What’s the difference between THC and CBD?

With the surging trend or spike in the number of individuals taking CBD oil as a safe and natural medical alternative, the growing inquiry surrounding the matter is one of how it differs from its close relative THC. 

At this point in its developmental history, it is for the most part common knowledge that CBD lacks all of the properties that are responsible for generating a high as is inherent in its cannabinoid cousin THC. Beyond that, there still lies a pressing concern as to what extent it can be distinguished from THC. 

In this article we aim to thoroughly examine the ways in which the two substances differ from one another. 

Molecular Differences:

On a microscopic level, there are many ways in which these very similar molecules bring us back to the seemingly prehistoric days of an introductory biology or chemistry course as you would find in an academic environment. 

At a glance, when scrutinizing both CBD and THC as one would hold a transient microorganism under a microscope, it is at first difficult to notice any hint at a kind of deviation between these two compounds. 

From this vantage point, we see that on a molecular level, that for the most part that the two are nearly identical in formation. 

To summarize, both CBD and THC are two of the most typical chemical compounds that are derived from the cannabis genus of a sum total of over 113 cannabinoids. 

Within this family group, it can be observed how both of these chemical compounds are identical copies of each other in terms of their molecular blueprint, specifically that of C21H30O2. 

Structural Differences: 

The way THC and CBD differ from each other is a complicated area that would require more intensified studies than that provided by your typical, or perhaps even advanced biology or chemistry courses. 

According to Healthcare Weekly, CBD is part of what is called a hydroxyl group, which is a fancy scientific term for describing a functional group wherein the atoms of said molecule create for foreseeable or expected chemical chain reactions, and in this specific exemplification, the hydroxyl group in question is that of OH. 

Conversely, THC forms what is classified as a cyclic ring or compound in this ostensibly insignificant respect, which essentially means that what is happening at this molecular level is that THC forms a closed ring whereas CBD creates for an open ring or group. 

It is this slight deviation that is crucial to a thorough understanding of the differences between these two very similar, yet vastly different cannabinoids. 

When considering different aspects of biochemistry, it is precisely at this given part of our genetic makeup where these different chemical compounds react with our natural cannabinoid receptors. Specifically, receptors involved with what is known as the endocannabinoid system or EC, as well as CB1 and CB2 receptors.

The way in which THC and CBD respectively interact with our receptors has different results on our body.


Generally speaking, the complex network that is our EC system which consists of the previously mentioned CB1 and CB2 receptors is largely responsible for regulating our bodies’ sense of homeostasis. 

Our EC system manages a full gamut of bodily functions including, but certainly not limited to sleep, mood, appetite, pain, fecundity, as well as digestion, and a plethora of other related tasks. 

In summary, the distinguishing factor is found in the way that THC fully attaches, engages with, and binds itself to these specific receptors. THC latches onto the CB1 reactors specifically.

According to CoolThingsChicago, CBD stands out in this process in the way that it has little to no chemistry, or relationship with either of these receptors and instead, acts against THC like cannabinoid antagonists.

CBD more so shows the capacity to interact with other bodily agents such as serotonin and nuclear receptors. 

Key Points:

THC directly affects the central nervous system in its attachment to the CB1 receptors, and as a result, directly impacts our physiological system.

Due to this, THC is known to create psychoactive symptoms and other negative connotations that have been attached to its name. 

With CBD however, the open hydroxyl group addresses various issues within our bodily functions that directly affect inflammation, and as such, the end result is found in the many different treatments, symptoms, and side effects inherent within each of these chemical structures. 

CBD has been known to treat epilepsy, as well as various other neurological disorders of likes Alzheimer’s, Autism, and Parkinson’s disease. 

In addition to providing a natural remedy for pain, the structured use of CBD, protects the brain from injury and disease, acts as aid with sleep, reduces an individual’s anxiety

CBD is also known to help with depression, and other mental health-related symptoms, while also addressing a full spectrum of cardiovascular concerns. 

THC on the other hand, despite the matters of legality surrounding it, and its problematic grey areas, has been proven to reduce neuropathic pain and relieve depression and anxiety.

Just like CBD, THC’s limited use is also known to help individuals with better sleep and aid in the alleviation of muscle tension and spasms. 

So, the next time you find yourself in a heated debate pertaining to the differences between THC and CBD, you can confidently assert yourself that it is strictly a matter of a slight molecular structure along with the deviation and the differing effects they impose on a person’s physiological state.

Legally, all forms of CBD and THC are not legal federally. As you probably know, some states have passed laws for medical and controlled use of these substances. Before you consider the use of these products, it is important to stay up to date with your state laws on the matter and consult a doctor.

Above all, it is now widely known that CBD provides for a great tolerance in high doses but THC can have long term side-effects if taken in high doses.  Restricted use of THC for a specific purpose is considered safe when advised by a doctor while CBD being completely safe is becoming more of a fact as research continues.