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CBD vs THC – Understanding these Key Cannabinoids

As the use of cannabis is being legalized by one nation after another, it is normal for questions about THC and CBD to arise. Cannabis contains more than 100 cannabinoids and the most abundant and the most researched ones are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC and CBD are chemically similar to endocannabinoids (cannabinoids secreted by the body). That is why they can interact directly with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a network of receptors that interact with cannabinoids produced by plants and the body. Both types of cannabinoids benefit the body when they interact with the system. So far scientists have uncovered two types of receptors within the system. These are:

CB1 receptors concentrated in the brain and the central nervous system. They are responsible for body processes such as memory, thinking, emotions, and motor coordination.
CB2 receptors found throughout the immune system and the central nervous system.
Below we discuss the similarities and major differences between CBD and THC which will help users to make choices when they buy products.

About CBD and THC

CBD is the major cannabinoid produced by the hemp plant. While the plant produces both CBD and THC, it contains a higher concentration of CBD (up to 40%), and less than 0.3% THC. This makes it the ideal source of CBD. CBD for medicinal purposes is extracted from dried hemp stalks, stems, flowers, and leaves using CO2 extraction method. It is generally available in the form of oils, gels, extracts, gummies, and supplements. People are coming up with more novel CBD products.
THC is the major cannabinoid produced by the marijuana plant. While marijuana contains both THC and CBD, it has a higher concentration (around 12%) of THC than CBD. Some people use THC by smoking marijuana for recreational, medicinal, and spiritual purposes. It is also available in oils, capsules, edibles, tinctures, and more.

Chemical structure

THC and CBD are almost identical in their molecular composition, consisting of 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. However, they differ in how one atom is arranged. Because of this slight chemical difference, the two cannabinoids have different effects when ingested or applied onto the body.

Psychoactive effects

THC bonds directly with CB1 receptors which are in the brain. This results in certain signals being sent to the brain that cause the psychoactive effects that we know as “getting high.” Although THC provides a number of great health benefits, most people do not desire this psychoactive effect. This is why there is more focus on CBD for medicinal purposes.
CBD does not bind directly to the CB1 receptors. It works by weakening the ability of THC to bind to CB1 receptors. This reduces or weakens THC’s psychoactive effects. That is why users of CBD-rich cannabis will get a long list of health benefits without getting high like those who use THC-dominant cannabis products.


One by one, nations have been legalizing cannabis for medicinal use in the past few years, but some nations are behind. Therefore, before buying any cannabis products, check out the laws of the nation where you plan to buy. In New Zealand, medicinal cannabis is legal as long as users get it through a prescription from a doctor, but the use of marijuana for recreational purposes remains illegal. For many countries where cannabis is legal, CBD must have 0.3% or less THC in order to be legal.

It is worth noting that the United Nations reclassified cannabis as a less dangerous drug at the beginning of December 2020. While this does not affect individual national laws, it enables research to continue even in countries that have not yet legalized cannabis.

Medical benefits

CBD and THC share a number of medical benefits. The main difference is that THC causes a euphoric effect while CBD does not.


THC is useful for relieving or healing many conditions such as:
Pain and inflammation. This benefits people suffering from arthritis, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, chronic pain, and many other painful conditions.
Muscle spasticity
Inflammatory bowel syndrome.
Psychosis or mental disorders.
Migraines and headaches.
Low appetite.
Depression and anxiety.


CBD is used to relieve or heal many conditions such as:
Acute and chronic pain including migraines and headaches.
Inflammation: Inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS), rheumatoid arthritis, colitis, diverticulitis, etc.
Brain injury: Concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Muscle spasticity.
Low appetite and nausea.
Mental disorders: Anxiety, stress, epilepsy, depression, insomnia, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Chronic fatigue.
Addiction and withdrawal symptoms.
Autoimmune diseases.

Side effects

When taken in high doses, CBD can have side effects such as tiredness, diarrhoea, and changes in weight and appetite. However, scientists found that it has milder side effects compared to commonly used medicines. What you need to watch out for is drug interaction! Therefore, it’s important to talk to your doctor before using it if you are on other medication.
THC is known to have the following temporary side effects that are related to its psychoactive properties:
Red eyes
Memory loss
Increased heart rate
Dry mouth
Slow reaction times
Coordination problems
Long term use of high levels of THC is suspected of having long term negative psychiatric effects such as schizophrenia, but there is no evidence to support this. However, neither of the two cannabinoids is fatal.

Drug testing

Using any cannabis products has implications for those who have to undergo drug testing. Both THC and CBD are stored in the body’s fat and they tend to show up on drug tests several weeks after they have been used.


Most standard drug tests are sensitive to THC. Therefore, if you use marijuana or THC extract, the compound will show up in drug screenings. If you are an athlete, it is advisable to allow enough time to elapse after using THC-rich products before participating in competitions in which you will be tested.


Though CBD-sensitive tests are available, many drug tests will not detect CBD. However, when you take or use CBD products, you are highly likely to test positive for THC. To be on the safe side, allow enough time to elapse before competitions.
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At the CBD Oil NZ team we're looking to provide you with up to date information on CBD in New Zealand regarding new research and regulation.

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At the CBD Oil NZ team we're looking to provide you with up to date information on CBD in New Zealand regarding new research and regulation.
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