You may have already heard of CBD (Cannabidiol) and THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), compounds found in the cannabis plant. While these compounds have the exact same chemical makeup (21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms), they have very different effects on the body. The main difference between CBD and THC comes down to the placement of one single atom, 1 million times smaller than a human hair:
To review, a cannabinoid is a compound that interacts directly with our body’s Endocannabinoid System (ECS). The ECS is a network of receptors that interact with cannabinoids to maintain vital functions throughout our body. In 1995, scientists discovered that we have two different kinds of receptors in our body: CB1 and CB2. The main distinction between them is that CB1 receptors are found in regions of the brain responsible for mental and physiological processes like memory, high cognition, emotion, and motor coordination, whereas CB2 receptors are found throughout the central nervous and immune systems.
So then, what is the main difference between CBD and THC? Because of the placement of that single atom, these two compounds interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors very differently. Both CBD and THC bind to the CB2 receptor, but they bond with the CB1 receptor differently. THC binds directly with CB1 receptors, which creates signals that are sent to the brain.This results in the psychoactive effects of “getting high.”
Research shows that CBD does not bond directly with the CB1 receptor, and its presence can actually negate the bond between THC and the CB1 receptors. This can help neutralize the psychoactive effects induced by THC if someone is having a tumultuous psychoactive experience.
Because of its ability to induce mind-altering effects, THC has been classified as an illegal substance in most countries around the world, including the United States. While both cannabinoids can offer tremendous health benefits, CBD can deliver many of the same benefits of THC without inducing a psychoactive experience.