CBD vs. THC: What You Need to Know


One makes you feel better. The other one makes you feel good.

That, at its essence, is the difference between cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a difference which casts them as the Gallant and Goofus of the burgeoning legal cannabis byproduct business in the United States.

But they’re really not so different.

The Similarities

Both CBD and THC are natural compounds found in various cannabis plants. Both are, to varying degrees, legal on a state-by-state basis. Both are widely available in a variety of products, from oils to edibles.

And most importantly, both have been shown to augment the function of the body’s cell-signaling endocannabinoid system, which helps regulate sleep, mood, appetite, inflammation, chronic pain, memory and a host of other physiological functions.

Among the issues and ailments both CBD and THC have been used to treat are:

  • Anxiety (though CBD is probably the leader here)
  • Bowel disease
  • Chronic pain (THC likely has the edge)
  • Migraines
  • Movement disorders
  • Nausea

The Differences

CBD won’t get you high. THC will.

THC is most widely consumed via smoking marijuana, but cannabis products are available as beverages (containing marijuana oil), edibles (gummies, etc.), oils, sprays, tinctures and vape products.

CBD is popular as a topical in lotions and salves, and is also available in the gamut of orally ingested products.

Here are some of the more pertinent separation points:


  • Typically extracted from hemp, by legal definition a cannabis plant containing 0.3 percent or less THC (that’s the No. 1 psychoactive component in the cannabis plant).
  • Legal under Federal law when extracted from hemp.
  • Mild side effects including fatigue, weight loss, dizziness and diarrhea.
  • No euphoria associated with its use.
  • Additional uses include treatment of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and controlling seizures.


  • Typically extracted from marijuana plants containing 12 percent or more THC.
  • Illegal under Federal law as a Schedule 1 narcotic.
  • Side effects including dry mouth, red eyes, increased heart rate, decreased coordination and reaction times, memory loss and anxiety—as well as potential connections to long-term negative psychiatric impact, especially among adolescents who are chronic users.
  • Additional uses include increasing appetite for patients being treated for afflictions ranging from cancer to AIDS, treating glaucoma, treating insomnia and reducing tremors in patients suffering from movement disorders such as multiple sclerosis.

The Law

Some form of the use of marijuana or, at the very least, medical CBD products, is legal in every state in the union save Idaho – whose Senate in February approved a constitutional amendment banning the legalization of any drug not approved by the federal government.

When South Dakota comes on board July 1, 2021, 15 states and the District of Columbia will have legalized marijuana for personal use – meaning products containing THC or CBD can be purchased from state-licensed facilities for both recreational and medical purposes.

Those states include:











New Jersey


South Dakota



In addition, the following states have some form of legalized medical marijuana:











New Hampshire

New Mexico

New York

North Dakota




Rhode Island



West Virginia

The rest permit limited access to CBD products for medical use.

Worried About Drug Tests?

The simplest advice: Unless your company has a policy exempting them, stay away from CBD and THC products.

While many drug tests won’t detect CBD, some do. And many CBD products that claim to be THC-free may not be, as all hemp contains traces of THC.

This can be true even in products claiming to be isolate products containing only CBD or broad-spectrum products containing cannabinoids other than THC. Full-spectrum products will contain both CBD and THC.

Because cannabinoids are stored in body fat, they can show up in drug tests weeks after use.

What’ll It Be?

The choice between CBD and THC, except in cases where one is clearly indicated over the other, is largely personal. When used or administered responsibly by adults, both are viewed as safe medicinal options with minor side effects. Recreationally, THC is not unlike any other social lubricant—it can be abused, but the vast majority of legal users will enjoy it in moderation.

Author bio: Michael Barnes is the founder and CEO of 420DC, a cannabis marketing platform in Washington, D.C. He has 15-plus years of experience in marketing as well as the cannabis industry. 

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