CBD vs THC – if you’re into cannabis, you’ve likely come across both acronyms. Whether you consider yourself a cannabis connoisseur or know nothing about the plant, learning the difference between THC and CBD is a useful way to get to know the medicine a little better. With modern technology, laboratories can track the exact percentage of THC and CBD in each strain. With the ability to test different strains for their precise THC or CBD content, we can fine-tune our consumption experience until we find a balance which works with our body.
THC and CBD are not the only factors contributing to our high; terpenes, indica/sativa affiliation, and the process used to grow the plant contribute as well. The strain’s aroma and flavor profile are created by compounds known as terpenes. In addition, strains have historically been categorized by indica, sativa, and the lesser-known ruderalis, which help to distinguish their typical characteristics.
Let’s take a closer look at what the cannabis plant is made of, so we can understand the distinction between CBD vs THC.
What makes up a cannabis plant?
Like most plants, cannabis can be either male, female, or both. Male cannabis plants produce seeds, not flowers, while female cannabis plant produces flowers. Hermaphrodites can flower and produce seeds. Flowers are usually what is smoked or consumed, and are the desired outcome of growers.
Every gender of plant has the same basic structure – a stem, branches, and leaves which can contain small amounts of THC, CBD, and terpenes. However, the majority of these compounds reside in the flowers. For decades, growers have bred cannabis to produce large, pungent, sticky flowers. Male plants are usually not desired in the growing process, as they cannot be processed to consume, and usually produce enough seeds to last a few growing cycles.
Cannabis flowers, once dried and cured, are sticky, aromatic, and sparkly in appearance. Trichomes cause the stickiness, strong smell, and sparkly appearance. If you look closely, trichomes look like tiny translucent mushrooms, covering almost every millimeter of the cannabis flower.
Trichomes make the cannabinoids (THC, CBD, and others) as well as, terpenes. Trichomes are where the magic happens. Quality cannabis is often judged by the amount of trichomes visible, the pungent smell, and stickiness of the flower.
What are cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are the stars of the show. THC, CBD, along with over 100 other chemical compounds, are classified as cannabinoids compounds which interact with our endocannabinoid system to provide relief, euphoria, and contribute to mood, sleep, and various other physiological functions.
Cannabinoid receptors bind with cannabinoids in the products we consume to alter our mood, appetite, pain sensation, memory, and overall experience. Without cannabinoids, cannabis would only be a decorative plant, not a healing medicine, nor would it have any recreational value.
CBD and THC are only two of the 100 or more known cannabinoids. THC was the main attraction for decades, before the discovery of CBD’s healing properties. After decades of prohibition, cannabinoid knowledge is only now beginning to surface.
Cannabis connoisseurs pride themselves on their knowledge of each cannabinoid, as every individual compound produces its own different set of effects and benefits in the mammalian brain. Learning about the different cannabinoids and their effects can help you find strains that more closely fit your preferences.
What is THC?
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main chemical compound in cannabis. Well known for its psychoactive effects, THC alters your mental state. While it also has medicinal benefits, like stimulating your appetite, combating insomnia, and lessening depression symptoms, THC gives you a “cerebral high.” If you look at the dispensary packaging, the THC content is always displayed. The higher percentage of THC, the higher you will likely feel. Under the umbrella of THC are THCa and THCv.
THCa, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in raw, live cannabis. THCa is converted to THC when heat is applied, such as during smoking, vaping, or decarboxylating cannabis. While the effects of THCa are relatively unknown, it likely holds many of the same benefits of THC, which include anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, anti-emetic, and anti-proliferative properties.
THCv, tetrahydrocannabivarin, has a unique set of properties. THCv is reported to cause psychoactive activity in larger doses, produces an energetic high, may help with appetite control (a suppressant, unlike THC with is a stimulant), and could stimulate bone growth.
Overall, “getting high” is associated with THC. While interest in other cannabinoids is growing, the overall trend of the legal cannabis market still leans towards a high THC content.
What is CBD?
CBD, or cannabidiol, has gained recent popularity for its myriad of healing properties. In short, CBD is the non-psychoactive cannabinoid used to treat a wide range of medical conditions. CBD will not create a psychoactive effect, in fact, it can counter the cerebral effects of THC. CBD is used in medicinal tinctures, salves, edibles, and other medically focused cannabis products.
In addition to CBD, there is CBG, CBC, CBDa, CBN and many others. Much like THC and THCa, CBDa is converted into CBD once dried, cured, and heated. CBDa has gained recent popularity for its potential in stopping the spread of breast cancer. CBN has reported pain-relief, anti-insomnia, antibacterial, and anti-convulsive properties. CBC may encourage brain growth, act as an antidepressant, and can provide pain relief. CBG hold many of the same medical properties.
Overall, CBD has helped thousands overcome their acute pain, seizures, depression, inflammation, and more.
The best of both worlds
Before searching for the perfect plant which contains the exact cannabinoids you need, understand more growers are moving towards whole plant medicine, or cannabis products which contain all of the natural cannabinoids, not just THC or CBD.
Whether you’re looking for that classic stony, relaxed feeling from THC, or are curious about the healing properties of CBD, many dispensaries are carrying whole plant products, ask your local budtender what whole plant options are available, so you, too, can experience everything cannabis has to offer.