When you follow the cannabis industry, you hear a lot about two chemicals, cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It’s clear that they affect the body in different ways, but how? What is the difference between CBD and THC, anyway?

Cannabinoids: The difference Between CBD and THC

Both belong to a family of chemicals called cannabinoids. These chemicals grow abundantly in the cannabis plant and, more importantly, they closely resemble a similar set of molecules present in the human body

The body’s endocannabinoid system—endo meaning within the body—is powered by chemicals that look a lot like CBD and THC. Those chemicals bind to specialized receptors to support basic functions including pain responses, immune function, mood, appetite, and sleep.

Receptors and the Binding Factor

There are two types of receptors in the endocannabinoid system. CB1 receptors are present primarily in the brain and help with processes like memory, emotion, and thinking. CB2 receptors appear throughout the body as parts of the peripheral nervous and immune systems.

Structurally, CBD and THC are almost the same. The molecules differ only because of the placement of one hydrogen atom:


Because of that one tiny atom, though, the two chemicals behave completely differently in the body.

THC vs CBD: How They Work

The THC molecule binds to both CB1 and CB2 receptors. It can reduce pain, stimulate appetite, and improve your mood. It also has powerful pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties.

Most importantly for some people, when it binds to the CB1 receptor, it can create feelings of euphoria and well-being.

In other words, THC gets you high.

CBD only binds to the CB2 receptor, so it can’t get you high. It does, however, have at least 12 other activation sites in the brain. These receptors explain why it can prevent seizures,

These receptors let CBD fight anxiety, psychosis, seizures, and more. Meanwhile, by binding to CB2 receptor sites in the peripheral nervous system, CBD can do its part to treat many pain disorders.

CBD and THC Together

When these two cannabinoids get together, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

To start, CBD may enhance some of the beneficial effects of THC. One study shows that by binding to a key pain receptor in the spine, CBD strengthens the pain-relieving capacity of THC.

Second, CBD can interfere with THC’s binding to CB1 receptors. It doesn’t cancel out the high, but it does reduce its effects. That’s why when you consume cannabis from a strain with a strong CBD presence, you’re likely to notice a mellower effect.

CBD can also reduce the likelihood of common side effects associated with THC. For example, a strain with more CBD is less likely to cause paranoia, racing thoughts, and memory problems.

There’s Always More to Learn

As is always the case in chemistry, there’s always more to learn about how these cannabinoids work together and separately. Learn more by following cannabis industry news, or ask your local dispensary reps. There are lots of nuances in CBD-THC balance, and it can help to have help in picking a strain.