Cannabis Cannabis

THC vs. CBD — What's the Difference?

Cannabis legalization continues to spread across the United States, with many states currently allowing for medicinal use, recreational use or both.

You’ve probably heard of THC and CBD, the two primary active ingredients in many varieties of cannabis and hemp plants. But what are these compounds, how are they related and what makes them different? Read on to understand both THC and CBD better, how they work in the body and what hemp-enhanced products you really should be using for optimal hair wellness.

What Are Cannabinoids?

A lot of attention has been given to THC and CBD as of late. From the nightly news to your local gas station, these compounds are popping up everywhere.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are two of over one hundred active compounds called cannabinoids. In addition to THC and CBD, you may have heard of other cannabinoids like cannabinol (CBN), cannabigerol (CBG) or cannabichromene (CBC). Thanks to ongoing legalization efforts and a reduction of public stigma around these plants, research is starting to systematically examine this extended family of compounds.

Because of this research, we have come to understand that cannabinoids from plants (called phytocannabinoids) can interact with our bodies to produce a wide variety of effects and benefits. While phytocannabinoids like THC and CBD often work in their own unique ways to produce effects and benefits, many phytocannabinoids share common benefits like anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.

One of the major reasons that these plant compounds can impact our bodies in so many ways is because phytocannabinoids are quite similar to chemical compounds that our bodies already produce — endocannabinoids. In fact, it is thanks to cannabis research that we’ve been able to uncover a major and, until relatively recently, unknown bodily system called the endocannabinoid system (or ECS).

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What Is the Endocannabinoid System?

The endocannabinoid system is a vast and integral regulatory network — from the depths of your gut to the top of your head — and yet it was unknown to us only decades ago.

While scientists were able to identify THC as the molecule responsible for cannabis’ distinct ability to alter mood and consciousness as far back as 1964, it wasn’t until the early 1990s that they identified specialized receptors in our bodies that use phytocannabinoids (called the CB1 and CB2 receptors) — and that our bodies produce chemicals that are similar to these phytocannabinoids. 

In fact, these receptors and the endocannabinoids our bodies produce are part of a much larger system. In fact, all vertebrates and many other animals have an endocannabinoid system or ECS, and it’s believed that this system began developing in life on Earth hundreds of millions of years ago.

The ECS works tirelessly to maintain the body’s natural state of balance, called homeostasis. It's involved in regulating a wide variety of processes, such as the following:

  • Blood sugar
  • Sleep and wake cycles
  • Immune function
  • Muscle and fat tissue maintenance
  • Hormones
  • Pain centers
  • Reward centers
  • Metabolic functions

    It is largely because of the ECS’s wide umbrella of action that phytocannabinoids like THC and CBD can have a variety of effects and offer so many different benefits. "These molecules are extremely impactful because they have the potential to impact almost any system in the body," said Dr. Riley Kirk, Ph.D., a cannabis research scientist with Real Isolates.

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    What Is THC?

    THC is perhaps the best-known of all cannabinoids. It is the compound largely responsible for the mind-altering and psychoactive effects of cannabis and it does this primarily by interacting with our bodies’ CB1 cannabinoid receptors. In the United States, THC is found predominantly in cannabis (also called marijuana) plants, though it naturally occurs in very small quantities in hemp plants, too.

    Research on medical marijuana and THC products has identified a number of potential effects and benefits, such as:

    • Pain relief
    • Anti-inflammatory action
    • Antinausea and vomiting action
    • Spasticity relief (as with multiple sclerosis)
    • Appetite stimulation

      Patients often report that cannabis helps them improve their mood, reduce stress and get more sleep, among other benefits.

      In addition to the medical benefits THC seems to impart on its own, research is investigating how the many phytocannabinoids and other active natural compounds in hemp and cannabis — such as terpenes and flavonoids — work together to impact experience and therapeutic benefits. 

      Cannabis and hemp plants have over 500 active chemicals, and one theory suggests that these compounds work together synergistically to produce more holistic effects than any compound could on its own. Called the entourage effect, this theory could explain why different varieties (or strains) of cannabis create different effects.

      What Is CBD?

      Cannabidiol has become the cannabinoid du-jour and it has many potential applications— from medicinal to everyday wellness to beauty.

      While some varieties of cannabis produce relatively high quantities of CBD, decades of selective breeding to favor cannabis potency and high levels of THC means that many strains of cannabis out there today are not rich in CBD. The more recent popularity of CBD has led to the breeding of cannabis strains that are rich in CBD and THC, but today much of the country’s supply for CBD oil and other infused products comes from hemp plants.

      Cannabidiol began its ascent in both mainstream and scientific circles as it emerged as a novel and effective treatment for certain rare pediatric seizure disorders. Since then, it’s often been portrayed as a miracle drug that can cure everything from psoriasis to cancer. CBD interacts not only with our ECS but with a variety of other systems in the body, and is able to produce a number of effects and benefits, such as:

      • Anxiety relief
      • Anti-inflammatory action
      • Anti-nausea and vomiting action
      • Mood regulation
      • Treatment of substance use disorders

        People who report using a CBD product regularly also report that it helps them manage pain and discomfort, boost their mood and get better sleep.

        More: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to CBD

        THC and CBD: What’s the Difference?

        There is one major difference between CBD and THC, and that’s in their ability to produce mind-altering effects.

        THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, known for its euphoric and mind-altering properties — in other words, the characteristic “high” feeling that folks associate with cannabis. One of the major reasons CBD has gotten such wide attention from researchers and consumers alike is that it does not produce the intoxication that THC does. While it can produce a mild level of stimulation or wakefulness, CBD does not stimulate the CB1 receptors in the way that THC does. In fact, CBD is believed to counteract or balance the intoxicating effects of THC.

        CBD and THC may both offer anti-inflammatory, mood-boosting, antioxidant and other common benefits, but many folks choose CBD to harness these benefits while avoiding intoxication or the failure of a drug test.

        Get the Full Scoop: 4 Major Health Benefits of CBD

        The Legality of THC and CBD

        Depending on your location, THC may be legal, CBD may be legal or you might live in a state where both are legal. The differences in legality come down to what plant the cannabinoids have come from.

        In 2018 hemp became a federally legal plant, unlike its cousin cannabis (marijuana). The legalization of hemp means that CBD extracted from these plants is technically legal, though it should be noted that the FDA does not currently regulate the CBD market or hemp-derived CBD products.

        By law, hemp is defined as a plant that produces no more than 0.3% THC by dry weight; otherwise, the plant is considered to be marijuana and federally illegal. Hemp-derived nonprescription CBD products are legal and can be shipped throughout the country.

        While this is poised to change, cannabis is currently listed on the Controlled Substances Act and illegal under federal law and only allowable in states where it has been legalized for medicinal use, adult use or both. This applies to any cannabis-derived compounds, too. CBD that comes from cannabis is only legal in the state where it was grown and processed. State laws regulate and govern their cannabis markets, and these markets are self-contained.

        How Can Cannabinoids Support Everyday Beauty and Wellness?

        The list of specific applications and health conditions currently being investigated for treatment with medical cannabis is long, but as we’ve covered, there are some valuable global properties these cannabinoids offer that could be beneficial for our everyday health and wellness.

        “CBD may help improve mood and reduce inflammation, which can manage all sorts of health problems,” explained Dr. Lewis Jassey, medical director at Leafwell. Inflammation and pain are common concerns, as are feelings of stress or anxiety and getting insufficient or poor quality sleep—all among the top reasons people seek out cannabinoids.

        Not only that, but CBD is being investigated for a variety of medicinal benefits targeted at the skin. Because of its global antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action, CBD may be able to help with common skin conditions like acne and psoriasis and even in skin aging

        "CBD may also adjust how the body creates sebum, an oily, waxy substance that glands in the skin produce," added Dr. Jassey. "CBD seems to reduce sebum production and dry out the skin."

        VEGAMOUR has harnessed the benefits of cannabinoids to enhance our line of hair-friendly topicals, shampoos, conditioners and supplements. But we don't use THC in our products. Instead, our GRO+ Advanced line features the soothing and balancing benefits of hemp-derived CBD and also CBG.

        Our GRO+ Advanced Serum has been shown to increase the appearance of hair density by up to 52% while decreasing the signs of shedding by up to 76%.

        You can also enjoy the benefits of CBD and CBG from the inside out with our carefully formulated GRO+ Advanced Gummies. These once-a-day gummies are not only all-natural and vegan, but they contain the many vitamins, minerals and other nutrients hair follicles need to thrive, such as vitamins A, C and E, along with biotin and zinc.

        If you are experiencing hair thinning or excessive shedding, speak to your doctor to get to the root cause of the issue. Also speak to your doctor when adding CBD or other hemp and cannabis products to your routine, as it can interact with several different prescription medications and is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers.

        The Takeaway

        Both THC and CBD are cannabinoids found in the hemp and cannabis plants. While they both offer a variety of medicinal and therapeutic benefits, one major difference is in how they impact our states of consciousness. CBD does not produce the same euphoria and altered sense of perception that THC is known for, and it is a common reason folks choose CBD over THC for many of the same concerns, namely sleep, mood and pain. 

        If you’re interested in using CBD or THC for complementary and integrative health applications, understand the recreational and state medical cannabis laws applicable to you. Also, be sure to speak with a doctor because cannabinoids can interact with prescription medications and are not recommended for pregnant or nursing mothers.

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        Photo credit: Harrison Haines/Pexels

        Disclaimer: Information in this article is intended for general informational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to constitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek professional medical advice from your physician.