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THC vs CBD- What Are the Differences Between These Cannabinoids?

Estimated reading time: 3 min

There are a total of 113 chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant which aren’t found anywhere else in nature. Scientists call these chemical compounds ‘cannabinoids’.  THC and CBD are two of the most prominent of these compounds, and each has different properties (and some striking differences) to the other. Here we examine the difference between THC and CBD to give you a greater understanding of these chemical compounds. Arming yourself with knowledge gives you the power of understanding!  

What is THC?

“THC” is the acronym for the full name of the chemical compound called ‘tetrahydrocannabinol’. A leading biochemical neuropharmacologist called Dr Allyn Howlett made the discovery about the powerful connection between cannabinoids and the human endocannabinoid system in 1988. THC is psychoactive, which means that when ingested it can bring about the ‘high’ or ‘stoned’ feeling users associate with cannabis. The word ‘psychoactive’ refers to the way this compound activates certain psychological responses in the brain. 

How Does THC Get You High?

To explain it  very simply… There are receptors in the brain (CB1 and CB2) which concentrate on the brain and central nervous system. When THC cannabinoids are ingested, they enter the bloodstream and bind to these receptors in the brain which in turn stimulates the release of dopamine. This release creates a sense of relaxation and happiness in the user. This is the ‘high’ feeling craved by cannabis users and one of the reasons that cannabis users value strains of cannabis with a highly potent concentration of THC. 

What Else Does THC Do?

The cannabinoid THC is so inextricably linked with recreational cannabis users that it is sometimes overlooked as being beneficial for anything else in the body. Whilst cannabis users experience changes in the brain from ingesting THC, there are also ECS receptors all through the body and so THC has certain other physiological effects, not just in the brain. Studies have shown that THC (and other cannabinoids such as CBD) can have anti-inflammatory effects on the body which can lead to a reduction in pain. Studies into this fascinating area of research are ongoing, but the early indications of cannabinoids as having medicinal benefits are promising.   

Is THC Legal in the UK?

In a nutshell, no. In the UK, THC is listed as a controlled substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. 

What is CBD?

“CBD” is the acronym for the chemical compound ‘cannabidiol’.CBD is a safe and non-toxic herbal supplement derived from the hemp plant.  It is one of the numerous cannabinoids that is extracted from the hemp plant in order to produce CBD oil. It is naturally occurring and like THC, CBD interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system but they have very different effects.. Reports show that incorporating CBD into your daily routine has the power to reset/correct feelings of wellbeing due to it effectively restoring our existing natural cannabinoid system.  

Is CBD Legal in the UK?

Unlike THC, CBD doesn’t bind with the CB1 receptors in your brain and so has no effect on your perception or sensory experiences so simply put – yes, CBD is safe and legal in the UK. CBD oil can only contain tiny, often undetectable, trace levels ofTHC to be legally sold in the UK. 

The Science

Both THC and CBD have the exact same molecular structure: 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. The molecular mass of each compound is practically identical, with THC and CBD having masses of 314.469 g/mol 314.464 g/mol, respectively. 

The different effects on your body are accounted for by the slight difference in how the atoms are arranged. Both compounds are what is known as ‘cyclic compounds’ which mean their atoms form a ring. CBD has an open ring, whilst THC has a closed ring. 

The Chemistry of THC

The molecular formula is C₂₁H₃₀O₂. THC (Δ9- tetrahydrocannabinol) is the active chemical in cannabis. Dronabinol is an isomer of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that is the main and most active isomer found in the Cannabis plant. Dronabinol can be used orally via a capsule to treat nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy as well as weight loss and poor appetite in patients with AIDS. There is also some experimentation with using THC to help treat anorexia and other eating disorders as it is known to increase appetite in the user.

The Chemistry of CBD

Just like THC, the molecular formula of CBD is also C₂₁H₃₀O₂. CBD is a phytocannabinoid that binds to a variety of targets of the endocannabinoid system within the body. According to the National Centre of Biotechnology Information, CBD has analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antineoplastic and chemopreventive activities. There are clinical indications (and swathes of anecdotal evidence) that show CBD to have neuroprotective, antiepileptic, antipsychotic, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-asthmatic, and antitumor properties.  

The Differences Between CBD and THC in a Nutshell

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