Having trouble choosing the right cannabis product? Wondering if CBD works better than THC? Compare both of these major cannabinoids and wonder no more!
If you’re looking for a little something to take the fear out of Mondays, you’re in the right place! Not only is cannabidiol (CBD) great for helping you keep your composure when you’re on the verge of tearing your hair out, it’s got other benefits, including:
- It’s federally legal, unlike THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis).
- It doesn’t have any of THC’s psychoactive side effects, like euphoria or paranoia.
- It’s safe for most people. A 2018 World Health Organization report says that CBD has “a good safety profile," and any "reported adverse effects may be a result of drug-drug interactions between CBD and existing medications.”
That all sounds great. But you probably still have questions. (Hell yeah. At Sunday Scaries, we advocate knowing as much as you can about everything that goes into your body.)
The most immediate one: does CBD work better than THC?
The answer is complicated. You can’t say that CBD works better than THC, but you might say that it’s better in certain respects (like fewer side effects). All cannabinoids work on the same system, but they work in slightly different ways.
CBD vs. THC: Structure
CBD and THC have very similar chemical structures. They’re both made up of:
- 21 carbon atoms
- 30 hydrogen atoms
- 2 oxygen atoms
Their molecular laundry lists are completely the same, even though THC and CBD really don’t behave the same way in your body! The differing effects come from how the atoms are arranged in each cannabinoid.
For example, CBD's shape means it has a tough time binding to CB1 receptors in your brain without THC present. It’s better at blocking that receptor, which in turn blocks some of the classic THC side effects that you associate with too much cannabis. Those include hunger, paranoia, and couch lock, or a feeling of extremely relaxed sedation.
CBD and THC: Effects on the brain
CBD and THC both act on receptors in the brain and nervous system to affect how your neurotransmitters communicate with each other.
For CBD, the interactions include:
- Serotonin 1A receptor targeting, which could have antiemetic, analgesic, antidepressant, and anxiolytic effects
- Vanilloid TRPV1 receptor blocking, which a 2005 study noted “may play an important role in pain induced by inflammation or neuropathy”
- Orphan GPR55 receptor targeting, which a 2008 study reported “may have therapeutic potential in the treatment of both inflammatory and neuropathic pain”
For THC, the effects include:
- Slowed reaction times
- Anti-nausea effects
- Impaired coordination
- Memory problems
- Pain relief
- Altered cognition
- Increased appetite
- Panic or paranoia
CBD vs. THC for anxiety
Both of these substances have been investigated for their impact on anxiety.
A 2015 review of CBD studies by New York University School of Medicine researchers found that “existing preclinical evidence strongly supports CBD as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder when administered acutely." The researchers did not conclude how long-term use of CBD might impact these conditions, however.
Complicating the picture, a 2014 review of medical marijuana research found that “psychosis, dysphoria, and anxiety are associated with higher concentrations of THC.”
So, while CBD and marijuana share some similar effects, many people with anxiety would rather avoid THC!
How effective is CBD without THC?
Some research indicates that CBD works better with some THC thrown in for good measure, but it doesn’t have to be much. And THC isn’t the only cannabinoid that improves how CBD works.
You see, when you take CBD alone—also known as “CBD isolate”—you just get the effects of that compound. But when you take CBD with THC or another cannabinoid (and there are over 140 in the cannabis plant), you trigger something called “the entourage effect.”
This describes the phenomenon where CBD works better with other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids (all parts of the cannabis plant) than it does alone. We don’t completely understand why this happens, but it’s well-documented.
So, what’s the bottom line?
THC is not “better” than CBD, and vice versa. They may work better together in some amounts, however.
But since THC is not federally legal, may cause a positive result on a drug test, and often involves numerous side effects that a lot of people don’t want, you may want to go with a cannabis product that doesn’t have any of it.
The good news is that you can still get the enhanced benefits of CBD working together with other substances in the cannabis plant by taking broad-spectrum CBD instead of CBD isolate. Broad-spectrum products include cannabidiol and the other substances that trigger the entourage effect, without containing any THC.
Curious? Featured Article: What Does CBD Feel Like?
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