Meet tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol – most commonly referred to as THC and CBD. Despite both of these naturally occurring compounds being found in cannabis plants and sharing a similar chemical structure, their impacts on our brains and endocannabinoid systems are incredibly different.
Whether you’re familiar with cannabinoids or are completely new to the world of medicinal cannabis, it’s important to understand the vast differences, benefits, and effects associated with THC and CBD.
Today, we’ll be exploring the similarities and differences between CBD and THC, discussing the potential therapeutic benefits of each cannabinoid, and highlighting important considerations and potential risks for anyone considering exploring medicinal cannabis and natural therapies within their treatment plan.
What Are CBD and THC?
CBD and THC are chemical compounds, also referred to as cannabinoids, that are found in the cannabis plant. Despite their similar origins, CBD and THC both interact with our body’s endocannabinoid system (more on the endocannabinoid system here) in a range of different ways. Establishing the similarities and differences between CBD and THC and their unique impacts on our minds and bodies is the first step towards making more informed decisions about your personal journey with natural therapies
Let’s get started.
What is CBD?
While cannabidiol, also known as CBD, is commonly mislabeled as non-psychoactive, it still carries psychoactive effects – they just differ from those of THC (more on THC below). Unlike THC, CBD is non-psychotropic and does not give a euphoric feeling, or the “high” commonly associated with THC.
Derived from the cannabis plant, CBD is prescribed to some patients for anxiety and pain relief and its anti-inflammatory properties. Research has shown that CBD may also help to boost moods and reduce depression, nausea, vomiting and seizures in some patients.
Patients seeking to reap the therapeutic benefits of medicinal cannabis without experiencing the “high” or euphoric side effects may choose to engage in CBD-based treatments instead of THC.
CBD is considered non-impairing because it does not bind with the body’s CB1 receptor, which is responsible for creating the high sensation. Instead, CBD works with the body’s dopamine, opioid, and serotonin receptors and has the potential to provide relief from depression, pain, and anxiety in some patients.
What is THC?
Unlike CBD, tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC, is an intoxicating and psychoactive compound that is responsible for producing the euphoric, high effects often associated with cannabis consumption. This is because THC does work directly with the endocannabinoid system as it binds to the brain’s CB1 receptors.
Individuals may be prescribed medication containing THC as part of their treatment plan to assist in managing pain, relieving nausea, improving sleep quality, and stimulating appetite in some patients.
Where Do CBD and THC Come From?
For over 6,000 years, the cannabis plant has been cultivated and used by mankind for its therapeutic and medicinal potential. Today, the cannabis plant is home to over 120 cannabinoids, including CBD and THC.
While THC and CBD are two of the most well-known cannabinoids (aka major cannabinoids), it’s important to note that the cannabis plant contains hundreds of different cannabinoids – each carrying its own unique properties.
How CBD and THC Affect the Body
While CBD and THC have the same molecular structure, these compounds have distinctly different chemical properties. Both CBD and THC interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, but in very different ways, resulting in very different impacts, benefits, and side effects.
When THC engages the body’s CB1 receptors directly, it triggers a number of various effects, most notably the psychotropic experience commonly recognised as a “high”. THC may help relieve symptoms of pain, reduce nausea and vomiting, increase appetite, improve sleep, and more in some patients. It’s important to note that because THC works so directly upon the endocannabinoid system via the CB1 receptor, using too much THC can actually flood the CB1 receptors, potentially leading to increased anxiety, impaired memory and slow reaction times. This is why it’s so valuable to undergo medicinal cannabis treatment with the support of a prescribing doctor who can tailor a cannabis treatment plan to your exact needs, symptoms and individual circumstances.
On the other hand, CBD works indirectly with the ECS to interact with our opioid, dopamine, and serotonin receptors and most commonly binds to the body’s CB2 receptors, serving as a modulator and inducing differing therapeutic effects without the associated high.
However, the combination of THC and CBD (as well as other compounds found within the plant such as terpenes and flavonoids) can result in the entourage effect – a more profound therapeutic effect on the endocannabinoid system than either THC or CBD would induce alone. Research suggests that the entourage effect can provide greater symptom relief when compared to each component alone. The physiological impact of CBD, THC, or the combination of the two, will depend on individual factors such as:
- Lifestyle choices
- Other medications you may be taking
- The symptoms you have (and wish to treat)
CBD vs. THC Therapeutic Benefits
CBD and THC offer patients a range of potential medical and therapeutic benefits. Despite their differing impacts, since the legalisation of medicinal cannabis in Australia in 2016, both CBD and THC have been steadily gaining popularity as natural alternatives for a range of chronic conditions and symptoms.
CBD has garnered popularity in the medical community for its potential therapeutic benefits – without the intoxicating effects (such as the “high”) that are often associated with THC. CBD interacts indirectly with our endocannabinoid system to modulate our opioid, dopamine, and serotonin receptors, which may help reduce anxiety, reduce inflammation, and regulate our mood and emotions.
THC is commonly known as a psychoactive cannabinoid as it gives people a ‘high’ euphoric sensation that many people associate with cannabis use. THC modulates the ECS by binding with CB1 receptors in the brain. In addition to creating a high, THC has many therapeutic applications, including reducing pain, alleviating nausea, and boosting appetite in some patients.
CBD vs. THC Side Effects
According to the World Health Organization (WHO)Trusted Source, CBD is considered to be generally safe and well-tolerated with minimal side effects. Research has found that many of the negative side effects an individual may experience while consuming CBD are typically the result of chemical reactions between CBD and other medications an individual may be taking. Some of the more common side effects of CBD include tiredness, nausea, lightheadedness, and low blood pressure.
Unlike THC, current research shows that CBD is not associated with addiction or dependency. On the other hand, research has found that THC has the potential to cause temporary psychiatric side effects and long-term side effects in some individuals who have a history of prolonged, and/or excessive use of cannabis. These psychiatric side effects are a result of THC’s psychoactive and intoxicating properties – aka, the properties responsible for creating the “high” feeling.
Some of the most common side effects of THC include altered senses, dry mouth, red eyes, issues with coordination, increased heart rate, short-term memory impairment, anxiety, and psychoactive “high” feelings.
Similarly to CBD, THC may interact with certain medications and has also been associated with potential addiction and dependency risks. We recommend always speaking with your prescribing doctor, or a specialist experienced in the prescription of medicinal cannabis to help mitigate any potential risks or side effects associated with the medication.
CBD vs. THC Legality
Despite the legalisation of medicinal cannabis in Australia in 2016, the legal status of CBD and THC varies. CBD products containing low THC levels are legal for purchase and consumption without a prescription from your doctor within Australia. Medical cannabis products containing higher levels of THC can only be accessed by obtaining a prescription for certain medical conditions.
To determine your eligibility and the suitability of THC and CBD for your conditions, we recommend speaking with an experienced doctor.
It is important to note that recreational use of cannabis remains illegal in most Australian states. Click here for more information on the legalities surrounding medicinal cannabis in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney.
The Wrap Up
CBD and THC both have potential medical and therapeutic benefits. Understanding the differences and similarities between CBD and THC is crucial for individuals who are seeking relief from their symptoms by utilising the potential benefits of cannabinoids.
As research continues to develop, CBD and THC present promising options for individuals who are seeking natural and alternative approaches to their well-being and health. While both are considered generally safe, always speak with your doctor or a medical practitioner who specialises in the prescription of medicinal cannabis to determine whether CBD or THC is the right treatment option for you.
CBD vs. THC FAQs
What is CBD Oil?
CBD oil (also commonly referred to as medicinal cannabis oil or cannabis oil) is a derivative of the cannabis plant that contains high levels of CBD and varying levels of THC.
It is made by extracting CBD from the cannabis plant, with the extraction method impacting the oil’s purity and health benefits. While there are many different CBD oil products available to medicinal cannabis patients in Australia, the three different types of CBD oil include:
- CBD isolate
- Full-spectrum CBD
- Broad-spectrum CBD
We recommend speaking to a doctor who specialises in the prescription of medicinal cannabis to help determine what type of CBD oil is right for you.
You can read more about CBD oil here.
Is Medicinal Cannabis Addictive?
Despite having a significantly lower risk of dependence when compared to caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, there is always the potential for a dependency to develop – especially among non-prescription cannabis users. While most medicinal cannabis patients are unlikely to become addicted to cannabis, it’s important to note that it can still be addictive, even when it has been prescribed by a medical professional.
The likelihood of a medicinal cannabis addiction occurring depends on a range of external factors, including:
- An individual’s susceptibility to addiction
- The potency of the THC or CBD
- A genetic predisposition to addiction
If you believe that you or a loved one may be displaying signs of cannabis addiction or dependency, we recommend booking an appointment with your prescribing doctor to discuss a treatment plan and strategies to move forward.
You can read more on medicinal cannabis and addiction here.
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The information on this website is provided for educational and informational purposes only and not intended for use as medical advice. Polln is not promoting the use of medicinal cannabis. Medicinal cannabis in Australia is scheduled medication and regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Details about medicinal cannabis as a scheduled drug can be found on their website. If you would like to explore medicinal cannabis for your chronic condition, please consult with a doctor.
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