As you begin your cannabis journey, you will be faced with a list of terms and concepts you have likely never heard of in your normal life. But the two you’ve most likely read something about are THC and CBD. Otherwise known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), these are the main active ingredients in your cannabis. Although there are over 140 chemical compounds unique to the cannabis plant, THC and CBD are the most bountiful. With cannabis legalization across Canada as of October 2017, people are increasingly asking the questions of what these compounds are and what are the biggest differences to be aware of.


The Endocannabinoid System


In short, the key point of distinction is that THC gets you high, while CBD does not and in fact, can dampen high feelings when consumed with THC. Inside of you right now, there is a biological pathway called the endocannabinoid system, that helps regulate your stress levels, protect your nervous system and trigger immune responses. Both THC and CBD can have direct effects on this system. The way this works is through their unique abilities to bind to CB1 receptors found within this system. These unique abilities are largely due to each compound’s chemical structure, which dictates their abilities to bind to or inhibit CB1 receptors in the brain.


The Structures of THC and CBD

What you may notice between the two chemicals structures above is that they appear mostly identical. The root of distinction being that THC contains a cyclic ring whereas CBD has a hydroxyl group and this difference in biochemistry affects whether you feel high or not. But in order to fully understand why this is the case, you will need a basic understanding of the role of CB1 receptors in the body.


CB1 Receptors 

When not consuming cannabis in a sober state, your CB1 receptor is affected by a naturally produced neurotransmitter called anandamide, which helps regulate feelings of pleasure, motivation and appetite. In your sober state, anandamide is released during or after exercise, producing what is commonly referred to as ‘runner’s high.’ THC’s chemical structure is so similar to anandamide that it fits almost perfectly into the CB1 receptor, causing you to feel high. CBD, on the other hand, because of the hydroxyl group is different in shape and therefore doesn’t fit into the CB1 receptor like THC does. The result is that CBD does not produce the same psychoactive effects as THC. However, CBD does bind to other receptors in the body, causing less obvious affects.


When CBD is consumed along with THC simultaneously, the CBD can actually bind to parts of the CB1 receptor and turn them off. This process, known as allosteric inhibition, or 'the entourage effect', means that when CBD binds itself to CB1 receptors, THC is not able to bind as well, and therefore decreases how high you may feel. This is a major reason why when starting out, we at Cann Shop always recommend to stay low and go slow. In practical terms, this means picking strains with either relatively low or even amounts of THC and CBD (ie. Balance products), or high CBD (ie Zen products) to offset the psychoactive effects of THC.


Practically Speaking, So What?


Now that the science jargon is largely understood, it’s time to present a working example to present a practical, real-life example of how this can affect you and your cannabis experience:


If you vaporize cannabis with 20% THC and 0.2% CBD, you are likely to feel pretty high as the THC is easily able to bind to CB1 receptors without being inhibited by CBD. However, if you were to vaporize cannabis with 20% THC and 10% CBD, the increased amount of CBD can inhibit the THC’s ability to bind to CB1 receptors, making you feel less high.


Thankfully, due to Canadian government regulations, all cannabis products are required to clearly display the amount of THC and CBD contained within on the packaging, making it easy for anyone to know exactly what they are consuming. This is critical information when consuming cannabis as these two chemical compounds will be mostly responsible for the type of high (or lack thereof) you are likely to experience.


If you were to use this information while shopping at Cann Shop, this would mean our friendly budtenders may suggest you try our Balance or Zen products. As mentioned previously, higher amounts of CBD can inhibit THC’s ability to bind to CB1 receptors, making you feel less high. Our Balance products all contain relatively even amounts of THC and CBD to hopefully provide a more subtle or calming experience. Additionally, those with no interest in feeling high at all can opt for our Zen products, which contain relatively low amounts of THC and high amounts of CBD.


Main Takeaways


Most simply, the most notable difference between THC and CBD comes down to their psychoactive effects when consumed. THC causes the psychoactive effects familiar to cannabis consumers, while CBD causes non-psychoactive effects, and does not make you feel high. Please use this information wisely as you make your cannabis purchasing decisions and remember to always start low and go slow.

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