MYTH: CBD Is The Same As THC TRUTH: CBD And THC Are Very Different
While both THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) are both cannabinoids, they are very different compounds with different properties and effects on the human body.
First of all, a cannabinoid is any chemical compound that can affect receptors in the body called cannabinoid receptors. Our body makes its own endogenous cannabinoids, such as anandamide, which makes sense because we wouldn’t have receptors on our cells for compounds we didn’t make ourselves. The plant genus Cannabis also produces at least 113 different cannabinoids which can affect our receptors, with THC and CBD being the two most well-known and studied.
THC is the principal psychoactive molecule in cannabis. THC binds to both of the cannabinoid receptors in the human body (called CB1 and CB2), with preferential binding to the CB1 receptor which is abundant in the central nervous system. THC can also bind to other various receptors, including blocking the activity of a particular subtype of serotonin receptor called 5-HT3A, but its action at the CB1 receptors are responsible for its psychoactive properties and have thus been the most heavily studied.
CBD was identified in 1940 and has since attracted a lot of attention from the medical and scientific communities. CBD does not have intoxicating effects on the central nervous system like THC. Interestingly, CBD actually opposes the action of THC in the brain by neutralizing the action of THC at CB1 and CB2 receptors. CBD itself has very little action at these receptors. As discussed in other science articles on Wai Natural, CBD binds to other receptors in the body giving it a myriad of therapeutic benefits.
Use of THC also has negative consequences which are notably absent with CBD use. For example, chronic daily use of THC has been linked with psychosis. CBD, on the other hand, has been touted as a potential antipsychotic treatment. Chronic use of THC has also been linked with impaired cognitive abilities, most frequently emotional processing and verbal and working memory performance. CBD seems to help block or reverse the negative effects of THC on cognition, which is why people who consume cannabis with a high THC/low CBD ratio have the worst outcomes. CBD taken alone can actually have beneficial effects on cognition and memory.
THC, through its actions at the CB1 receptors, also affects the so-called “reward system” of the brain by increasing dopamine release in an area called the nucleus accumbens. This effect on dopamine and the brain’s reward center is what underlies addiction to all known drugs of abuse, and the addictive properties of activation in this brain area are why THC is labeled a Schedule 1 drug by the Controlled Substances Act. CBD, on the other hand, does not affect this area of the brain and thus is non-addictive. Consequently, the DEA has recently removed CBD from the Schedule 1 drug list and reclassified it as a safer, non-addicting Schedule 5 compound.
THC is an agonist at CB1 and CB2 Receptors
CBD is an antagonist (blocker) of CB1 Receptors and binds to many other receptors giving it enormous therapeutic potential
THC activates the brain’s reward center, making it addictive
CBD does not affect this area of the brain, making it non-addictive
CBD is a potential anti-psychotic with no known detrimental effects of long-term use
Chronic THC use is linked reduced ability for emotional processing and problems with verbal and working memory
CBD can increase cognitive performance and has the potential for treating cognitive decline
THC causes temporary side effects such as increased heart rate, coordination problems, dry mouth, red eyes, slowed reaction times, and memory loss
CBD is well tolerated, even in high doses, and has very few side effects
What About the Other Cannabinoids?
The other cannabinoids present in cannabis have not gotten as much attention or research as THC and CBD. However, there has been some research into the potential of these other cannabinoids for therapeutic uses. Cannabinol (CBN) increases in amount as cannabis ages, and it has about 10% of the activity of THC at the CB receptors, suggesting that it could be used for some of the medicinal benefits of THC without the harmful side effects. Cannabigerol (CBG) is found in larger quantities in low-THC cannabis strains and shows anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.