A lot has been written about cannabis, with two main active ingredients; tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD (cannabidiol), as the main focus. What makes these compounds unique is the way they interact with the endocannabinoid system through brain receptors called CB1; and the immune system, through CB2 receptors located in the brain. Both CBD and THC have been widely studied for the complexity with which they generate relief from common ailments. 

Cannabis may have gained popularity as a recreational drug but the rampant growth of CBD as an “alternative” remedy has generated interest in the use of cannabinoids such as THC in the health sector.

But in order to understand how these two compounds are used to benefit human health, and minimize confusion among users, we need to take a closer look at both CBD and THC. 

What is CBD?

CBD (cannabidiol) is one of many cannabinoids present in cannabis and hemp.CBD shares the same molecular formula as THC, but with slight differences, in the way, certain elements are arranged. To be specific, CBD is made up of 30 hydrogen atoms, 21 carbon atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. The way these atoms are arranged accounts for the differences in CBD and THC, and this is experienced in the way these compounds affect your body. 

Just like THC, cannabidiol affects the human body through two mechanisms; the endocannabinoid system, and the immune system. The brain receptors used by your body to regulate processes such as sleep, appetite, and pain, are CB1 and CB2. These receptors are naturally made to work with endocannabinoids (compounds produced by the body) and is through these mechanisms that CBD (which is also a cannabinoid) influences your body.

CBD is used as a natural remedy for different ailments such as:

  • Pain 
  • Nausea
  • Appetite
  • Opioid addiction
  • Menstrual problems 
  • Anxiety 
  • Neurological disorders 
  • Digestion problems
  • Skin infections, and many more.

One thing that makes CBD different from THC is the fact that it doesn’t cause euphoria. The effects are subtle and many people use it the same way as a vitamin supplement; basically to improve health, or treat a specific condition – but not to get high.

What Is THC?

In many ways, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) works the same way as CBD, with one main difference, it is notoriously psychotropic. 

THC is found in high concentrations in cannabis (both Indica and Sativa) but is more dominant in Indica. THC and CBD are the main active compounds in cannabis; however, commercial CBD is usually extracted from Sativa hemp plants, which contain CBD in higher amounts than in regular marijuana plants. 

THC is not normally extracted as an individual compound, but it can be. As a natural remedy, THC (along with CBD and other cannabinoids) may be packaged as an oil form or used to create a variety of products such as edibles, lotions, beverages, and even supplements. 

When used as an alternative remedy, THC engages CB1 and CB2 receptors to improve processes such as:

  • Pain sensitivity 
  • Neurological function 
  • Hunger
  • Sleep
  • Energy
  • Digestion 
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Skin disorders 
  • Oxidation, and so on.

Due to THC’s psychoactive effects, it does present a significant risk of abuse, especially by younger users. THC is currently being used in combination with other cannabis compounds to make oils (such as full-spectrum CBD oil), although the federal government has placed significant limitations to the purchase and use of THC.

Legal Status: CBD 

Since cannabidiol is non-psychotropic, it has seen a thawing of legal status in both the state and federal levels. The first major breakthrough came with the approval by the FDA of an epilepsy drug called Epidiolex, which is made using CBD. Other government agencies such as the TSA have since allowed people to carry CBD throughout the U.S., but with certain provisions. For your CBD product to be classified as legal, it must be extracted from hemp (not cannabis), and contain THC in excess of .3 percent. 

Legal Status: THC 

For the most part, THC is classified as a Schedule 1 restricted drug. This makes it illegal in most of the country. There are states where “medical marijuana” is legal, though it requires a doctor’s prescription and limitations for how much you’re allowed to possess at a time. 

CBD products containing THC may fall under the category of illegal marijuana, but this usually comes down to state laws and marijuana policy in your district. 

Psychoactive Differences:


  • Technically, CBD is psychoactive, but it won’t get you high. 


  • Like CBD, THC uses brain receptors to cause changes in the body. It is psychotropic. 

Medical Benefits 

CBD oil is particularly important for the treatment of mild ailments; however, THC can also provide relief for many conditions that affect people today. CBD, for instance, is being used to manage addiction, due to its ability to counter the effects of opioids and other compounds including nicotine.

Although cannabinoid research is still new, there remains great optimism for using these compounds as medicine; and with hugely positive results. 

Cite this article as:
Editorial Staff, "The Difference Between CBD And THC (2020 Update)," in Medicalopedia, January 30, 2020, [Permalink: https://www.medicalopedia.org/8292/the-difference-between-cbd-and-thc-2020-update/].