Know the Difference Between THC and CBD

PW Team
Feature Image Credit
Panos Sakalakis
high contrast close up image of a Cannabis bud with an orange background


As the legal use of marijuana and other cannabis products continues to swell, marijuana users are becoming more interested in it’s foundational makeup. People want to know, 

“What makes me feel stoned?” 


From a chemistry perspective, cannabis is quite interesting. The genetic compounds that make up the plant are called cannabinoids. In any given plant, there can be hundreds of cannabinoids, all of which can have slightly varying effects when consumed. Cannabinoids are pretty universal and can be found in other plants and animals as well.

These cannabinoids are responsible for the effects you feel when you consume marijuana. 

It’s a little like when a bartender makes a drink. With any set of ingredients, the outcomes can be endless. When it comes to cannabinoids, you get Sour Diesel or Haze Berry rather than a Mai Tai or a Long Island. See the different strains here.

From a high level (no pun intended), the two most common cannabinoid compounds found in the Cannabis genus are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

When looking at the relative differences between the two compounds, we offer a simple explanation: THC usually generates a psychoactive effect in users and CBD tends to make users feel calm and relaxed, without the paranoia.

CBD and THC Chemical Structure

Incoming chemistry verbiage. The chemical structure of cannabis is 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms. Interesting enough, the chromosome structure for THC and CBD are similar to those found in grains, such as wheat.

Both CBD and THC share this same chemical formula; the differentiator between the two is the way the atoms are chemically arranged. This arrangement is also what affects users when they consume either or both.

CBD and THC both work with receptors that release neurotransmitters in the brain and can affect things like pain, mood, sleep, and memory.


CBD is a chemical compound found in the Cannabid sativa genome. It's a substance that occurs naturally and is very popular as it is known to impart feelings of relaxation and calmness. 

How Does CBD Work?

There are different ways you can take CBD, but oils and edibles are the most common. 

Some people don’t like the idea of ingesting CBD and therefore prefer a topical cream or ointment. Dr. Chin, Junella Chin, DO, an osteopathic physician and a medical cannabis expert for cannabisMD says: 

"You can apply it to muscles, joints, and ligaments and still get a nice, localized release," 

Many CBD users are favorable to the fact that CBD will NOT get you “high”. Dr. Chin continues:

"CBD is the non-psychoactive portion of the plant, so what that means is you won't have any effects like euphoria… You won't feel sedated or altered in any way."

Many people ask, “Can you overdose on CBD?” and the answer is not really because there is a lot that would need to go into a CBD overdose. Check out this article: Can you overdose on CBD?

Is CBD Federally Legal

Hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal on the federal level, but remain illegal in certain states. Marijuana-derived products, on the other hand, are illegal on the federal level, but legal under some state laws. It’s not very straight forward so make sure you check your state’s laws before using or selling these types of products. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are NOT FDA-approved, and may be inaccurately labeled. 

CBD is used to help with other various conditions, such as:


THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the compound responsible for most of marijuana's psychological effects or as Dr Chin states, “euphoric” effects. It can create a very noticeable sensation felt in both the mind and body, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

On average, THC induced products begin to take effect within 10 to 30 minutes and generally last for about two hours. The properties of THC have led some users to experience hallucinations and have led to new or different patterns of thinking. 

A.J. Fabrizio, a marijuana chemistry expert at Terra Tech Corp, expands on the effects of THC in an article published in 2011: 

"In some cases, reported side effects of THC include elation, anxiety, tachycardia, short-term memory recall issues, sedation, relaxation, pain-relief and many more.”

If you’re thinking of trying it for the first time, plan accordingly and don’t stress it. Enjoy your experience, no matter what you will eventually return to a normal state of mind. 

How Much THC?

Recreational doses of marijuana can vary drastically. In cannabis dispensaries today, it is common to see percentages of around 20% to 30% THC testing levels -- 30% is considered high. But this isn’t how it always was. Today’s marijuana is estimated to be a solid 57-67% more potent when compared to samples from the ’70s.

Some suspect the reason being was because in the ‘70s most of the marijuana that was considered recreational was imported illegally from other countries. The more likely reason, however, is the rampant increase of knowledge around the subject. 

On the other hand, some strains of cannabis can have as little as 0.3 percent THC by weight. (Many of these strains are probably sought out for their CBD effects). 

How THC Affects the Brain

As you may know there are many receptors in the brain. Among them, cannabinoid receptors are related to functions such as thinking, memory, pleasure, coordination and time perception.

When you consume marijuana, THC compounds attach to these cannabinoid receptors and stimulate the brain in a variety of different areas.

THC is used to help with conditions such as:


Despite the two compounds having exact same chemical makeup, THC and CBD affect people very differently. THC is psychoactive and CBD tends to mellow you out. Together, they’re a pretty awesome combo, but everyone has their own preference. 

It’s important to remember that the true difference lies within the chemical arrangement of each compound. Those arranged compounds then interact with the cannabinoids in your brain which stimulate or affect psychological functions such as thinking, memory, pleasure, coordination and time perception.

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