CBD vs. THC: What’s the Difference?

CBD and THC products

Aside from the fact that THC and CBD are both three-letter acronyms, there are some additional similarities and differences between the two. It is especially important to understand the differences between these two substances because terms like THC, CBD, marijuana, and hemp are often used interchangeably, but that’s not always accurate. In this article, we’ll provide answers to many common questions regarding CBD and THC, including:

  • What is CBD?
  • How long does CBD stay in your system?
  • Is CBD addictive?
  • What is THC?
  • How long does THC stay in your system?
  • Is THC Addictive?
  • How are THC and CBD used?
  • What are the side effects of CBD and THC?
  • Are THC and CBD legal?

What Is CBD?

CBD is short for cannabidiol and it is a naturally-occurring chemical compound that is extracted from the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, CBD is not a psychoactive substance (meaning it won’t get you high) and it is used in oils and other products to promote feelings of calmness and relaxation.1

Recently, the popularity of CBD products has soared due to claims about its many health benefits, although there is only one FDA-approved CBD medication currently used to treat epilepsy.2 Otherwise, many of the claims about CBD’s health benefits are not based on scientific evidence, rather, they are based on personal accounts. There just isn’t enough research out there to know if CBD is truly effective for pain management, anxiety relief, or cancer like some people say it is.

In terms of legality, last year, President Trump signed a new bill into law that made it federally legal to grow hemp.3 It’s still up to each individual state to set their own policy and many states don’t allow hemp CBD to be sold to the public at all, whether as CBD oil, pills, or a food additive.

Currently, the FDA does not regulate CBD products, despite the fact that a 2017 study found that nearly 7 of 10 CBD products didn’t contain the amount of marijuana extract stated on the label and 1 in 5 CBD products also contained THC. In addition, about 43 percent of CBD products contained too little CBD and 26 percent contained too much.4

Additionally, CBD oil is not the same as hemp oil. The hemp plant and the marijuana plant both contain CBD, but the hemp plant contains much more. Hemp oil is extracted from the seeds of the hemp plant and there are no cannabinoids (CBD or THC) in it.5

If a person is using CBD oil that is made from industrial hemp, they do not need a prescription. However, many doctors won’t prescribe it because there aren’t any established guidelines for recommended dosages. It is impossible to abuse CBD or to become addicted because it does not produce any euphoric effects.6

How Long Does CBD Stay in Your System?

It takes about one week for CBD to leave your system but this often varies on a case-by-case basis.7 Although marijuana is detectable via urine, blood, saliva, and hair drug tests, CBD is not likely to show up on a drug test, unless it contains THC.8

Is CBD Addictive?

Since CBD does not produce any euphoric side effects when it is used, it is not considered an addictive substance. According to the World Health Organization, CBD does not have any potential for abuse or dependence in humans. WHO also states, “To date, there is no evidence of public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”9

Unlike THC, which binds to the CB1 receptor in the central nervous system, CBD does not bind with CB1 receptors and therefore, does not produce euphoria or intoxicating effects. However, a person who has a history with substance abuse may be more likely to develop an unhealthy relationship with CBD, in which they feel like they can’t function normally without it. Regardless, anyone using CBD for the first time should consult a doctor.

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    What Is THC?

    THC stands for tetrahydrocannabinol, which is a chemical compound that is found in the resin secreted by the marijuana plant. THC is an active ingredient in marijuana and it is what causes the euphoric high and psychological effects that marijuana users feel.10

    Unlike CBD, THC produces psychoactive effects by binding to the CB1 receptor in the central nervous system and changing the way a person senses things or perceives time. THC also changes the way information is processed in the brain, which can cause hallucinations or delusions. A user will start to feel the effects of THC within the first 20 to 30 minutes after a dose and its effects generally last up to two hours.11

    THC may be found in many marijuana products such as hand-rolled joints, marijuana extracts, and edibles like candy, brownies, or tea. Although the euphoric effects of THC make marijuana and other marijuana products that contain THC popular, there are many risks associated with it.

    For example, a person who is impaired due to marijuana use (even medical marijuana) may not be able to drive safely without harming themselves or putting others at risk. The use of marijuana can also cause long-term cognitive problems, including a decrease in IQ, memory, and cognition. This is especially true for young people whose brains are still developing.10 The use of edibles can also increase a person’s risk for overdose, especially if they are eating large quantities of them, which in turn, means they are also ingesting large quantities of THC.

    Despite the risks, when it’s used properly (and not abused for the purpose of getting high) marijuana and THC do have medical benefits. Medical marijuana is currently legal in 33 states and D.C. but THC can also be extracted from marijuana to be used medically to prevent nausea and vomiting associated with cancer medicines. The FDA-approved drug dronabinol is a prime example of that.12

    How Long Does THC Stay in Your System?

    THC stays in your system for several days or even weeks. The length of time in which THC will show up on a drug test depends on a few different variables, including:

    • A person’s body fat percentage
    • How frequently they use marijuana
    • How much marijuana they use or consume
    • The sensitivity and type of drug test used

    Some people use THC detox products to flush the THC from their system more quickly, but the efficacy of those products is questionable. The following chart contains approximate drug detection times for THC in marijuana.

    Drug Testing for THC

    Urine testDetectable for 3-30 days after use
    Blood testDetectable for 3-4 hours
    Saliva testDetectable for 24-72 hours after use
    Hair follicle testDetectable for up to 90 days after use

    Source: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324315.php

    Is THC Addictive?

    High THC has the potential to be addictive. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the use of marijuana can lead to marijuana use disorder, which can progress to addiction in some instances. Studies suggest that 30 percent of people who use marijuana experience some degree of marijuana use disorder and people who start using it before the age of 18 are up to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults.13

    THC Withdrawal Symptoms

    THC is more likely to cause physical dependence and tolerance than addiction, which is characterized by feelings of withdrawal when the person isn’t using. Studies show nine percent of people who use marijuana will become dependent on it. Of those who start using it in their teens, 17 percent will become dependent on it.13

    Signs of marijuana dependency and THC withdrawal may include:

    • Irritability
    • Mood and sleep difficulties
    • Decreased appetite
    • Cravings
    • Restlessness
    • Overall physical discomfort

    CBD vs. THC: Uses

    According to personal accounts, CBD can be used for many different purposes, such as to help with:

    • Seizures
    • Inflammation
    • Pain
    • Psychosis or mental disorders
    • Inflammatory bowel disease
    • Nausea
    • Migraines
    • Depression
    • Anxiety15

    As mentioned above, CBD oil shows promise in many of these areas, but research is still very limited at this time. Many of these medical benefits of CBD have not yet been scientifically proven.

    THC can be used to help with conditions like:

    • Pain
    • Muscle spasticity
    • Glaucoma
    • Insomnia
    • Low appetite
    • Nausea
    • Anxiety15

    CBD vs. THC: Side Effects

    Products that contain CBD and THC produce certain side effects that users should be aware of. Research shows CBD does not typically produce any side effects, even in large doses, but some people report otherwise. Experts say this is largely due to CBD being used with other substances, also referred to as polysubstance abuse.

    Side Effects of CBDSide Effects of THC
    • Dry mouth
    • Low blood pressure
    • Sleepiness
    • Lightheadedness
    • Diarrhea
    • Changes in appetite
    • Fatigue14,16

    *Experiencing any side effects of CBD is very uncommon, but some people have reported these minor side-effects from using CBD products.

    • Increased heart rate
    • Coordination problems
    • Dry mouth
    • Red eyes
    • Slower reaction times
    • Memory loss
    • Psychoactive side effects15

    CBD vs. THC: Legality

    Currently, both CBD and THC are federally illegal. However, the legality of both is often very murky because some states have enacted laws that make one or both substances legal for recreational and/or medical purposes.

    Get Addiction Treatment Today

    If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse problems, help is available. Using CBD or THC to cope with difficult life circumstances or to escape emotional pain is not only physically and psychologically damaging, but it can also lead to other substance abuse problems down the road.

    At Briarwood Detox Center, we can help you get sober with our medical detox programs and assist you as you move on to the next stage of treatment. Call (888) 857-0557 to speak with a member of our admissions team to get started today. We accept many different insurance providers.


    1. https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/news/20180507/cbd-oil-all-the-rage-but-is-it-safe-effective#1
    2. https://www.fda.gov/newsevents/newsroom/pressannouncements/ucm611046.htm
    3. https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm628988.htm
    4. https://www.pennmedicine.org/news/news-releases/2017/november/penn-study-shows-nearly-70-percent-of-cannabidiol-extracts-sold-online-are-mislabeled
    5. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324450.php
    6. https://www.cdc.gov/marijuana/faqs/is-marijuana-medicine.html
    7. https://bluecloud.org/how-long-does-cbd-oil-stay-in-your-system/
    8. https://www.usdrugtestcenters.com/drug-test-blog/181/can-you-fail-a-drug-test-due-to-cbd.html
    9. https://www.who.int/medicines/access/controlled-substances/5.2_CBD.pdf
    10. https://www.livescience.com/24553-what-is-thc.html
    11. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana
    12. https://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000881
    13. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/marijuana-addictive
    14. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cbd-oil-benefits
    15. https://www.healthline.com/health/cbd-vs-thc
    16. https://www.health.com/pain/what-is-cbd

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