Does CBD get you high? Learn more here about how CBD and THC work together from our pharmacist, and find out if CBD oil will get you high. Wondering if CBD gets you high? The answer boils down to distinguishing between psychoactive vs intoxicating. This article clears up potential confusion and explains the effects of CBD on the brain in simple words. CBD and THC are both cannabinoids, but they can have differing effects on the body. Learn more about the differences in the effects and benefits of CBD vs, THC.
Does CBD Oil Get You High? Ask a Pharmacist
The best explanation of “getting high” comes from the John Denver song, “Sunshine on my Shoulders.” He sings: “Sunshine almost always makes me high.” But when that sunshine makes a hemp plant grow, and that hemp creates CBD, many of us come to an initial question: does CBD get you high?
Is CBD Oil Psychoactive?
“Getting high” has been scientifically described as elevating one’s state of mind. The science shows that getting high is the creation of an altered state of mind or consciousness.
These sensations can be caused by a variety of different activities or drugs. The cannabis sativa plant species is well known throughout human history for its capabilities to alter mood and sensation. CBD’s cannabinoid cousin, THC, is the compound in marijuana that can make you feel high. Knowing that quality CBD contains THC the natural question is will CDB oil, gummies, or other products containing CBD produce that “high” feeling? Lets look into the relationship between CBD and THC and if it is possible use hemp derived CBD without getting high?
CBD vs THC
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of at least 150 phytocannabinoids present in the cannabis plant, along with the popular delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). 2
The benefits of CBD and other cannabinoids found in cannabis hemp plant material have been anecdotally understood for decades. From college parties, to home cooking, to hardy textiles- hemp cannabis plants are infused into the culture of both prehistoric and modern civilizations, 3 and they don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
Generally speaking, the type of cannabis we call “marijuana” produces larger amounts of the THC compound, 4 and the type of cannabis we call “hemp” produces larger amounts of the CBD compound. 5 These two cannabinoids are the most well known since they have dominated discussions amongst health and wellness enthusiasts for the past several years.
Hemp vs Marijuana
The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, also known as the 2018 Farm Bill, made hemp cultivation legal. It achieved this by defining hemp to distinguish it from illegal marijuana. If a cannabis plant contains less than 0.3 percent THC content, it is considered hemp and is now federally legal. 6
Soon, growers realized that the federal government only placed restrictions on THC, and not the many other cannabis compounds like CBD. In short order, cannabis cultivators began cross-breeding different plant strains to reduce THC levels, while also meeting the CBD percentage threshold necessary to be manufactured into CBD oils and CBD products, like THC and CBD infused gummies.
Hemp plants look and smell the same as recreational marijuana strains, the only difference is the amount of THC. The only way to tell the difference between hemp and marijuana is with a chemical analysis.
Cannabinoids & Endocannabinoid System
So how does CBD work? Before we talk about what CBD does to the body, a quick vocabulary lesson might be helpful first. “Phyto-“ means “plant” in Greek. Therefore, “phytocannabinoids” are the cannabinoids found naturally in cannabis plants. 7 They are similar to endocannabinoids. “Endo-“ is a Greek prefix that means “from within, or inside.” So, “endocannabinoid” refers to a cannabinoid that is produced naturally inside your body. 8
The recently discovered endocannabinoid system is network of cannabinoid receptors that are found throughout the body. The endocannabinoid system, or ECS, communicates with cannabinoids, whether they are endocannabinoids or phytocannabinoids. The ECS responds to cannabinoids that are inhaled through smoke, absorbed sublingually into the blood stream through a tincture, or taken orally in a capsule. 9
The ECS has of two types of cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2. 10 These two types of receptors are key to understanding how CBD and THC works, and why they effect the body differently. Namely, why THC produces a “high” sensation, while CBD alone does not.
How Does THC Get You High?
The principle cannabinoid that causes the psychoactive effects of cannabis, Tetrahydrocannabinol THC, works by activating the endocannabinoid system’s CB1 receptors. CB1 receptors mostly reside in the brain, brain stem, and elsewhere in the central nervous system. 11 By binding to receptors in the brain, a high dose of THC from recreational marijuana produces the feelings associated with “getting high,” such as: euphoria, laughter, and distortions of the senses. 12
Can CBD Get You High?
So, can CBD get you high? That answer is no. The effects of CBD are different from the effects of THC. CBD affects the way the ECS’s receptors bind with THC, mitigating the psychoactive effects of the THC. This has led to the conclusion that CBD can bring you back to “middle” instead of being “high.” CBD is technically psychoactive because of calming effects it can have, but users say it is not at all like being high from THC-rich marijuana.
The main difference between THC and CBD is the end result that they bring to the consumer. THC is a cannabinoid that has been used by many people as a means to find a euphoric escape, otherwise known as “getting high.” On the other hand, CBD reportedly does not produce the same euphoric feeling that THC does. 13
This corresponds with what we understand about CBD as helping the body restore balance. Cannabinoids including CBD may help bring us back to center, without the risk of getting intoxicated. Even though full spectrum CBD oil contains trace amounts of THC, this THC level is far below the amount needed to actively cause psychotropic effects. It is enough, however, to work with the other cannabinoids for the most wellness and health benefits .
What Does CBD Do?
We discussed CBD’s ability to bind with the receptors in our endocannabinoid system. With this knowledge, you can see how CBD can not make you high, but CBD could get you “middle,” bringing the body and mind into balance in a healthy way. That’s something that all of us could certainly use in our everyday life. And that’s why cannabis products containing the full spectrum of cannabinoids are leading the modern supplement industry.
But how can you be sure that you are taking a federally legal CBD product that won’t make you feel high? Cornbread Hemp makes it easy by making their high quality USDA certified organic CBD oils from only the flowering portions of organic hemp grown in Kentucky, where hemp plants are legal but marijuana plants are not.
Cornbread Hemp also makes their third party lab reports readily available. These reports include the CBD content and the THC content of each product. Therefore, you can rest assured that any Cornbread Hemp CBD product will never contain more than the federal legal limit of 0.3 percent THC. It is just enough THC to work alongside CBD to help produce an “entourage effect.”
The Entourage Effect
Full spectrum CBD products made in accordance with the Farm Bill of 2018 contain less than 0.3 percent THC by law. Many CBD companies only sell broad spectrum or CBD isolate products which contain no THC at all. Much of this due to an outdated stigma associated with marijuana.
Look at the full spectrum of cannabinoids, including both majors and minors, like your favorite sports team, with CBD and THC as two of the most important players. If one of them is suddenly no longer playing, the team’s performance will suffer as a result. Studies show that without THC, the product may not be as effective. This is because of a reaction known as the “entourage effect.” 16 Every educated CBD consumer should look for a full spectrum product, if they want the most benefit from using marijuana derived CBD oil .
Full spectrum CBD products are available in many forms, the most popular being a sublingual mix of hemp extract blended with coconut oil. CBD may also be made into edibles like CBD gummies, CBD capsules, topical lotions and CBD creams, or even a specialized oil to be used in a vape pen. There are endless applications to CBD and CBD oils. Products made with hemp derived CBD are finding their way into many of our everyday health and beauty products, which is even more reason to be mindful of what you are purchasing.
If you take CBD, you should be aware that ingesting doses of CBD may cause you to fail a drug test. While THC-free products might seem like a safer bet than full spectrum oils, your workplace may use a drug test that can’t tell the difference between the cannabinoids from cannabis and hemp. So there is a chance that you could be at risk for testing positive on a drug test even if you use a THC-free CBD product.
If you think you might be subjected to workplace drug testing, talk to your HR department before beginning a CBD regimen.
Is CBD Legal?
Yes, CBD is federally legal in all of the United States, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and Guam. Regular, THC-rich, marijuana remains a Schedule 1 restricted substance. If a cannabis sativa plant has less than 0.3 percent THC in it, it is considered industrial hemp, which was made legal by the 2018 Farm Bill. The 2018 Farm Bill made CBD legal to make, sell, consume, and ship.
Some states have various restrictions. For example, several states have made it illegal to sell CBD in food products or beverages. But the patchwork that is state laws doesn’t matter to the US Postal Service. The USPS will deliver your products safely to your door or even your post office box, no matter where you are in the USA. You are allowed to receive your CBD products in peace at home, in every state and US territory.
What are the side effects of CBD?
There are very few negative consequences of taking full spectrum hemp extract, according to preliminary research and anecdotal reports. Most side effects occur when you have taken more than the recommended dosage, and sometimes these side effects can result from the carrier oil, not the hemp extract.
Potential side effects include:
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Dry mouth
- Interactions with medicines
- Allergic reaction
Although for many people who take CBD products, drowsiness is a benefit, not a drawback, some people find drowsiness to be a negative side effect — especially if they feel drowsy in the morning after waking up. No one likes gastrointestinal issues, but typically these are caused by ingesting more than the recommended dose, some people do experience diarrhea and other intestinal discomfort. Sometimes the culprit is the carrier oil, in our case MCT coconut oil, and that’s what upsets the tummy.
Dry mouth is a storied side effect of smoking marijuana, and at times and for some people, ingesting CBD products may have a similar effect.
We always advise checking with your doctor before starting with full spectrum hemp extracts if you are on prescription medications. In very rare cases, a person can be allergic to hemp products. Consult your doctor.
So does CBD get you high? In short, taking CBD oil will make you feel as high as John Denver’s sunshine. Which is to say: the cannabis plant compound cannabidiol (CBD) is not considered to be intoxicating. Actually, scientists are actively working to uncover the beneficial properties of CBD!
Make sure you are choosing high quality legal CBD products that contain less than 0.3% THC. Look for a third-party lab report to be certain. The Food and Drug Administration have yet to pass significant regulations on CBD products, so the USDA organic seal is the best way to be sure you are getting a safe product that is free from pesticides and harmful chemicals.
Cornbread Hemp’s third party lab partner tests our products’ THC and CBD ratios to ensure legality and potency. Also included in the report is a full safety screening for pesticides, heavy metals, microbials, mycotoxins, and residual solvents.
For those that still aren’t sure whether full spectrum products may be right for them, feel free to send us an email at [email protected] and a team member will be happy to answer your questions! And don’t forget to subscribe to our email list to stay up to date on the latest research like how much CBD to take and much more!
About the Author
Dr. Leslie Mudd, PharmD
A board certified oncology pharmacist with 25 years experience at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center in Louisville, Kentucky, Dr. Leslie Mudd now serves as the Cornbread Hemp resident pharmacist and medical expert. Read Dr. Mudd’s full author bio here.
Does CBD Oil Get You High FAQ’s
What can you expect to feel when using CBD?
CBD oil is widely held useful for bringing a sense of chill, a good night’s rest, and comforting muscles and joints. Most people report how much their CBD oil is helping after they stop taking it for the first time.
Can you take too much CBD oil?
The short answer is no. It is safe to take doses of CBD that do not exceed those available over the counter and online. And for the same reasons you won’t get high if you use CBD, you cannot overdose on too much CBD oil. CBD does not affect the areas of the brain that would cause respiratory or circulatory distress.
What are the side effects of CBD?
There aren’t many negative consequences of taking CBD oil, according to preliminary research and anecdotal reports. Most side effects occur when you have taken more than the recommended dosage. Sometimes these side effects could be blamed on the carrier oil, not the CBD.
Potential side effects include:
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Dry mouth
- Interactions with medicines
- Allergic reaction
1. Hicks SD, Jacob P, Perez O, Baffuto M, Gagnon Z, Middleton FA. The Transcriptional Signature of a Runner’s High. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019;51(5):970-978. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000001865. 2nd paragraph.
2. Lafaye G, Karila L, Blecha L, Benyamina A. Cannabis, cannabinoids, and health. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2017;19(3):309-316. Under the heading “Cannabis today,” 2 nd paragraph.
3. Bridgeman MB, Abazia DT. Medicinal Cannabis: History, Pharmacology, And Implications for the Acute Care Setting. P T. 2017;42(3):180-188. Under the heading “Historical Significance,” 1 st paragraph.
4. Cannabis (Marijuana) and Cannabinoids: What You Need To Know. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/cannabis-marijua. Published July 1, 2020. Accessed July 1, 2020. 3 rd bullet under the first paragraph.
5. Hilderbrand RL. Hemp & Cannabidiol: What is a Medicine?. Mo Med. 2018;115(4):306-309. Under the heading “CBD as an Extract from Hemp,” 1st paragraph.
6. Hilderbrand RL. Hemp & Cannabidiol: What is a Medicine?. Mo Med. 2018;115(4):306-309. Under the heading “CBD as an Extract from Hemp,” 1st paragraph
7. Atakan Z. Cannabis, a complex plant: different compounds and different effects on individuals. Ther Adv Psychopharmacol. 2012;2(6):241-254. doi:10.1177/2045125312457586. Under the heading “Delta-0-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol,” 1st paragraph
8. Van der Kloot W. Anandamide, a naturally-occurring agonist of the cannabinoid receptor, blocks adenylate cyclase at the frog neuromuscular junction. Brain Res. 1994;649(1-2):181-184. doi:10.1016/0006-8993(94)91062-6. Do not have access to full text.
9. Lu HC, Mackie K. An Introduction to the Endogenous Cannabinoid System. Biol Psychiatry. 2016;79(7):516-525. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2015.07.028. 1st paragraph
10. Lu HC, Mackie K. An Introduction to the Endogenous Cannabinoid System. Biol Psychiatry. 2016;79(7):516-525. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2015.07.028. 3rd paragraph
11. Reggio PH. Endocannabinoid binding to the cannabinoid receptors: what is known and what remains unknown. Curr Med Chem. 2010;17(14):1468-1486. doi:10.2174/092986710790980005. 3rd paragraph
12. Sharma P, Murthy P, Bharath MM. Chemistry, metabolism, and toxicology of cannabis: clinical implications. Iran J Psychiatry. 2012;7(4):149-156. 10th paragraph
13. Englund A, Morrison PD, Nottage J, et al. Cannabidiol inhibits THC-elicited paranoid symptoms and hippocampal-dependent memory impairment. J Psychopharmacol. 2013;27(1):19-27. doi:10.1177/0269881112460109. Do not have access to full text
14. Linares IM, Zuardi AW, Pereira LC, et al. Cannabidiol presents an inverted U-shaped dose-response curve in a simulated public speaking test. Braz J Psychiatry. 2019;41(1):9-14. doi:10.1590/1516-4446-2017-0015
15. Iffland K, Grotenhermen F. An Update on Safety and Side Effects of Cannabidiol: A Review of Clinical Data and Relevant Animal Studies. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2017;2(1):139-154. Published 2017 Jun 1. doi:10.1089/can.2016.0034. Under “Introduction” heading, 1st paragraph
16. Gallily R, Yekhtin Z, Hanuš LO. Overcoming the Bell-Shaped Dose-Response of Cannabidiol by Using Cannabis Extract Enriched in Cannabidiol. Pharmacol & Pharm. 2015;06(02):75-85. doi:10.4236/pp.2015.62010
Does CBD Oil Get You High?
CBD is known for its massive range of health benefits. Even if you’re not familiar with the cannabis market, you’ve probably heard of CBD in the media, from your neighbor, or in one of the episodes of your favorite podcaster.
CBD is virtually everywhere. More and more people are turning to CBD as a natural alternative for boosting the overall quality of life.
CBD is known for its relaxing and calming effects. Data from case reports and preclinical studies demonstrate CBD’s potential in promoting healthy sleep, improving focus, easing physical discomfort, and helping with addictive behaviors.
But does CBD oil get you high? After all, it comes from the cannabis plant.
There’s a lot of misconception surrounding the effects of CBD. Today we’ll help you understand how the cannabinoid interacts with the brain, which CBD products might get you high, and how to tell the difference between psychoactive vs intoxicating.
Does CBD Oil Get You High?
Generally speaking, CBD oil doesn’t get you high, but the final effect depends on where the CBD comes from and how much THC is in your product.
If your CBD oil contains 0.3% THC or less, it comes from hemp and thus won’t get you high. Such low concentrations of THC are not sufficient enough to induce intoxication.
CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid. It can make you feel more relaxed, in-the-zone, and uplifted, but these effects are nowhere near the marijuana high.
However, there are some exceptions.
Why Some Think You Can Get High on CBD (Misconceptions)
CBD can be sourced both from hemp and marijuana. The latter may contain a considerable amount of THC — upwards of 5% — depending on the final ratio between the two cannabinoids. These products are made from selectively bred marijuana strains that are created for high CBD levels.
Nevertheless, their THC content isn’t as low as in hemp, so it can produce a mild high.
The ratios of CBD to THC can be 1:1, 2:1, 5:1, or even 20:1. The higher the amount of CBD, the less trippy the intoxicating effects. That’s because CBD and THC are like the yin and yang of cannabis.
Here’s what you need to know.
Understanding the Difference Between CBD vs THC
Since CBD is derived from cannabis, people who are going to try CBD oil for the first time are concerned that it will get them high.
Once you understand how CBD and THC affect the brain, you’ll no longer be confused.
Below we share the basic information on CBD, THC, and their traits:
- THC – it is the only intoxicating cannabinoid in cannabis, causing the classic marijuana high. The moment THC binds to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, it produces a variety of effects on the body and brain. In low and moderate doses, THC can induce relaxation, euphoria, appetite, and sometimes sleepiness. The cannabinoid controls memory, mood, pain sensations, appetite, body temperature, and other important functions (1). THC has a biphasic nature, meaning that higher doses may aggravate anxiety and cause mental discomfort in sensitive users.
- CBD – CBD is a non-intoxicant, meaning it won’t get you high. That’s because it doesn’t bind directly to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain. Instead, CBD signals the endocannabinoid system (ECS) to maintain more of its endogenous cannabinoids, helping the body maintain homeostasis (a state of balance between vital bodily functions). CBD can promote relaxation, reduce physical discomfort, improve attention and focus, promote neuroprotection, enhance cartilage and joint health, and provide a general sense of balance (2). On top of that, CBD counteracts the trippy nature of CBD, reducing the likelihood of racing thoughts, anxiety, and paranoia.
As you can see, CBD and THC work synergistically in the body, modulating the activity of one another. Just like CBD is able to mitigate the intoxicating effects of THC, THC may enhance some of the health benefits of CBD, unlocking its full potential.
What Does CBD Actually Feel Like?
CBD alone won’t get you high, but what exactly happens when it enters your body? How does CBD produce its effects?
In the above section, we’ve mentioned that CBD doesn’t directly bind to any cannabinoid receptors in the brain, but it acts on more than 60 receptor-based and receptor-independent pathways.
While THC is a cannabinoid agonist, CBD is the modulator of the ECS.
On top of signaling the ECS to increase the production of endocannabinoids, CBD also slows their breakdown by inhibiting the activity of the fatty acid amino hydrolase (FAAH) enzyme. With more endocannabinoids circulating in the bloodstream, your body can return to homeostasis more efficiently (3).
Most users describe the effects of CBD as a wave of calming sensations and relief running through the body and mind when they take CBD oil or vape it. Depending on the route of administration, CBD oil may take anywhere between 5–90 minutes to kick in.
To sum up, CBD oil can make you feel:
- Less in physical discomfort
Is CBD Psychoactive?
There’s a common misconception that CBD isn’t psychoactive, but in fact, it fits in the official definition like a glove.
The fact that something doesn’t get you high doesn’t mean it’s not psychoactive.
Let’s add another term to resolve the doubts.
Psychoactive vs Intoxicating
The official definition of psychoactive is “affecting the mind or behavior.” Although CBD doesn’t affect your behavior, it certainly does influence the mind. For example, bringing a calm sensation to the user, can improve their mood and make them happier. As a result, they will behave differently than before CBD.
So, if we want to be precise as a Swiss watch, we must accept the fact that CBD actually is psychoactive. However, many people don’t accept that trait because they strongly associate the word “psychoactive” with THC, and hemp companies are trying to make a clear distinction between the effects of hemp-based CBD products from their marijuana-derived counterparts.
With that in mind, let’s shed more light on how CBD oils are made and how manufacturers ensure the THC content doesn’t exceed 0.3% by volume.
How CBD Oil is Made to Ensure It Won’t Get You High
Most CBD oils available for sale are extracted from hemp, which is bred to contain higher levels of CBD and only a trace amount of THC. Hemp farmers take advantage of hemp’s naturally high CBD content and grow the plants to yield CBD-rich flowers.
What does the trace amount of THC mean?
While marijuana may contain anywhere between 5–35% of THC, hemp usually comes with 0.3%, which won’t get the user high. This is also the federally accepted limit for the THC levels in hemp products. Hemp-derived CBD oil is legal in all 50 U.S. states thanks to that.
However, once the plant has been harvested and brought to the extraction facility, the CBD and other cannabinoids are pulled from hemp using a solvent. Reputable manufacturers use liquid CO2 to extract CBD; the CO2 technology allows for efficient extraction without adding additional heat or solvents on the way.
From there, the viscous hemp extract undergoes a process known as fractional distillation. At this stage, the manufacturer can isolate specific cannabinoids and reintroduce them in desired ratios to the final product. In a similar manner, extractors isolate THC, leaving 0.3% inside the CBD oil.
It’s important that the extraction process is conducted properly, as any mistakes may result in a product tainted with an illegal dose of THC.
The best way to make sure your CBD oil doesn’t contain more than 0.3% of THC is to look for the Certificate of Analysis (CoA) from a third-party laboratory. Outside laboratories verify the CBD content in the tested sample and look for common contaminants to check if the product is safe for consumption.
Other Potentially Intoxicating Cannabinoids
Full-spectrum CBD oil contains other cannabinoids aside from CBD.
On top of non-intoxicating compounds, such as CBC, CBG, or CBDA, there are two minor cannabinoids that could get you slightly high when consumed in large amounts.
- THCV – THCV has a similar chemical structure to THC. There are only traces of THCV in full-spectrum CBD oil, so its occurrence won’t get you high. It can only regulate the effects of significant cannabinoids. THCV is a mild intoxicant, but not in a way that could elevate anxiety. In fact, THCV can mitigate the intoxication from THC while enhancing focus and elevating the mood. Other health benefits of THCV include the ability to reduce stress, promote healthy bone growth, and provide neuroprotection (4).
- CBN– CBN is sort of a byproduct of THC when the compound gets exposed to heat and oxygen. Higher levels of CBN can be found in cannabis that was aged or wrongly stored. While not intoxicating per se, CBN induces potent sedation, which gets intensified in the presence of THC. Some studies suggest that CBN may support regeneration processes in the body thanks to this trait (5).
Let’s Wrap It Up: Which CBD Oil Will Get You High?
As written at the beginning of the article, CBD can be extracted from hemp and marijuana plants.
Due to the higher levels of THC, ranging from 5% to 35%, marijuana-derived CBD oil can get you high, but the intensity of the buzz depends on the ratio between THC and CBD. If you’re using a high-CBD / low-THC product, you can balance the psychoactive effects of THC but still experience relaxation and other benefits of cannabis.
Hemp-derived CBD oil won’t make you feel high because it contains only negligible amounts of THC. However, you can still benefit from a wide range of positive effects on your health associated with using cannabis. People take CBD oil to feel focused, relaxed, more in-the-zone, invigorated, and free from aches and discomfort.
There are also many other goals of CBD supplementation, but getting high isn’t one of them. For this reason, hemp-derived CBD oil is federally legal and available for sale without prescription. You can purchase it in local health stores, dispensaries, vape shops, and online retail stores.
Final Thoughts on CBD Oil and Getting High
CBD alone won’t get you high. It’s impossible from the biological point of view; CBD doesn’t affect the same receptors as THC, hence the lack of intoxicating effects. However, that doesn’t mean CBD isn’t psychoactive.
Since CBD can improve your response to stress, enhance focus, and make you feel more relaxed, it does — in a way — affect your mind and behavior. Therefore, it’s 100% psychoactive by the definition. When people say CBD oil doesn’t get you high, they mean it doesn’t have intoxicating properties.
The only intoxicating compound in cannabis whose concentrations are significant enough to cause a high is THC. However, in hemp-derived products, its content is limited to 0.3% — you won’t get high from such modest amounts. Other potentially intoxicating cannabinoids, such as THCV and CBN, only modulate the effects of the major cannabinoids and won’t make you high on their own.
If you want to ensure your CBD oil doesn’t contain more than 0.3% of THC, always look for third-party lab reports. Reputable companies publish them on their websites or send them to users on request. The CBD market is booming and unregulated, so thorough research is necessary if you want to avoid companies that sell fake oils online.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article and will find it useful in your future exploration of CBD products!
CBD vs. THC: What’s the Difference?
Both come from cannabis, but THC is psychoactive and CBD is not
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.
Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.
Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Catherine Falls Commercial / Getty Images
Cannabis contains over 113 different chemical compounds known as cannabinoids. Cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are two types of chemical compounds derived from cannabis. In recent years, interest has grown in the potential health effects and benefits of cannabis. Much of this interest has centered on these two cannabinoids.
This interest will likely grow as cannabis and marijuana products become legal in more states. A number of different products have emerged that contain CBD, THC, or both that are designed to alleviate ailments such as stress, anxiety, and insomnia. To understand these products’ side effects and potential benefits, it is important to first understand the differences between CBD and THC.
What Is CBD?
Cannabidiol, usually referred to as CBD, is the second most prevalent chemical compound found in cannabis. First discovered during the 1940s, CBD has recently become more popular as a natural treatment for a range of conditions. It can be derived from hemp or from marijuana. Hemp-derived CBD still contains trace amounts of THC, while marijuana-derived CBD may contain more.
What Is THC?
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), THC activates the brain’s reward system by signaling the release of the brain chemical dopamine.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in mood and pleasure. By triggering a higher-than-normal release of dopamine, THC causes people to experience feelings of euphoria. THC is often administered by smoking marijuana, but it can also be found as an ingredient in capsules, edibles, and oils.
CBD vs. THC: Key Differences
THC and CBD have an effect on the endocannabinoid system, a system that plays an important role in maintaining homeostasis. Researchers are still working to understand the ins and outs of this complex system, but they do know that it is associated with processes including memory, appetite, sleep, mood, and fertility.
While THC and CBD share similarities, there are some key differences between the two compounds.
Psychoactive (produces a high)
Sourced from marijuana
Non-psychoactive (does not produce a high)
Typically sourced from hemp
CBD vs. THC: Psychoactive Properties
CBD and THC affect different receptors in the brain. Because of this, CBD typically does not have psychoactive effects—in other words, it won’t cause you to get high.
THC, on the other hand, does have psychoactive effects. It is the compound that produces the high that people associate with marijuana.
CBD vs. THC: Chemical Structure
Both CBD and THC have a chemical structure that is similar to the body’s natural endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are neurotransmitters that act in the brain.
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that relay signals between nerve cells in the body. They play an important role in a wide range of functions including sleep, pain, appetite, mood, and the immune system.
CBD and THC have the same molecular structure, but there are differences in how these molecules are arranged that are responsible for the differing effects they have. By mimicking endocannabinoids, they bind with receptors and cause different effects in the body.
CBD vs. THC: Sources
While CBD can come from either hemp or marijuana, it is often derived from hemp in order to avoid the addition of larger amounts of THC. THC, on the other hand, is derived from marijuana.
CBD that comes from marijuana may contain more THC, which may not be ideal for people who are trying to avoid THC. Some CBD products that are produced from cannabis, for example, may contain more THC than the label suggests.
CBD vs. THC: Potential Benefits
While research on the potential health benefits of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids is still in the early stages, there is evidence that these substances may be helpful for conditions including:
- Symptoms of HIV/AIDS
- Opioid dependence
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBD)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Sleep difficulties
- Movement disorders
While CBD and THC often have similar effects and are often used to treat many of the same ailments, there are some differences.
CBD is often used to alleviate symptoms associated with:
THC, which may be administered as medical marijuana, may be used to alleviate symptoms of a number of conditions. It may be helpful for conditions such as:
- Nausea; it may help alleviate nausea caused by cancer treatment
- Pain associated with conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, and migraine headaches
- Poor appetite; including appetite problems caused by cancer treatment
CBD vs. THC for Pain Relief
Both CBD and THC can both be beneficial for pain relief. Because THC has psychoactive effects, it may produce more immediate pain relief. However, CBD can help reduce inflammation, which is useful for long-term effectiveness. Some evidence suggests that taking both CBD and THC may provide the greatest pain relief. In one study, people who took a combination of CBD and THC experienced greater pain relief than those who took THC alone.
While cannabis itself has not been FDA approved to treat any condition, there are a few drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that contain CBD or THC.
- Epidiolex contains CBD and has been approved to treat seizures associated with two severe types of epilepsy—Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome
- Marinol and Syndros are drugs that contain dronabinol, a synthetic THC. These drugs are used to treat nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy during cancer treatment.
- Cesamet contains nabilone, a synthetic substance that is similar to THC. This drug is used to treat weight loss and appetite problems associated with chemotherapy and HIV/AIDS.
CBD vs. THC: Side Effects
Some research suggests that CBD and THC are generally safe and result in few side effects.
However, while these substances appear safe, that does not necessarily mean that you won’t experience some unwanted effects. Some adverse effects that have been reported include:
- Changes in mood and appetite
- Feelings of anxiety or other mood changes
- Nausea and dizziness
THC use may also result in unpleasant side effects such as increased heart rate, dry mouth, and memory loss.
Marijuana itself can have a number of short-term and long-term adverse effects, including impaired short-term memory, altered judgment, and impaired coordination. Research also suggests that marijuana can alter brain development and may lead to cognitive impairment.
NIDA also notes that THC alters how the hippocampus and orbitofrontal cortex function. These areas of the brain are important in the formation of new memories and the ability to shift attention from one thing to the next. This not only affects a person’s ability to learn and form new memories, but it also makes it difficult for people to perform difficult tasks.
Legality of CBD and THC
When choosing CBD or THC products, it is also important to consider their legality. Both marijuana and THC are included in the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, which means that they are not legal under federal law.
As of July 2020, 33 states and Washington, D.C. have enacted policies allowing medical marijuana and products containing THC to be prescribed by a doctor. Some states also allow recreational use of marijuana and THC-containing products.
Although CBD in certain forms is legal in most states, the specifics of the legality of any THC or CBD product can vary from one state to the next. Several states have also approved the use of marijuana and THC for recreational purposes.
Because the laws regarding the use of cannabis and cannabis products are rapidly changing, you should always check your state’s laws before using products containing CBD or THC.
How to Take CBD and THC
Both THC and CBD can be consumed in a number of different forms. THC may be consumed as marijuana by smoking, but a number of other cannabis products are also available including:
- Vape products
- Edibles including gummies and chocolates
- Beverages containing marijuana oil
Like THC, CBD can also be consumed in a number of different forms. CBD oils can be formulated for vaping, although there have been recent concerns about the health dangers posed by vaping.
It can also be added to lotions and salves to apply to skin. It is important to note that the effects of these topical products will be localized since they are not being ingested.
CBD can also be taken orally as a tincture, oil, capsule, or spray. Edible CBD products are also popular and include gummies, candies, and beverages.
When choosing CBD products, it is also important to consider its formulation. Isolate products contain only CBD. Broad-spectrum products contain other cannabinoids with the exception of THC, while full-spectrum CBD products contain CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids.
Which One Should You Take?
The product you choose may depend on the effects you are trying to achieve. If you are trying to reduce stress or sleep better, for example, CBD may provide benefits without the negative side effects associated with THC. THC might be a better choice for symptoms or conditions for which the substance has demonstrated benefits, such as tremors or poor appetite.
The Entourage Effect
Some research suggests that the potential therapeutic effects of THC and CBD tend to be greater when the two cannabinoids are taken together at the same time. This phenomenon is known as the entourage effect.
Taking CBD along with THC has also been shown to help reduce some of the unwanted effects that THC may have. For example, one study suggests that CBD may potentially reduce some of the negative cognitive effects of regular cannabis use.
For example, people who use cannabis, particularly when it has high THC levels, may have a greater risk of experiencing psychiatric symptoms such as paranoia, anxiety, and psychosis. Studies have found, however, that CBD may help mitigate these effects.
One study found that CBD helped block some of the potential psychiatric effects of THC. The authors of the study suggest that such findings have important implications for the use of cannabis products. People who are prone to unwanted side effects, for example, may be able to still gain the potential health benefits by sticking to products that are low in THC and higher in CBD content.
It is also important to remember that CBD and THC work in a number of different areas of the brain, and researchers do not yet fully understand the effects that these cannabinoids have, either alone or in conjunction with one another.
Some evidence suggests that the combined effects of CBD and THC may be dependent on dose. A 2019 study, for example, found that low doses of CBD actually played a role in amplifying the psychoactive effects of THC, while high doses of CBD reduced THC’s effects.
Drug Testing CBD or THC
Because THC is the main psychoactive substance in marijuana, it can be detected on most standard drug tests. CBD may be detectable as well, but many drug tests are not designed to look for cannabidiol.
However, many CBD products do contain trace amounts of THC. While these amounts are small, they may still be detectable if you are consuming large quantities of CBD or if the products you are using contain more THC than the packaging label claims.
Research has found, for example, that as many as 70% of CBD products are mislabeled and contain significantly more THC than labels suggest. Because of the lack of regulation of these products, it is difficult to know exactly how much THC you are actually getting.
There is no way to tell between THC and CBD based on appearance, smell, taste, or texture. Purchasing products from reputable manufacturers and retailers may help ensure that you are getting the type of product you want.
Both THC and CBD are stored in body fat, which means that both can potentially be detected on drug tests for some time after you have stopped using them.
Before You Take CBD or THC
THC and CBD may also have an effect on some health conditions and can interact with certain medications, so you should always use caution before taking these products. These substances might impact how medications are metabolized by your body. They can also heighten feelings of anxiety in some cases.
Before choosing a THC or CBD product, it is important to check your state laws to ensure that these products are legal where you live. Federal law mandates that hemp-derived CBD products should contain less than 0.3% THC, but even those trace amounts are still illegal in some states.
A Word From Verywell
Both THC and CBD may have a number of benefits, but you should always talk to your doctor first before you try any products containing these cannabinoids. Both CBD and THC hold promise for alleviating symptoms and even treating some medical and mental health conditions, but research in this area is still relatively new and further investigation is needed.
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Cannabis (marijuana) and cannabinoids: what you need to know.
Perry D, Ton J, Allan GM. Evidence for THC versus CBD in cannabinoids. Can Fam Physician. 2018;64(7):519. PMID: 30002029; PMCID: PMC6042662.
Volkow ND, Baler RD, Compton WM, Weiss SR. Adverse health effects of marijuana use. N Engl J Med. 2014;370(23):2219-2227. doi:10.1056/NEJMra1402309
Morgan CJ, Schafer G, Freeman TP, Curran HV. Impact of cannabidiol on the acute memory and psychotomimetic effects of smoked cannabis: naturalistic study: naturalistic study [corrected] [published correction appears in Br J Psychiatry. 2010 Nov;197:416]. Br J Psychiatry. 2010;197(4):285-290. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.110.077503
Bonn-miller MO, Loflin MJE, Thomas BF, Marcu JP, Hyke T, Vandrey R. Labeling accuracy of cannabidiol extracts sold online. JAMA. 2017;318(17):1708-1709. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.11909
By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.