic effects of THC by suppressing the CB1-activating qualities and so protecting the consumer from getting too high.

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT CBD & THC PRODUCTS AVAILABLE?

It’s important to remember that while CBD and THC are often delivered together in a CBD product, they have different effects. For example:

High THC + low CBD (e.g. 10-30% THC + trace amounts of CBD):
This will provide that euphoric, ‘high’ feeling.

Balanced CBD/THC (e.g. 5-15% THC and CBD):
This will be a little more euphoric than CBD -strong strains, but it is less likely to induce THC’s negative side effects in the consumer such as paranoia and anxiety.

High CBD + low THC (e.g. 5-20% CBD + THC under 5%):
This will not get you high and can, in fact, provide some wonderful benefits.

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.

Chemical Structure

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.

Medical Benefits

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:

Side Effects

  • Problems with concentration
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Balance
  • Memory loss

Side effects from CBD can include:

  • Nausea
  • Upset stomach
  • Tiredness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Crankiness
  • Drowsiness

CBD can also change the way some medicines work. Talk with your doctor about it.

What’s Legal?

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.

Show Sources

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.”

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