CBD and THC, What Is The Difference?

What’s The Difference?

CBD stands for Cannabidiol, one of the most commonly occurring compounds found in cannabis plants. It’s counterpart, THC, stands for Tetrahydrocannabinol. THC, similar to CBD, is heavily abundant in cannabis plants, but the main difference are the intoxicating effects THC produces.

The intoxicating effects are the main differences between THC and CBD. When recreational marijuana users experience a “high”, THC is responsible. CBD on the other hand does not induce this euphoric/high, and in fact can actually suppress the high feeling THC gives off. Moreover, On the structural level, THC and CBD share similar chemical structures, but there is one crucial difference that determines if the body with experience that intoxicating feeling.

Cannabidiol (CBD)

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)

Pictured above, you will see the CBD & THC compounds displayed. The green arrows found in both images point out the minuscule differences. Upon inspection, you will notice that THC contains a ring-like structure (this is called a cyclic ring), and CBD contains an unfinished ring, (this is called a hydroxyl group). Above all, the slight difference in THC’s structure is the reason marijuana users experience the intoxicating “high”. The difference in structure allows the two compounds to interact with a special body system called The Endocannabinoid System.

What is the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)?

The ECS, as it is often referred to, is a network of receptors found throughout the bodies of nearly every single animal on earth, (Even you!). The main purpose of the ECS is to interact with cannabinoids. Other purposes of the ECS are not fully understood, but scientist and researchers have found that it interacts with a handful of other internal bodily functions.

How Does The ECS Work?

The Endocannabinoid system is a body system made up of receptors and the cannabinoids that interact with them. Within the system reside two main receptors named the CB1 & CB2 receptors. These receptors are the bridge between cannabinoids and the effects they produce. Cannabinoids and receptors as similar to a key and lock. The receptors are “unlocked” by cannabinoids acting as “keys” in order to produce a cannabis user’s desired effect.

Specifically, CB1 receptors are found mostly in the brain and spinal cord (Central nervous system). These receptors are mostly responsible for mental/ physiological processes including the psychoactive effects of THC. On the other hand, CB2 receptors are mostly found in the peripheral nervous and immune system.

Types of Cannabinoids

Phytocannabinoids: These are naturally occurring compounds found in cannabis plants. The prefix “phyto” means light. Therefore, it is fitting as these compounds are created from the result of photosynthesis from sunlight.

Anandamide Structure

Endocannabinoids: The prefix “endo” means within or inner. Endocannabinoids are cannabis related compounds that are created within the human body! Yes, you read that correctly. The human body creates its own cannabis-like compounds that interact with the ECS every single day. The most famous endocannabinoids is called Anandamide. This compound has gained a lot of attention as it appears to be closely related to positive mood and post exercise euphoria: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4620874/ (Study)

Why Does The Structure of CBD Matter?

In conclusion, the slight difference in the CBD structure allows it to attach to different ECS receptors. Different interactions affect the body in a multitude of ways. Therefore, these effects have been the subject of countless studies over the years. One of the most interesting properties of CBD is that it has the ability to act inversely to THC. CBD, in low doses, has shown to have anti-intoxicating effects when coupled with THC. How is this helpful? For instance, some marijuana users have experienced a miserable state of being overly stimulated or “too high” that scientist have named ‘cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome’ (CHS). In this state vomiting and nausea are the most commonly experienced symptoms. However, is that in low dosages CBD has been seen to help reduce the nauseating effects of too much THC.


Hanus. Lumir. O. (2007). Discovery and Isolation of Anandamide and Other Endocannabinoids. Chemisty and Biochemistry. Vol. 4. Pages 1828-1841.

Lee, Martin. A. (2012). Smoke Signals – A Social History of Marijuana Medical, Recreational and Scientific. New York, New York: Scribner.

Pertwee. Roger. G. (2006). Cannabinoid Phamacology: the first 66 years. British Journal of Pharmacology. Vol. 147. Pages 163-171.

Lee, Martin E. “CBD Misconceptions.” Project CBD: Medical Marijuana & Cannabinoid Science, 2 Feb. 2019, www.projectcbd.org/cbd-101/cbd-misconceptions.

Galli, Jonathan A, et al. “Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome.” Current Drug Abuse Reviews, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3576702/.

Fuss, Johannes, et al. “A Runner’s High Depends on Cannabinoid Receptors in Mice.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, National Academy of Sciences, 20 Oct. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4620874/.

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