Comparing THC and CBD
Of over a hundred cannabinoids, two are of utmost interest. One is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is responsible for psychoactive effects. The other is cannabidiol (CBD), a non-intoxicating compound with numerous medicinal properties. On the surface, deciding which is better for you is as easy as knowing your needs – recreational or medical. Before picking one over the other, however, there are things you should know that may come as a surprise.
THC and CBD Comparison
Cannabis plants initially produce Cannabigerolic acid (CBGA), the precursor of cannabinoids. As they reach maturity, enzymes convert CBGA to Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), and Cannabichromenic acid (CBCA). Once they undergo decarboxylation, these three compounds transform into their active forms – THC, CBD, and CBC. The remaining CBGA, likewise, converts to CBG.
Given that THC and CBD came from the same precursor, they should share some similarities. For example, they are both lipids (fats) that have a similar chemical structure. Think of them as siblings with the same parent but very different individual characteristics.
For this article, the topic will focus only on THC and CBD. In general, cannabis plants can only produce one of the two in high amounts. Hence, strains rich in THC usually would have low CBD concentration, and vice versa.
Most of the modern strains today boast of 10% to over 20% THC, less than 1% CBD. In recent years, some breeders have made a breakthrough creating new strains that have as much as 20% CBD, and 1% THC.
An exemption would be balanced strains which tend to have similar levels of THC and CBD. Due to biological constraints, they usually would have lower concentrations, ranging between 3-10%.
Found in the human body is a complex cell-signaling system called the Endocannabinoid System (ECS), which plays a role in regulating vital functions and processes. It comprises the endocannabinoids, enzymes, and receptors.
Concerning the receptors, only two are known: CB1 which is mostly found in the central nervous system, and CB2, which is mostly found in the peripheral nervous system.
Endocannabinoids – produced by the body – bind with the receptors to trigger responses that affect, among others:
- Bone remodeling and growth
- Cardiovascular system function
- Chronic pain
- Immune system responses
- Liver function
- Motor control
- Muscle formation
- Nerve function
- Reproductive system function
- Skin function
To date, the only known endocannabinoids are anandamide (AEA)
Cannabinoids resemble endocannabinoids, which is why they can interact with the receptors to trigger responses in the ECS. THC, for example, can bind with CB1. CBD, on the other hand, binds weakly with CB1 and needs THC to bind at all. Research indicates that it exerts its effects by preventing endocannabinoids from breaking down. It could also act as a negative allosteric modulator of CB1, which may explain how this particular cannabinoid reduces the psychoactive effects of THC.
THC is the reason why marijuana was prohibited, in the first place. Once it binds with CB1, it can alter the normal functions of the central nervous system, which consists of the brain and the spinal cord. As you can imagine, it affects bodily functions such as cognition, memory, awareness, thoughts, movements, and speech.
For recreational consumers, such interaction results in the desired “high” or the pleasurable, euphoric cerebral stimulation, and heightened sensory perceptions. Hence, THC-rich strains are sought after by these cannabis enthusiasts.
CBD does not produce such effects, making CBD-rich strains unattractive for recreational users. Technically, the World Health Organization classifies any substance as psychoactive if it alters mental processes, including cognition. On this basis, CBD should be deemed as a psychoactive compound, similar to THC. However, its effects are calming and, for sure, not intoxicating.
A prevailing perception is that only CBD has pharmacological value. THC, despite being psychoactive, also has invaluable medicinal properties.
- Appetite stimulant
- Muscle relaxant
- Sleep aid
Keep in mind that you do not have to pick one or the other. The combination of THC and CBD in specific ratios can be used to enhance benefits and reduce the downsides of each compound.
Again, you should consult a medical professional before deciding to use cannabis for self-medication. Although it is easy to distinguish the clinical indications, choosing a strain and the dosage can be quite challenging.
THC might be indicated for:
- Acute pain
- Anxiety (low doses)
- Cancer pain
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Loss of appetite
- Palliative care
- Sleep disorders
- Tourette’s syndrome
- Wasting syndrome (cachexia)
CBD might be indicated for:
A combination of THC and CBD might be indicated for:
- Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
- Chronic pain
- Inflammatory bowel diseases
- Multiple sclerosis
- Perturbations in mood (depression, anxiety)
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Spinal cord injury and disease
- Quality of life management
Although these clinical indications have been reviewed and discussed by Health Canada, the evidence is far from conclusive. Your medical team can discuss the potential use of medical cannabis if you have one or more of the indications described above.
THC comes with the potential for misuse and dependence, potentially developing into cannabis use disorder. Its side effects include:
- Dry mouth
- Memory impairment
- Motor impairment (do not drive high)
- Red eyes
- Slow reaction time
Pure CBD, on the other hand, has no recreational abuse or dependence potential. It also has possible side effects that include:
- Dry mouth
- Mild Nausea
These side-effects are often a result of overconsumption. Always follow medical advice to avoid unnecessary consequences. This is why Health Canada advises all Canadians to start low and go slow.
When it comes to medicine, health care providers use the term ‘titration’ to describe how drug use should build and decline slowly. Whether you are initiating or concluding the use of a medication, many require a gradual build-up and come-down. For example, when starting the use of CBD, start with only a few mg’s and then gradually increase this dose over several days and weeks. Doing so can help avoid these unwanted side-effects.
Regarding long-term effects, CBD does not appear to cause any long-term harm. There is some evidence that CBD may have negative impacts on your liver function, but researchers are seeking out more answers here. THC, on the contrary, has the potential to cause lung concerns (from smoking cannabis), such as chronic bronchitis. Consuming large amounts of THC regularly may lead to other health concerns over time.
Is THC or CBD Better?
It depends on the reasons for use and your state of health. Your medical team can help you determine which is better suited to alleviate medical symptoms.
For recreational use, which cannabinoid you select should depend on your goals. If you want to get high, then the answer is obvious: THC. That said, you want to ensure you stay within your tolerance limit to avoid unwanted side-effects. If THC causes you to feel anxious or panicky, then use a less potent strain or reduce the dosage.
If you are looking to enhance your enjoyment of watching a movie, eating a healthy meal, or listening to an album, high-THC strains such as Grandpa’s Stash or similar strains are an excellent choice. It contains plenty of THC, ranging from 20% to 27%.
When it comes to pain, both compounds hold value. THC is best for relaxation and reducing muscle tension. CBD is better at reducing the anxiety surrounding pain and addressing inflammatory root-causes of pain. If you have chronic pain problems, seeking medical assistance is strongly advised.
Which One Should You Choose?
Whether THC or CBD is better for you will depend on your needs and your goals.
CBD strains may help reduce anxiety, promote sleep, and reduce inflammation without the high. On the other hand, THC-rich strains are your best choice for euphoria, enhancement of sensory pleasures, and relaxation.
Although THC has substantial benefits, it also comes with unique side-effects and potential long-term harms. For these reasons, you should start low and go slow when getting high. Frequent and heavy use of THC also comes with health risks. The best way to manage these risks acutely is by including some CBD in your regime. Regarding potential long-term harms, taking breaks from THC can help prevent these, as well as reduce tolerance build-up. This is why many consumers call them T-breaks, which stands for tolerance-breaks.
Finally, when it comes to medical cannabis, both THC and CBD have their benefits. Deciding which is better for you is something that should be discussed with your medical professional team. You should always follow medical guidance and do what is needed to stay safe. This includes not driving while high, as well as avoiding other potentially dangerous or anxiety-provoking experiences while baked.