Perhaps the most dramatic difference between cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is that CBD is legal in many countries, while THC is illegal. However, it gets a little more complicated than that… or rather it’s not that simple.
CBD is not psychoactive, while THC is
There are approaching 130 different chemicals in the cannabis plant, of which two have the focus of much of today’s attention. Cannabis, ‘dope’, ‘weed’, ‘ganja, ‘grass’ or whatever you choose to call it, is a recreational drug which often has a dual effect on users. On the one hand it helps to relax you and helps you to ‘chill’, while on the other hand it can also make you feel ‘spaced out’, ‘detached’ and ‘high’. Research has shown that it is the CBD in cannabis that helps you to relax, while it is the THC which gives you a high through its psychotropic (mind-bending) properties.
How CBD and THC react with the body
Remarkably, CBD and THC are incredibly similar in their chemical make-up, both comprising 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. However, these atoms are arranged differently in the two, which is why they have a different effect. These molecules both interact with neurotransmitters in the brain, but not with the same ones. Neurotransmitters are signals from the brain that release messages to various cells throughout your body and can, therefore, affect levels of pain, immune function, sleep., levels of stress, etc. THC binds specifically with 1(CB1) receptors, which produce the sense of euphoria, or a ‘high’, while CBD does not, but instead can bind with other receptors as we have mentioned.
CBD can come from hemp extract, THC doesn’t
While the hemp plant comes from the cannabis sativa strain of cannabis plant, hemp itself is not the drug ‘cannabis’ as it contains at best only trace amounts of THC. Cannabis plants grown for the purposes of creating the drug cannabis have very high levels of THC and some strains even have very low levels of CBD as some scientists believe that CBD can inhibit the binding of THC with 1(CB1) receptors in the brain, thus diminishing the ‘high’. This helps to explain why some cannabis is ‘stronger’ than others in its psychotropic strength. It is just as well that hemp only has trace levels of THC as it is often used as feedstock for cattle and heaven only knows how difficult it would be to milk half-stoned cows!
Even the medical benefits of CBD and THC are different
Many of you may be wondering why there is still a strong group of people lobbying for the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes, especially as only a few countries have so far chosen to do so, when CBD is non-hallucinogenic and can be extracted and separated from the cannabis plant and THC. That is because THC has also been shown to have medical benefits along with CBD, as detailed in our blog post on The Health Benefits of CBD. As a consequence, simply legalising CBD will not help those suffering from illnesses that involve severe pain, inflammation and seizures.
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