The difference between CBD and THC


In the cannabis and hemp plants, there are two compounds that overwhelmingly determine the effects that a strain provides. Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are both cannabinoids, however, they are distinct from each other primarily because CBD has psychoactive properties and the latter does not. Legal, therapeutic products made from hemp are rich in CBD, while the recreational marijuana available in states which have legalized the herb, like Colorado, contain high concentrations of THC.

In this post, we will clarify how CBD and THC work in the body, by studying the endocannabinoid system (ECS). We’ll also consider the potential enhanced therapeutic value of cannabis when CBD and THC is combined in balanced amounts.

The endocannabinoid system

The ECS is the biological system in the body where CBD, THC and other cannabinoids – including endocannabinoids which our body creates – have their most significant impact. The influence of THC is simple, since it is a partial agonist of the CB1 and CB2 receptors, the only two receptors that we know currently to be a part of the ECS.

When THC links with CB1 receptors, which are found mostly in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) the cannabinoid has a major effect on pain sensitivity, mood and appetite. This is why medical cannabis is often recommended for people in severe pain, and why recreational users enjoy euphoria and experience increase hunger (or the munchies) when smoking weed. CB2 receptors, meanwhile, are mostly located in the peripheral nervous system, and can be triggered to manage immune system response and alleviate inflammation.

The direct effect of THC explains the powerful effect that the cannabinoid has on the body. However, hemp-based Koi CBD products have a more nuanced influence, and are best known for regulating the ECS, by encouraging natural chemical balance. For starters, CBD is neither a partial nor full agonist of the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Its antagonizing effect on them actually blocks activity, which can, on occasions, be therapeutic. But it is the effect that CBD has on anandamide (AEA), an endocannabinoid and the most important natural compound in the ECS, which is key.

CBD inhibits AEA hydrolysis, which is a fancy way of setting that it keeps more AEA in the bloodstream. The endocannabinoid is a CB1 and CB2 receptor agonist, which makes it the endogenous analogue to THC. However, AEA’s effects are nowhere near as potent as THC’s, so you can’t experience psychoactive effects from it. Although, the famous runner’s high is down to a spike in AEA. Hence, you could call CBD an indirect agonist of the CB1 and CB2 receptors, but through promoting AEA rather than taking the compound’s place, it promotes natural and sustainable ECS balance.

The ‘entourage effect’

Something remarkable happens when cannabis is consumed as a single entity, as opposed to when the cannabinoids are separated and taken individually, as happens with isolate products. The overall effects are enhanced, with a unique type of synergy occurring between the cannabinoids, which has been christened the ‘entourage effect’. This is testament to the benefits of cannabis when it is enjoyed in its natural form, with roughly equal percentages of CBD and THC. Keeping marijuana natural and shunning today’s super-strength strains may also be vital for our health.

For instance, the hippocampus is a brain region where our memories are formed and stored. CBD helps to grow the hippocampus, while large quantities of THC has a shrinking influence, due to it being neurotoxic to this part of the brain. When THC is enjoyed with CBD, the latter moderates the effects of the former, protecting the brain. However, today’s more intense strains are much richer in THC, and in some cases the CBD concentrations have all but been reduced to zero. It’s no surprise, then, that memory and motivational decline is notorious among chronic cannabis consumers.

Those who have spent years smoking high-THC cannabis on a regular basis should consider switching to wholesale CBD products made from hemp, which by law must have less than 0.3% THC. This will help to heal the hippocampus, with the CBD and some of the other non-intoxicating cannabinoids having a neurogenesis effect.

Final thoughts

Our knowledge of CBD and THC, and their solo and combined impact, is growing constantly. Endocannabinoid system science is having to make up for lost time, due to the hard, and nigh-on fruitless decades of prohibition. But the signs are that our bodies are better able to cope with natural cannabis than some of today’s modified cultivations.