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CBD vs THC: The Difference Explained

Difference between THC and CBD
Introduction to Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids are the closely related group of chemical compounds contained in the cannabis plant species. The cannabis species Sativa L. is the plant family of marijuana and hemp. Marijuana contains a high abundance of THC with low levels of CBD, while hemp is rich in CBD with almost no THC content at all. CBD from hemp has such minuscule THC content that you can't get high which is an important consideration for health consumers who want to maintain optimal levels of mental performance. 

Over time cannabinoids and cannabis, in general, have been primarily associated with marijuana and THC, and there is a general misconception that these chemically active compounds can only be found in marijuana. Even the cancer.gov website provides a mistakenly limited definition concerning the sources of cannabinoids when they state that cannabinoids are, "A type of chemical in marijuana that causes drug-like effects all through the body, including the central nervous system and the immune system."

That statement above is certainly true, as well as the fact stated further on in the National Cancer Institute definition that cannabinoids help treat the symptoms of cancer as well as the side effects of cancer treatment. What the NCI has neglected to include in their cannabinoid definition is that there are over 100 cannabinoids in the cannabis Sativa L species, and that family includes the hemp plant as well as marijuana. This is a typical bias which is just now being corrected with the widespread and surging popularity of CBD, "the other cannabinoid" found in both marijuana and hemp. Just as CBD took a back seat to the infamous THC cannabinoid, hemp has been relegated to "the other cannabis plant " status as well. Today, exciting ongoing research into the many pharmacological actions of CBD from hemp is changing all that. 

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in marijuana is the most well-known cannabinoid because of its notorious psychoactive effects, producing the euphoric high which makes marijuana so popular for recreational use. CBD (cannabidiol) however, is emerging as the most therapeutically valuable cannabinoid and it is virtually non-psychoactive. In other words, CBD gets you better without getting you high. In this informative article, the naturopathic therapeutic experts at Modern Nature will explain the differences between these two best-known cannabinoids. As we'll see, THC and CBD both have outstanding therapeutic benefits, but CBD may prove to be the most valuable cannabinoid for optimized health of them all. 

Happily, in 2018, US law began to catch up with CBD science and CBD products from hemp are now legal in all 50 US states. Understanding the differences between the actions of CBD and THC can explain why hemp and CBD are at the forefront of cannabis legalization as well as for cannabis use in self-administered health regimens.

The ECS: CB1 and CB2 Receptors

The key to understanding the pharmacological actions of any cannabinoid is the ECS, the endocannabinoid system found in humans and all mammals. This incredible biocommunication system is responsible for regulating a host of important physiological processes to fulfill its primary mission of maintaining homeostasis, that balanced state of wellbeing where everything in mind and body is just right and "all systems are go". 

The ECS explains why plant-derived cannabinoids, or phytocannabinoids, can be so effective. The ECS consists of an intricate network of cannabinoid receptors known as CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are centered intensely in the limbic and paralimbic regions of the brain and less intensely throughout the body. These vital areas control important functions such as mood, memory, sleep, cognitive thought, motor control, immune and pain response, inflammation response, injury recovery, and emotions.

CB2 receptors are also found in these vital brain regions but are more widely dispersed throughout the body, mainly in the immune system's white cells, with a heavy concentration in the spleen and gastrointestinal system. Both receptors provide signaling and biofeedback functions via the central nervous system, using cannabinoids produced naturally by the body. That's right, our bodies already produce our own supply of endocannabinoids, known as anandamide and 2-AG. The phytocannabinoids THC and CBD are chemically identical and supplemental amounts derived from cannabis plants can have potent therapeutic effects which scientists refer to as "manipulating the ECS' or "raising the CBD baseline". 

The ECS is so fundamental to our physiology that it's difficult to point to any biological function where the ECS does not play a role. As the central nervous system's primary signaling network the ECS functions can be enhanced with supplemental cannabinoids. Clinical studies are revealing the therapeutic effects of cannabinoids such as CBD and THC for treating many neurodegenerative conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and ALS also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

For the health consumer CBD's vast range of pharmacological actions are used to enhance fitness and  manage a wide range of disorders and symptoms including:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Inflammation (arthritis, Crohn's disease, and inflammatory bowel syndrome)
  • Epilepsy and seizure disorders
  • Muscle development and recovery
  • Injury recovery
  • Recovery from stroke and cardiovascular conditions
  • Non-toxic pain management

Now let's take a closer look at the two best-known cannabinoids, CBD and THC, and the pros and cons of each as supplemental cannabinoids in a self-administered health regimen.  

About THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol)

THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana which causes the intense but short term euphoric high for recreational users, but it's also been used medicinally for at least 3,000 years. As this article at the National Institute of Health (NIH) reports, rich THC content and effects on the brain cause uncertainty about whether marijuana's health benefits outweigh the risks. That said, medical marijuana has a proven track record for treating nausea and vomiting caused by strong chemotherapy in cancer patients. THC based drugs such as dronabinol have been approved by the FDA to manage weight loss by increasing appetite for those with AIDS. Dronabinol contains the synthetic THC compound delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). 

THC's potent psychoactive action comes from its ability to bind aggressively to CB1 receptors. The CB1 receptors are the neurotransmitters which bind naturally with the mood-elevating endocannabinoid anandamide.  Anandamide is also known to have an analgesic or painkilling effect. THC actually binds more aggressively to these anandamide receptors than anandamide itself, and when it does it disrupts normal brain function in the vital limbic regions as well as affecting activity in the cerebral cortex and cerebellum. THC also increases dopamine production in the brain's reward circuits which can encourage taking more of the drug resulting in psychological dependence. While THC isn't physically addictive like opiates such as morphine or heroin, it has other debilitating effects which continue to make it controversial, especially for use by young people. 

Over the years THC content has been radically increased by marijuana breeders who have manipulated their marijuana plant strains for maximum potency and increased recreational value. Today, the THC content in marijuana is extremely rich and recreational use can have a high price. A recent clinical study discovered that those who used marijuana before the age of 17 had much lower verbal IQs, having difficulty thinking with words and processing verbal information. THC reduces activity in the hippocampus region of the brain and disrupts short-term memory. In users of all ages, chronic use of marijuana causes brain dysfunction problems including:

  • Distorted perception- THC's effects on the cerebral cortex can disrupt the ability to process sensory information about touch, sound, sight, and time.
  • Problems with balance, posture, and coordination- THC's action interferes with normal function of the cerebellum and disrupts motor control.
  • Attitude and personality disorders- Long term use of THC-rich marijuana can cause "amotivational syndrome." This is the term scientists use to describe the series of personality changes which manifest as an inability to fulfill long-term plans, apathy, and neglect of appearance and behavior. There is also a reduction in concentration over long periods of time, or diminished attention span. 
  • Withdrawal symptoms- New research is busting the long-held urban myth that marijuana is not addictive. When THC-rich marijuana is no longer available the user may experience symptoms of intense craving as well as decreased appetite, weight loss, irritability, restlessness, and rage. 

It's important for us to note here that THC is also accompanied by a certain amount of the CBD cannabinoid in marijuana. As we'll soon see below, ongoing research is revealing that the CBD content in marijuana may indeed be the cannabinoid responsible for the therapeutic effects of the plant. 

About CBD (Cannabidiol)

CBD is the naturally occurring cannabinoid found in the resinous flower of cannabis, in both the hemp and marijuana varieties. Unlike THC, cannabidiol is completely nonpsychoactive. Doses as high as 1500 ml have been tolerated by humans safely in clinical studies and even at that high level, CBD does not produce a mental high. It does, however, produce a strong influence in the ECS, enhancing overall health by influencing the endocannabinoid system to elevate the available natural supply of endocannabinoids such as anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). 2-AG binds primarily with the CB2 receptors which regulate immune function and promote healing. As we mentioned above, anandamide binds to CB1 receptors to regulate mood, sleep, and moderate pain and inflammation responses. 

Unlike THC, CBD does not replace the natural endocannabinoids, it enhances their production and performance. CBD does not aggressively bind directly to either the CB1 or CB2 receptors. Instead, supplemental CBD has been shown to trigger the creation of more CB2 receptors which enables the ECS to function even more effectively, in a way similar to a cell phone network adding more relay towers. When the ECS is stressed by sickness, injury, harsh environments, disease, or trauma, supplemental CBD can ensure that the endocannabinoid system has the essential compounds it needs to restore homeostasis naturally by enhancing its own natural healing functions.

CBD has been the focus of intense research since the ECS was discovered in the 1990s. It' many therapeutic benefits have been well documented in clinical studies with humans and preclinical studies with animals. The wide spectrum of CBD's known therapeutic properties includes:

  • Antiemetic- Alleviates nausea and vomiting, especially useful as an adjunct therapy for cancer patients
  • Anti-inflammatory- Provides a nontoxic alternative to NSAID medications for relief from chronic inflammation and enhances healthy inflammation response.

  • Analgesic- Painkilling action without debilitating side effects, tolerance, addiction, or risk of overdose for long term chronic pain management.

  • Antidepressant/Anti-anxiety- Elevates mood naturally and moderates response to stress'

  • Anti-insomnia- Calming effect and sleep regulation for a sound sleep without arousal disruptions. 

  • Neuroprotective- Promotes strong nerve and brain cell growth and protects against nervous system damage.

Doctors and fitness professionals are attracted by CBD's many pharmacological actions and its benign nonpsychoactive, nontoxic nature. CBD oil from industrial hemp is the perfect resource for the powerful healing cannabinoid since it contains only trace levels of THC, less than .03%, which is the legal limit for therapeutic cannabis products as specified by the 2018 Farm Bill. While it may be possible to extract CBD from marijuana only CBD from hemp is fully legal at the federal level in the US. CBD research has produced such an abundance of beneficial therapeutic discoveries that now cannabis scientists have been inspired to go beyond THC and CBD to unveil the secrets of the other 100 cannabinoids in the cannabis Sativa family. 

Differences Between THC and CBD

It's obvious by now that CBD and THC are polar opposites, just as industrial hemp and marijuana are diametrically opposed members of the cannabis family. For health consumers, CBD provides all of the therapeutic benefits without any of the short or long-term risks associated with THC. For many serious neurodegenerative disorders such as Davet Syndrome,  Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer's disease THC can worsen symptoms by interfering with natural brain functions.

Even more common disorders such as insomnia and anxiety can be exacerbated by THC's unpredictable psychoactive action. THC can trigger excitement and adrenaline rushes which magnify anxiety and depression symptoms while disrupting optimal natural levels of the endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-AG. THC can actually increase stress levels on the ECS and negate any positive results from the most rigorous personal health regimens. 

CBD's benevolent nonpsychoactive, nontoxic properties make it one of the safest substances in any medicine cabinet. Health consumers of all ages and even pets (as long as they are mammals!) can benefit from the vast array of CBD's potent healing properties.  CBD from hemp oil is now legal in all 50 states, and there are no problems with zero-tolerance drug policies which is the case with THC from marijuana. 

At Modern Nature, we've combined the many benefits of full-spectrum CBD with time-proven healing herbs and essentials to address a wide range of CBD applications. Our Ph.D. formulated blends are all doctor endorsed and our line of CBD capsules provide three avenues for you to optimize your homeostasis to achieve the maximum state of well-being we all desire. If you've been wondering how legal CBD from hemp oil can enhance your life please don't hesitate to contact us.