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CBD and THC are both found in cannabis plants, but they interact with your body differently.

As the legal use of hemp and other cannabis products grows in the United States, consumers are becoming more curious about their options. This includes cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), two natural compounds found in plants of the Cannabis genus.

Both compounds interact with your body’s endocannabinoid system, but they have very different effects.

Read on to learn more about these compounds. While they may have a lot in common, some key differences determine how to use them.

Here is a high level summary of the major differences between CBD and THC:

is legalit depends (see below)it depends (see below)
produces a highnoyes
interacts with endocannabinoid systemyesyes
has side effectssomepsychoactive side effects
shows on drug testpossiblyyes
relieves painyesyes
reduces nauseayesyes
eases migraineyesyes
reduces anxietyyesyes
eases depressionyesno
decreases seizuresyesno
is anti-inflammatoryyesyes
helps with insomniayesyes
helps with psychosisyesno
increases appetitenoyes
is used for various other conditionsyesyes

Is CBD Legal? Hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal on the federal level, but are still illegal under some state laws. Marijuana-derived CBD products are illegal on the federal level, but are legal under some state laws. Check your state’s laws and those of anywhere you travel. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are not FDA-approved, and may be inaccurately labeled.

CBD can be extracted from hemp or cannabis. Hemp and cannabis come from the Cannabis sativa plant.

Legal hemp must contain 0.3% THC or less. CBD is sold in gels, gummies, oils, supplements, extracts, and more.

CBD does not produce the “high” sensation associated with cannabis.

THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces a “high” sensation. It can be consumed by smoking cannabis. It’s also available in oils, edibles, tinctures, capsules, and more.

CBD and THC have the same molecular structure: 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. A slight difference in how the atoms are arranged accounts for the differing effects on your body.

CBD and THC are chemically similar to your body’s endocannabinoids. This allows them to interact with your cannabinoid receptors. The interaction affects the release of neurotransmitters in your brain.

Despite their similar chemical structures, CBD and THC do not have the same psychoactive effects. CBD is psychoactive, just not in the same manner as THC. It does not produce the high associated with THC.

THC binds with the cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors in the brain, producing a high or a sense of euphoria. This high may be greater if the THC is inhaled rather than ingested.

In the United States, cannabis-related laws are evolving regularly. Technically, CBD is still considered a Schedule I drug under federal law.

Hemp has been removed from the Controlled Substances Act, but the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still classify CBD as a Schedule I drug.

As of March 2023, 37 states, as well as D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have legalized the use of medical cannabis with high levels of THC.

Another 10 states allow access to limited amounts of low THC cannabis or CBD oil.

The cannabis may need to be recommended by a licensed physician. Certain states also allow licensed physicians and advanced practice registered nurses to recommend cannabis.

In addition, 21 states, as well as D.C., Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands, have legalized the recreational use of cannabis. In these states, you should be able to buy CBD.

Before you try to buy products with CBD or THC, it’s important to research your state’s laws.

If you possess cannabis-related products in a state where they’re illegal or don’t have a medical prescription in states where the products are legal for medical treatment, you could face legal penalties.

CBD and THC have many of the same medical benefits. They can provide relief from several of the same conditions. However, CBD doesn’t cause the euphoric effects that occur with THC. Some people may prefer to use CBD because of the lack of this side effect.


In June 2018, the FDA approved Epidiolex, the first prescription medication to contain CBD. It’s used to treat rare, difficult-to-control forms of epilepsy. (Epidiolex is not currently approved for any of the other conditions listed below.)

Other than that, commercially available CBD products, such as CBD oil, may be used to help with symptoms of other conditions. Learn more about the potential health benefits of CBD oil.

In addition, CBD may offer some benefits in treating symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and schizophrenia, though it has yet to be approved by the FDA for these uses.

More research is needed to determine whether CBD can effectively treat these conditions and others.


The FDA has approved two synthetic formulations of THC for treating specific conditions: nabilone and dronabinol.

Nabilone (Cesamet) is FDA approved for treating chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

Dronabinol (Marinol, Syndros) is FDA approved to treat nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy drugs. It is also approved to stimulate appetite in people with AIDS or anorexia.

THC is often used to help with issues like pain or insomnia.

Recent studies are looking at the potential of THC to treat fibromyalgia and other types of chronic pain.

Is THC more effective than CBD for pain?

Unlike THC, CBD binds very weakly, if at all, to CB1 receptors. CBD needs THC to bind to the CB1 receptor and, in turn, can help reduce some of the unwanted psychoactive effects of THC, such as euphoria or sedation.

That said, there’s not a lot of data that compares the effectiveness of CBD and THC in terms of treating pain. In studies where people reported a preference for CBD in treating chronic neuropathic pain, the potency level did not seem to increase people’s perceptions of the therapeutic effect.

We also know from various studies that people who do notice a more immediate improvement in symptoms related to pain after taking cannabis tend to use products that contain more THC than CBD.

This is consistent with available findings showing that a combination of THC and CBD might be most effective for treating pain.

CBD is typically well tolerated, even in large doses. Any side effects of CBD are likely the result of drug-to-drug interactions between CBD and other medications you may be taking. This may include liver damage.

THC can cause both temporary side effects and long-term negative psychiatric effects. These side effects are part of the compound’s psychoactive properties.

Neither compound is fatal.

However, high THC use may be connected to long-term negative psychiatric effects. This may be especially true for adolescents who consume large amounts of THC.

Long-term cannabis use can also cause a motivational syndrome in which people experience symptoms of depression and low motivation.

However, there’s currently no conclusive evidence that using cannabis causes psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia.

Cannabinoids like THC and CBD are stored in the body’s fat. They can show up on drug tests for several days or weeks after you use them.

Not every drug test can detect CBD, but CBD-sensitive tests are available. Most standard drug tests look for chemicals related to THC, so THC or cannabis use might appear on a screening.

Likewise, hemp can produce some THC in addition to CBD, so a test could be positive for THC even if you haven’t used it.

Products that claim to be THC-free may not actually be free of THC, so if you’re getting a drug test, avoid any CBD or THC products.

Learn more about how CBD could show up on a drug test.

CBD and THC both have medical benefits. They’re also both considered safe, but consider the possible side effects and interactions with other drugs you take. Talk with your doctor or a qualified cannabis or CBD clinician before use if you have any questions.

Want to learn more about CBD? Click here for more product reviews, recipes, and research-based articles about CBD from Healthline.