CBD vs. THC: What’s the difference?

Cannabis consumers have long prized potency (a high THC content) as one of the main factors that makes a particular strain more desirable. Though traditional demand for THC has caused an oversaturation of high-potency products, many consumers are starting to prefer less intense products that are lower in THC and higher in the non-intoxicating compound called cannabidiol (CBD).

THC and CBD are both cannabinoids derived from the cannabis plant, but they’re different in many ways that may influence your next dispensary purchase.

What are high-CBD cannabis strains?

CBD is typically the second-most abundant cannabinoid in cannabis, but this isn’t always the case. A strain may deliver CBD and THC in the following ratios:

  • High THC, low CBD (e.g.,10-30% THC, trace amounts of CBD)
  • Balanced CBD/THC (e.g., 5-15% THC and CBD)
  • High CBD, low THC (e.g., 5-20% CBD, THC under 5%)

CBD effects vs. THC effects

High-CBD strains tend to deliver very clear-headed, functional effects without the euphoric high associated with high-THC strains. They’re typically preferred by consumers who are extremely sensitive to the side effects of THC (e.g., anxiety, paranoia, dizziness). A high-CBD strain would also be a great choice for someone needing to medicate throughout the day to control pain, inflammation, anxiety, or other chronic conditions.

Balanced CBD/THC strains will be a little more euphoric than CBD-dominant strains, though they’re much less likely to induce anxiety, paranoia, and other negative side effects. Strains like these tend to be the most effective for pain relief, and they’re also well-suited for THC-sensitive consumers who’d like a mellow buzz.

CBD strains can be consumed just as you would THC strains. You can smoke or vaporize CBD-rich flower, eat a CBD-infused edible, swallow a CBD oil capsule, apply a CBD lotion, or use a CBD tincture sublingually. Hemp products also contain CBD, though it is a less efficient source and lacks the beneficial chemical diversity of cannabis-derived CBD products (more on that here).

What are the medical benefits of CBD?

(rez-art/iStock)

The list of conditions CBD may help with is ever-expanding. More research is needed to better understand the efficacy and range of CBD’s benefits, but it’s popularly used to manage the following symptoms and conditions:

  • Epilepsy and seizure disorders
  • Pain and inflammation
  • PTSD and anxiety
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Opioid withdrawal

Though clinical and anecdotal evidence suggests CBD’s benefits in managing different conditions, it became most famous for treating a rare and debilitating form of pediatric epilepsy. Dravet’s Syndrome is notoriously resistant to current approved treatment methods. Sufferers are plagued by seizures, often up to hundreds a day, that worsen as they age and can be life-threatening. Currently, treatment methods include having the child wear an eyepatch, specialized diets, and brain surgery, but all have mixed success rates.

CBD vs. THC: legality

CBD has no lethal dose or known serious medical side effects, but it is still federally illegal. With the passing of the Farm Bill in December 2018, industrial hemp became a legal agricultural commodity in all 50 states. While the DEA still considers CBD to be a Schedule I controlled substance, it clarified in a memo that trace amounts of CBD found in hemp stalks or seeds were legal. However, the legality of hemp-derived CBD may vary from state to state, so it’s important to check your state’s law before stocking up on hemp-derived CBD products.

Cannabis strains that have a high CBD:THC ratio are legal only in states with legal, regulated cannabis markets.

What are some high-CBD strains I can try?

(The Cannabiz Agency/iStock)

Keep in mind that CBD levels may vary from crop to crop—even from plant to plant. However, below are some strains that have been bred to contain higher CBD levels, so they might be a good place to start. Check the map on their strain page to see if these are sold at a dispensary near you. We also recommend checking with dispensaries about the specifics of their strains’ CBD levels. It’s always a good idea to purchase only lab-tested products that clearly state the CBD/THC levels so you know what kind of experience to expect.

Staff, Leafly. “CBD vs. THC: What’s the Difference?” Leafly, 18 Nov. 2019, http://www.leafly.com/news/cbd/whats-the-deal-with-these-high-cbd-strains.

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