CBD and THC, these three letter abbreviations are greatly similar in many ways, but also have significant differences. CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) are both cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. The levels of both of these will very on the strain of cannabis. More and more has been discovered about cannabinoids in the past few years, thanks to a surge in funding for research, which allows us to really explore what we know about CBD and THC and what is still left to discover.
Scaling this comparison back to the molecular essentials, you will find out that CBD and THC actually have the exact same structure: 30 hydrogen atoms, 21 carbon atoms, and two oxygen atoms. The difference lies in the way that these atoms are arranged, and this is why the two have differing effects on the body. As they are both cannabinoids, both take effect on the body by interacting with the cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) which comprise the endocannabinoid system. These receptors are found in the brain and the immune system, so the signals sent out can have a significant effect on one’s daily experience. For example: the way we experience pain, the way we experience stress, and our quality of sleep — amongst many others.
The crucial difference between CBD and THC is the psychoactive element, which is a property of THC, but is not present in CBD. The effects that THC have on the brain make up the “high” experience which people associate with smoking marijuana. Consequently, products which are marked as CBD should have no mind altering effects whatsoever.
The presence of THC is generally the deciding factor in the legality of a cannabis-derived product. Across the US and the EU, CBD products are predominantly legal provided that they are derived from industrial hemp (not marijuana) and they contain less than 0.3% THC (whereas marijuana tends to have around 15% THC content).
In November 2018 the farm bill was passed in the US which removed hemp from the list of controlled substances. This comes hand in hand with a surge of medical research on all forms of cannabis, from medical marijuana to CBD products. The first cannabis derived product to be available on prescription was Epidolex1, which is used to treat rare but severe forms of child epilepsy, this contains CBD. Research has also been carried out to draw links between the potential healing benefits of CBD in arthritis patients2, and those suffering from MS.3
Meanwhile, the surge in interest in CBD and its potential medical properties has not meant that people have lost interest in medical marijuana. This year scientists in New Mexico found that THC played a more important role in the therapeutic role of cannabis than previously thought,4 meaning that for now THC should not be excluded from medical research.
The overall takeaway from this is that there is a big scope for the potential health benefits of CBD and THC. CBD products are currently widely available in health and wellness stores, and from companies specialising in CBD production and products. When purchasing, particularly online, please check the current legal status of CBD products in your country or region. On the other hand, the research and availability into THC may be a little slower off the ground as there is a stigma which people are still overcoming when it comes to marijuana and its properties. Nevertheless, this does not mean we should discount its potential, so watch this space.