Although hemp produces over 100 active cannabinoids, THC and CBD are without doubt the most well-known. While they have a number of striking similarities — including a very similar chemical structure and potential for certain therapeutic uses — they also have key differences that users should keep in mind. Notably, while many CBD products contain 0% THC, Full Spectrum CBD products do contain small amounts of THC; as such, understanding the differences can be a useful tool in guiding your CBD oil purchases.

Key Similarities and Differences Between THC and CBD

Where they’re from:

Both THC and CBD are  cannabinoids found in the two types of cannabis, marijuana and hemp. Both compounds are present in each strain of cannabis, but in different concentrations.

In general, THC is the dominant cannabinoid found in marijuana, and CBD is the dominant cannabinoid in hemp. Based on the particular plant, however, the balance of these cannabinoids can vary somewhat.

More technically, both THC and CBD are descendants of another cannabinoid,  Cannabigerol (or “CBG” for short).


This is one of the most important differences between these two compounds. Psychoactivity, in essence, is all about how the compounds affect your mental state — and, more specifically, whether they’ll cause mental impairment. In short, THC is psychoactive, while CBD is not.

THC is the main psychoactive component of hemp and marijuana. It is largely responsible for the infamous “weed high” and various “reefer madness” crazes that have swept the nation in the past.

CBD, by contrast, is non-psychoactive, and  will not produce a high. In fact, several studies suggest that CBD may reduce the psychoactive effects of THC when the two are taken together.

The difference in psychoactivity means that THC and CBD are most often used for very different purposes. THC users are often looking to maximize their high and enjoy THC recreationally. CBD users, by contrast, are usually looking to treat a variety of symptoms, and use CBD for its therapeutic potential. Which leads us into another of the key differences between these compounds.

Therapeutic Potential:

Even if users are pursuing different ends from THC and CBD, both cannabinoids do have the potential to provide certain therapeutic benefits. However, the full potential of these cannabinoids is still poorly understood, and formal research is ongoing. More on that in the next section.

THC is renowned for its antiemetic (anti-nausea) and appetite-stimulating properties. The FDA approved a THC-based drug,  Dronabinol, for these purposes. It’s other effects are less well understood, and user reports vary wildly. Some users, for example, claim that THC helps them manage anxiety; others claim that it actually makes their anxiety worse.

CBD is somewhat better understood, and more active research is currently being done on CBD than on THC — at least in the United States. CBD has proven potential to  reduce frequency and severity of seizures resulting from epilepsy. The FDA has approved a CBD-based drug, Epidiolex, for these purposes.

Although CBD research is ongoing, user reports and existing studies suggest it has further potential for treating a wide variety of symptoms. These include at least  anxietypain, and insomnia, though users report a wide variety of other benefits.


This is another essential difference between the two compounds. Because both THC and CBD are derived from  cannabis, their legality in the U.S. is a central issue.

Marijuana is a Schedule 1 substance at the federal level, so it’s illegal to buy, possess, or use in most locations. However, the legality of THC, CBD, and other isolated cannabinoids is a little bit more complicated.

THC remains illegal at the federal level, though many states have legalized its sale and use, either for recreational or medicinal purposes. This illegality is mostly due to its psychoactive properties, though there’s a long and fascinating history to the how and why of marijuana prohibition. CBD, on the other hand, enjoys a newfound legal status. Under the 2018 Farm Bill, CBD is legal in all 50 states, at least when it’s derived from industrial hemp. This is due largely to the potential of hemp to contribute to the economy and recognition that it is fundamentally different than its psychoactive cousin. Because of this new legal status, more and more research is being done on the compound, and new users are learning about how it can benefit their lives each and every day.

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