Here's the difference between CBD and THC
Whether you're trying to master the art of joint rolling or just want to try to alleviate a sore back, every cannabis user should know the difference between CBD and THC.
TL;DR: THC will get you high. CBD probably won't. But it's really more complicated than that.
What are cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are naturally occurring compounds that interact with receptors found throughout the body to achieve certain physiological effects.
Scientists have identified over 100 different cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, but the ones you'll most commonly hear about are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
Humans, along with all vertebrates like dogs, cats, fish, and birds, produce endocannabinoids — neurotransmitters that bind to receptors and impact pain, mood, appetite, sleep, and a variety of other functions.
Exogenous cannabinoids, meanwhile, aren't produced by the body but can be found in marijuana as THC, CBD, and a variety of other compounds.
Why does THC get you high while CBD doesn't?
This part gets complicated, but what you need to know is that THC tends to interact with the parts of your body that makes you feel "high," while CBD tends to interact with the parts that reduces inflammation.
Researchers have identified two receptors in the human body that respond to cannabis, known as CB1 and CB2. These receptors are part of the larger endocannabinoid system, which helps regulate hormone secretion to influence appetite, mood, and energy.
Jeffrey Raber, CEO of California-based cannabis chemistry lab The Werc Shop, says that although CBD and THC have the same atoms, they're rearranged very differently.
"Because of that, it's a wildly different key going into the lock," Raber said in a phone interview.
CB1 receptors are most prominent in the central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are found more in the peripheral nervous system.
It's a lot of confusing phrases — basically, whatever affects CB1 receptors are more likely to have psychoactive effects because they affect the brain and spinal cord. Whatever affects CB2 receptors will likely affect the rest of your body, reducing inflammation without giving you the "high" feeling that weed brings.
THC has an affinity to bind to CB1 receptors: It won't shut off your breathing or heart like opioids do because it doesn't affect the brain stem, but it does trigger that euphoric "high" feeling.
CBD, meanwhile, has a stronger affinity to CB2 receptors, which is why it can reduce inflammation without being psychoactive.
That's not to say that THC will exclusively bind to CB1 and CBD will exclusively bind to CB2.
"It's not like this molecule only reacts with that receptor, and it's only going to do its thing," Raber clarified. CBD may still react with CB1 receptors and THC may still react with CB2 receptors, but both are way more likely to interact with the reverse.
And most CBD products, whether a tincture to help you sleep at night or a shot of oil in your smoothie, won't get you high if it's hemp-derived because hemp products cannot legally be sold if they contain a THC content higher than 0.3 percent.
How do they work together?
Anecdotally, cannabis consumers report less feelings of anxiety and paranoia when they consume products with both THC and CBD, as opposed to products that contain just THC. In one study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, participants who were given CBD before they were administered a dose of pure THC experienced less cognitive impairment and paranoia than participants who only received pure THC. Wired describes CBD as an "antidote" to weed freak outs.
"In a basic sense, the two together act differently than when they are used by themselves," Raber explained in an email. He says that one or both of two actions can happen: receptors can be activated differently, and/or CB1 and CB2 receptors can change.
Essentially, the pathways that your cells communicate through change — if THC and CB1 interact less, you'll experience less psychoactive effects. The presence of CBD, for some reason, makes you feel less high.
"So you are somehow not getting as much THC activity at CB1," Raber said. "Which is therefore lowering the potential for causing anxiety and paranoia."
That still leaves a lot unexplained, but as High Times notes, there's so much more to be studied about cannabis and the brain. Raber says CBD can interact with over 60 receptors in the body, and its full potential is yet to be understood.
All marijuana technically has both THC and CBD, but decades of curating plants without understanding CBD's potential means that weed tends to be very high in THC. CBD content has been overlooked in favor of weed that'll guarantee an extreme high. If you tend to get anxious after smoking weed, try out products that have a more balanced ratio of THC and CBD, or are higher in CBD.
What's the difference between hemp and marijuana?
Hemp and marijuana are both derived from cannabis plants, but industrial hemp can't be more than 0.3 percent THC to be legal under the 2018 Farm Bill. That means that hemp-derived CBD, which is rarely psychoactive, is legal all across the country regardless of whether or not marijuana is legal in a certain state.
That's not to say that all CBD products will be accessible nationwide. The Food and Drug Administration still considers CBD to be a "drug ingredient" and won't allow CBD in food or health products.
Do ratios matter?
The higher the CBD to THC ratio, the less high you'll get. Because CBD counteracts the psychoactive effects of THC, you're more likely to get comfortably stoned on a 1:1 ratio than an 18:1. A 1:1 ratio means that there's the same amount of CBD and THC in the product, whereas an 18:1 ratio means there are 18 parts CBD to one part THC.
That doesn't mean it's an exact science, though. Since marijuana is still federally illegal, clinical trials testing THC/CBD ratios are limited, and many of the reviews are anecdotal. If you want to dabble in ratio dosing, it's pretty much up to you to figure out what works.