If you didn’t already know — CBD and THC have the exact same chemical makeup: 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms.
The two are nearly identical twins.
What differentiates the two compounds however, is the arrangement of a single atom, which you can observe in the illustration below.
For any of you who weren’t paying attention in chemistry class — an atom is about a million times smaller than a human hair…so we’re talking about a microscopic difference here.
Now you’re probably wondering, with such a microscopic difference, how different can CBD and THC be?
The short answer — very, very different — but let’s go over the details.
Before we dive in, it’s important to understand what cannabinoids are and how they work with the body.
There are currently 85 known cannabinoids found in the Cannabis plant, the most prominent of which are Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD).
A cannabinoid is a compound that interacts directly with our body’s Endocannabinoid System (ECS), which in short, is a network of receptors that interact with cannabinoids to maintain vital functions throughout our body.
Scientists discovered the first cannabinoid receptor in 1988, and by 1993, they had identified a second receptor. In 1995, the two receptors were classified as the CB1 and CB2 receptors.
CB1 receptors are found abundantly in regions of the brain responsible for mental and physiological processes such as memory, high cognition, emotion, and motor coordination, while CB2 receptors are found throughout the central nervous and immune systems.
The interaction between the CB1 and CB2 receptors with cannabinoids like CBD and THC is the catalyst for health benefits such as pain relief, anxiety relief, appetite stimulation, mood management and more.
Now this is where the different positions of that tiny atom come into play.
Because THC and CBD have different molecular structures, they do not interact with the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the same manner. This greatly differentiates the effects each has on the body, which is likely the biggest concern when comparing CBD to THC.
While CBD and THC both bind to the CB2 receptor, they interact with the CB1 receptors in different ways.
Because of its molecular structure, THC is able to bind directly with CB1 receptors. When this bond is formed, the reaction creates signals that are sent to the brain, which results in the the psychoactive effects of “getting high.”
In stark contrast, research shows that CBD does not bond directly with the CB1 receptor, and its presence can even negate the bond between THC and the CB1 receptors, effectively neutralizing the psychoactive effects induced by THC.
While THC certainly offers tremendous health benefits, its mind-altering effects aren’t preferred by everyone. CBD, on the other hand, can deliver many of the same benefits of THC without inducing its psychoactive effects. Plus, when using CBD vs THC, you typically won’t be breaking the law