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CBD’s struggle over the years to break into the mainstream is because of its close relationship to its fellow cannabinoid: THC. Because both chemical compounds are derived from the same plant, cannabis, they are closely related in a variety of ways.
The main difference?
Cannabis has been demonized as a dangerous drug because it produces a high.
THC content is the sole factor in differentiating hemp from marijuana by most world governments. In the US, any product that contains 0.3% THC or less is considered to be derived from hemp. All other cannabis products would fall under the marijuana classification.
The differences and similarities between CBD and THC are much more than just the chemical’s ability to generate a high.
CBD has become the second most famous cannabinoid because of its potential medical application. However, we have begun to see a shift in our understanding of applying CBD.
Experts believe that CBD alone isn’t as beneficial as the combination of CBD and THC.
We are far from understanding cannabis, but progress has been made. As we learn more, the role of CBD and THC will be at the forefront of using cannabis to treat medical conditions.
Same Molecules Different Structure
Surprisingly, CBD and THC have the same molecular makeup. Their respective molecular masses are also nearly identical.
Where they differ is in structure.
THC contains a cyclic ring and CBD contains a hydroxyl group. See the diagram below.
CBD and THC are also synthesized similarly. Both come from CBGA, another compound that predeceases all known cannabinoids. CBGA is cyclized into THCA or CBDA during the plant’s lifecycle. A manufacturing facility or cannabis user then decarboxylates the chemicals into the cannabinoids we enjoy.
CBD and THC Differences on the Brain
The slight difference in structure is what has created all the controversy around THC. The high is created because THC is a potent partial agonist to the CB1, an endocannabinoid receptor in the brain.
The ability for THC to bind and activate the receptor is what causes the psychoactive effects.
CBD is classified as a negative allosteric modulator of CB1. Meaning CBD alters the shape of the receptor.
CBD’s failure to bind with CB1 is the reason it doesn’t produce a high. Taking an exorbitant amount of CBD won’t change this fact, it is impossible to get high off of taking CBD.
CBD and THC Together
CBD alters the shape of CB1 making THC less effective in stimulating the receptor. Cannabis experts believe that taking CBD with THC results in less negative side-effects related to marijuana, such as anxiety, paranoia, and short-term memory loss. Strains with high CBD and low THC content typically deliver a less intense high and more medical potential.
The relationship between CBD and THC has shifted over the years. Whole-plant extracts are becoming much more popular.
Experts believe that THC, other cannabinoids, and other compounds provide users with a synergetic cannabis experience known as the ‘entourage effect.’
The Future of the Cannabis Industry
The CBD industry is trending to more whole plant experiences. The US’s policy on hemp-derived products only containing 0.3% THC is severely holding the industry back. We would love to see this threshold increased to 1-2% so there is enough THC to add benefits but still not enough to deliver a high.
For years the marijuana industry was dedicated to producing the highest THC strains biologically possible. Now we are seeing a trend for more CBD potent strains that are used for reasons outside of just getting lit.
We expect the CBD industry to keep trending toward full plant extracts combining CBD, other cannabinoids, and terpenes to give users the best experience possible.