Differences Between THC & CBD Products on Mental Health

Updated: Aug 17

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



Anxiety


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.


One of the most well-documented and thoroughly researched ways that CBD promotes relief from anxiety is by increasing levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate anxiety and keep feelings of fear and stress in check. When levels of GABA are low, we may feel more anxious and tense. CBD works to indirectly increase levels of GABA by inhibiting its breakdown in the system.


Sleep Dysfunction


There are three main ways that THC can help to treat insomnia:


a. THC reduces the time it takes to fall asleep due to its ability to slow down activity in the brain and make it easier to drift off into sleep.

b. THC can help increase the overall quality of sleep through reducing the number of times individuals wake up throughout the night.

c . THC is known to increase the length of time spent in deep sleep, which is the most restful stage of sleep. During deep sleep, the body repairs itself and neurological processes like hormone regulation shift into high gear.


It's important to note that THC can also cause drowsiness during the day. Individuals using THC to treat a sleep disorder should be aware of this side effect and use it only when they can afford to be sleepy during the day. Otherwise, they may find themselves struggling to stay awake and function properly.


Depression

A growing body of research suggests that CBD can be an effective supplementary treatment for depression. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology found that CBD reduces symptoms of depression in rats. The study’s authors concluded that “CBD has therapeutic potential in the treatment of MDD (major depressive disorder).”


Rats and mice are considered a viable model for human research in pharmaceutical studies because their genetic, biological and behavioural characteristics closely resemble those of humans.


A 2017 review of the existing literature on CBD and depression found that “CBD has shown promise as a treatment for depression” and that “its therapeutic effects are mediated by its interactions with the endocannabinoid system.” The authors concluded that “CBD is a promising compound for the treatment of MDD, and is supported by a growing body of preclinical and clinical evidence.”


Finally, a 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s psychiatry archives found that CBD was effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression in people with social anxiety disorder.


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is typically rooted in traumatic events in one’s lifetime, manifesting as persistently intrusive thoughts or memories that can disrupt anything from productivity to sleep. A 2019 case series study from the University of Colorado’s Department of Psychiatry found that “administration of oral CBD in addition to routine psychiatric care was associated with PTSD symptom reduction in adults with PTSD. CBD also appeared to offer relief in a subset of patients who reported frequent nightmares as a symptom of their PTSD.” While CBD is by no means held up as a viable form of treatment for PTSD, there’s significant evidence to suggest its viability as a supplement to conventional forms of therapy or treatment.


The Bottom Line

If you're struggling with anxiety, depression, insomnia, and/or PTSD but are hesitant about going on prescription medications, it can be helpful to look into products that contain CBD and/or THC.


The good news is that the Ontario Cannabis Store, the only wholesaler of legal recreational cannabis in Ontario, has a ton of different options based on your preferences!


Looking to mellow out without the high? Consider trying an indica-dominant CBD oil (note: indica is a type of cannabis that is commonly used to promote relaxation, while sativa usually has a more energizing effect that can increase focus and creativity).


Looking for something that could help with insomnia? Check out these Pineapple Mango Soft Chews that contain a 1:1 ratio of THC and CBD. (Note: edibles usually need to be consumed an hour before bedtime as it takes approximately 60 minutes to feel the effects.)


Be sure to consult with your doctor and/or pharmacist before trying CBD and/or THC for the first time. We also highly recommend starting low and going slow so that you can gather an understanding of your tolerance and what your body responds to best.


Have you been able to reduce mental health symptoms with the help of marijuana? Let us know in the comments below!