Author: Luke Sholl

What's the difference between CBD and THC?

What's the difference between CBD and THC?

CBD, short for cannabidiol, and THC, short for tetrahydrocannabinol, may not be the only compounds found in cannabis, but they are the two most discussed. Keep reading to find out all you need to know about the differences between these important compounds.

CBD vs THC: The basics

Both CBD and THC belong to a family of chemical compounds called cannabinoids, which exist inside cannabis plants.

It's when we consume cannabinoids, though, that dozens of fascinating interactions can take place. These interactions influence vital parts of our physiology, which is why CBD oils and other cannabinoid-based products are so popular.

To date, there are over a hundred known cannabinoids inside the Cannabis sativa species—with some sources quoting an exact number of 113. CBD and THC are the ones produced in the highest quantities, hence the focus. The others can still influence our body, but they are harder to isolate and we know less about their potential impact.

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is the second most abundant compound in Cannabis sativa, but that doesn't make it any less impactful. CBD possesses a few unique abilities that THC can't match. It's also the main ingredient in the popular wellness supplement CBD oil.

CBD is non-toxic, doesn't induce a high, and is said to have the potential to impact well-being by supporting key biological processes.

What is THC?

THC is the main compound in Cannabis sativa. Concentration aside, THC's notoriety comes from its psychotropic side effects.

While CBD (and other cannabinoids) can influence well-being without notable side effects, THC interacts with specific regions of the brain and causes a euphoric sensation (high) that temporarily impacts the way we think and feel.

Where do CBD and THC come from?

We've hinted at their origins already, but both CBD and THC come from the Cannabis sativa species, forming an essential part of its chemical composition.

Cannabis sativa is a diverse and extremely resilient plant species split into dozens of types, subspecies, and strains. Hemp and marijuana are the most common variants, but there are thousands of others, all with slightly different attributes. They do, however, have one thing in common―a chemical structure featuring CBD, THC, and hundreds of other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids.

Now, there are other sources of these compounds (different plants, fruits, vegetables), but Cannabis sativa has, by far, the greatest concentration of all three. And, while we don't fully understand why, the human body has evolved to react to all three of these organic compound families.

What's the difference between hemp and marijuana?

The main difference between hemp and marijuana is their chemical structure. While the plants may look similar to the naked eye, under a microscope it's a different story.

Where do CBD and THC come from?

Hemp is naturally rich in CBD, while low in THC, which makes it legal across much of the modern world, provided THC concentration remains under 0.2–0.3%. Fortunately, commercial breeding has significantly reduced THC levels found in hemp, making it a prime candidate for CBD oils, capsules, and more.

Marijuana, on the other hand, is high in THC, but can, depending on the strain, contain significant levels of CBD. Unfortunately, given the legal challenges that come with THC, it's not always viable for the CBD industry.

How CBD and THC affect the body

Knowing where CBD and THC come from is one thing, but understanding how they affect the human body is another challenge entirely. Thankfully, researchers remain hard at work uncovering how exactly cannabinoids work.


Most cannabinoids work by influencing special receptors found throughout the body. When receptors detect a cannabinoid, they interact, and a biological reaction is triggered depending on the type of receptor, its location, and the cannabinoid in question.

CBD, however, likes to work a little differently.

When you consume CBD, it works behind the scenes to bolster the entire network of receptors. That's not to say it can't interact with these receptors on a one-to-one basis, but it prefers to take a general approach to well-being. As such, CBD is said to have the potential to affect:

• Mood
• Appetite
• Immune response
• Sleep


THC works in a more straightforward manner, binding directly with receptors in the brain and digestive system. It's this interaction that causes the psychotropic side effects we hinted at earlier, such as:

• Increased appetite
• Slowed reaction time
• Impaired memory and coordination
• Altered mental state

As you can see from the difference in potential effects, these two compounds act in vastly different ways―despite coming from the same plant species.

Significance of the entourage effect

Although a topic in and of itself, it is worth briefly mentioning the entourage effect.

We've made a point of outlining the differences between CBD and THC, but there is also merit in combining them, and adding other cannabinoids into the mix.

Research has shown that when cannabinoids exist together, their respective effects are enhanced.

They still prove useful when isolated, but the potential for broader or longer-lasting effects is improved when you use CBD, THC, and other compounds from the cannabis plant together.

For example, CBD is believed to inhibit some of the mind-altering effects of THC when the two are consumed at the same time.

Full-spectrum CBD extracts are an ideal way to take advantage of the entourage effect.

First, they contain a diverse blend of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids.

Second, THC levels in these extracts are well below the legal limit and won’t produce psychotropic side effects―you get all the possible benefits, without any of the drawbacks.

When it comes to explaining the differences between CBD and THC, it’s easy to get bogged down in chemical structures, biological effects, and preclinical studies. But there is one defining characteristic that dramatically separates these two compounds―legality.

While CBD is widely accepted, THC is not.

For any CBD product to be legal (regardless of whether it comes from hemp or marijuana), it needs to contain THC levels below the legal threshold. Now, this threshold does vary from country to country, but is usually 0.2% in Europe and 0.3% in the United States.

It may sound unclear, but one of the main takeaways is that CBD is generally legal to consume and THC isn't―unless kept under a specific percentage. However, local regulations can vary, so it's highly recommended you check the legislation in your area to avoid any issues.

If you are looking for CBD oils, capsules, supplements, and cosmetics that adhere to EU regulations, browse the Cibdol store for a complete selection.

Or, you can discover more about the effects of CBD and how it interacts with the human body in our CBD Encyclopedia.

Luke Sholl


Luke Sholl
With over a decade of experience writing about CBD and cannabinoids, Luke is an established journalist working as the lead writer for Cibdol and other cannabinoid publications. Committed to presenting factual, evidence-based content, his fascination with CBD also extends to fitness, nutrition, and disease prevention.
Luke Sholl


Luke Sholl
With over a decade of experience writing about CBD and cannabinoids, Luke is an established journalist working as the lead writer for Cibdol and other cannabinoid publications. Committed to presenting factual, evidence-based content, his fascination with CBD also extends to fitness, nutrition, and disease prevention.
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