Updated: Aug 17, 2022
This post was written by Tina Richardson of CrescentCanna, with edits by Kristina Virro.
As a growing body of scientific research continues to establish the medicinal and therapeutic value of cannabis compounds, consumers in Canada and around the world are increasingly interested in the use of cannabinoids as a natural alternative to conventional drugs often used to treat anxiety and mood disorders.
Cannabis newbies are often confused about the key distinctions between the two cannabinoids CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). In this post, we'll cover important differences between the two and their respective effects on common mental health conditions.
Distinguishing THC From CBD: Sources & Legality
THC and CBD are the two most abundant cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Although they're very similar in chemical structure, their effects are different. While THC is typically sourced from marijuana (particularly indica strains), CBD is most commonly extracted from industrially-grown hemp, which is a variety of cannabis containing negligible concentrations of THC.
Translation: THC is the compound that gives people that "high" effect. CBD is from the cannabis plant but doesn't contain the same compounds that would cause someone to feel high.
Although recreational consumption of marijuana was legalized in all provinces and territories in Canada in October 2018, regulations on THC still exist in different areas. For example, there are caps on concentrations in THC products like gummies or vape liquids.
How They Work
THC is the cannabinoid behind the psychoactive effects of marijuana; it binds to CB1 receptors in the brain, which is what causes the "high" associated with marijuana consumption. On the other hand, CBD binds to the CB2 receptors, which are located in the immune system and peripheral organs. (This is why CBD’s effects are more neurophysiological than psychoactive.)
CBD is known more for its therapeutic potential than its ability to induce a high, such as calming symptoms of anxiety and depression.
THC’s effects are more physical, most notably in terms of muscle relaxation and pain relief, though it's associated with diminished motor function or short-term memory.
Simply put: CBD is a good choice for people who want to use cannabis for medicinal or therapeutic purposes without getting high. THC is considered the better choice for people with a medical marijuana prescription or those dealing with physical symptoms like chronic pain or restlessness.
Appropriate Uses for THC vs. CBD
CBD is the preferred cannabinoid for a multi-pronged approach to reducing symptoms of anxiety disorders. CBD binds to the receptors in the brain responsible for regulating emotions, which can stabilize individuals and prevent physical manifestations of anxiety (i.e. panic attacks, hyperventilation). Additionally, CBD increases levels of serotonin, which is the neurotransmitter that regulates mood.