CBD vs THC: What’s the difference?

by Laura Howarth September 02, 2022

CBD vs THC: What’s the difference?

So many abbreviations, so little time. If you’re new to the world of CBD, it can be overwhelming to piece it all together. So we’ve created this short guide to help you get to grips with the key differences between these incredible compounds.

CBD and THC are the most well-known of all the cannabinoids. They have also been studied more extensively than all other cannabinoids. Head to PubMed, the database for biomedical and life sciences literature, and THC will return over 12,900 results while CBD returns over 9,900 results.

THC and CBD are often grouped together, but there are plenty of differences to consider. The main one is that THC is intoxicating while CBD is not. This is why THC is a controlled substance in the UK, while CBD food supplements can be purchased legally, without a prescription.

CBD vs THC fast facts

  • CBD and THC are both extracted from the cannabis plant.
  • While THC is intoxicating, CBD is not.
  • THC is a controlled substance in the UK.
  • CBD is currently the subject of many studies exploring its therapeutic potential.
  • Some CBD products contain safe and legal trace amounts of THC.
  • When taken together, CBD and THC offer a synergistic effect known as the entourage effect. 

What is CBD?

CBD molecule

CBD, or cannabidiol, is an active compound found in the cannabis plant. It is found in the highest concentrations in a strain of cannabis called Cannabis Sativa, also known as hemp. CBD makes up around 40% of the cannabis plant's extract. 

It is from a group of compounds called cannabinoids that are able to bind with physiological targets in the endocannabinoid system (ECS). There is still a lot we don’t know about how this system works and how CBD might provide benefits, but early results are promising.

All cannabinoids start life as CBG. As the cannabis plant matures, the structure of the CBG is altered, leading to the formation of CBD, THC and other cannabinoids. CBD is structurally similar to THC. It has 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms but these are arranged in different ways.

What is THC?

THC molecule

THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is the intoxicating and psychoactive compound that is responsible for the euphoric high in cannabis. It is present in trace amounts in some CBD products known as full-spectrum CBD, but it is removed entirely from broad-spectrum CBD and isolate products.

While often used recreationally, THC also has potential therapeutic benefits. It is commonly used to treat anxiety, depression, glaucoma, insomnia, PTSD, inflammation, MS and poor appetite. It is also used to help individuals undergoing cancer treatment manage the side effects.

While THC might offer some benefits, long-term and chronic use has been linked to some health problems. THC also has the potential to be addictive. Cannabis use has been linked to worsening mental health problems, although it isn’t yet understood if THC is directly to blame.

CBD vs THC, what’s the difference

While THC is capable of producing an intoxicating effect in high concentrations, CBD doesn’t work the same way. To understand why this is the case, we need to know a little more about the ECS. 

The ECS is like a series of locks and keys. Your body produces endocannabinoids (the keys) which fit in the receptors (the locks) throughout the body. THC looks similar to the keys produced in your body, so it can fit in the locks and block the pathway, preventing the ECS from working efficiently. But CBD does not block these receptor sites. 

ESC receptors cb1 cb2

We don’t yet fully understand how CBD works, but one theory is that it stops your body from releasing an enzyme that breaks down endocannabinoids after they have been used. This means your ECS has more endocannabinoids available. 

Ask any recreational user why they enjoy cannabis, and they likely won’t list this as one of the reasons they enjoy it. Instead, it’s the effects of this interruption that will likely top the list. THC produces a euphoric high and a sense of relaxation. 

It also disrupts key messages such as appetite control, which leads to an insatiable appetite, more commonly known as the munchies. Sleep, memory and sensory perceptions are also disrupted.

CBD, on the other hand, is thought to support the body by enhancing the function of the ECS. And when the ECS is able to function as effectively as possible, this helps with a wide variety of functions, including sleep, memory, pain response, mood and so much more.

What is THC to CBD ratio?

Recreational cannabis users might be familiar with this term, but it isn’t widely understood outside of these circles. The THC to CBD ratio simply refers to the amount of THC and CBD in a product, represented by a ratio. So, a 1:1 ratio would mean that there is an equal amount of CBD to THC.

As we learn more about how CBD and THC work together, achieving the right THC to CBD ratio in medical cannabis and CBD products will become more important. According to some recreational cannabis users, the ideal THC to CBD ratio is 1:1, as this allows the users to enjoy the benefits of both, otherwise known as the entourage effect.

CBD oil with THC

BioBloom CBD collection

Since THC is a controlled substance in the UK, there are strict rules on how much can be present in your CBD products. You will often see the THC content represented as a percentage, but it’s a little more complicated than this. For a CBD product to be legally sold in the UK, it must meet the following criteria:

  • It cannot be sold as a medicine, or make any medical claims.
  • The container cannot contain more than 1mg of THC, THCV or CBN.
  • The THC cannot be easily separated from the rest of the product.
  • CBD capsules, gummies, oils, pastes and other edibles must receive Novel Foods authorisation.

If you’re concerned about the THC content and would rather avoid it altogether, Love Hemp and CannabiGold (Terpenes+ range only) offer a selection of broad-spectrum products that are free from THC.

Biopurus CBD collection

For those looking for a CBD product with safe and legal levels of THC, we’d recommend the following CBD oils: 

These are all full-spectrum products and represent a range of strengths to suit every CBD user. If you’d like more support, we are proud to offer one-to-one buying advice to help you choose the ideal CBD product for your needs.

In summary

While they are derived from the same plant, THC and CBD are vastly different and interact with the body in very different ways. We welcome more research into the benefits of THC when used alongside CBD, as this could pave the way for a better understanding and wider acceptance of the therapeutic benefits of THC.

In the meantime, we encourage CBD users to explore a wide range of products, including full-spectrum and broad-spectrum to help them understand how these compounds affect them.

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Laura Howarth
Laura Howarth


Laura Howarth is a specialist CBD author based in Manchester, UK. She is passionate about sharing her love for CBD through educational articles and in-depth guides.

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