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CBD vs THC: Why Do You Get High From THC, But Not From CBD?

Cannabis has been legal for about a year and a half, so many Canadians who had no experience with marijuana before October 17th in 2018 have now had a chance to dip their toes into the vast pool of weed resources.  The online and retail marketplaces for cannabis in Canada are starting to fill up […]
April 29, 2021
Est. Reading: 9 minutes
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CBD vs THC: Why do you get High from THC but not from CBD?

Cannabis has been legal for about a year and a half, so many Canadians who had no experience with marijuana before October 17th in 2018 have now had a chance to dip their toes into the vast pool of weed resources.  The online and retail marketplaces for cannabis in Canada are starting to fill up with many kinds of products, many different potencies and a variety of cannabinoid products.  Gone are the days of getting your weed from a guy/girl you know down the street, never truly knowing what strain or terpenes are actually present in the buds you’re smoking.  Today, growing quality weed is a science with a lot of well-educated consumers clamoring for specific products to meet their distinct needs.

Whether you’re a seasoned stoner or a newbie trying to find the strains that are right for you, you’ve probably come across the argument between CBD and THC.  Some people are avid supporters of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and its potent effects, while others say CBD (Cannabidiol) is superior because there's no high.  A third contingent simply says “THC, CBD... they’re all good just smoke ‘em all”.  You don’t have to choose one over the other, and in fact we think the ones in the middle are right - you should give all the cannabinoids a chance and fully invest your resources on all sorts of cannabis, because you never know how beneficial something can be until you give it a chance.  Nevertheless, there are a lot of strong opinions about cannabinoids and what is the optimal way to benefit from marijuana.

Is there a cannabinoid that suits you more? Do you consume cannabis for a certain medical reason? Or are you just enjoying the high? These are some of the important questions you need to ask yourself when you’re looking to get the most out of your cannabis.  Let’s take a look at what is THC and CBD, the differences between CBD and THC, and why you might benefit more from one or the other.


It is important to know that these cannabinoids are in their natural, acidic state - i.e. they need to be decarboxylated Cannabis via heat and/or pressure in order to become the “active compounds” like THC or CBD.  So, the list of “the great 8”, most well-known cannabinoids in their activated forms is:

  • CBG (Cannabigerol)
  • THC (Δ9–tetrahydrocannabinol)
  • CBD (Cannabidiol)
  • CBC (Cannabichromene)
  • CBGV (Cannabigerivarin)
  • THCV (Tetrahydrocannabivarin)
  • CBDV (Cannabidivarin)
  • CBCV (Cannabichromevarin)

Some other cannabinoids, like CBN, have received a lot of attention in recent years, but CBN (Cannabinol) is a derivative of THC that is found in cannabis flowers that are broken down (old).  That being said, there’s still very little information on other cannabinoids like CBN or THCV, and there needs to be a lot more research before we truly understand their impacts on cannabis and on our health.  Therefore, when we’re considering the major players in the cannabinoid landscape as it currently stands, it’s the THC and CBD show for now.

To start things off, it is probably a good idea to go over the complexities of cannabinoids - of which THC and CBD are just a couple of fish swimming around in a vast and unexplored pond.  Cannabinoids, otherwise known as phytocannabinoids, are chemical compounds produced by plants like cannabis or hemp that essentially act as the active ingredients between the plants and our minds & bodies.  There are hundreds of known cannabinoids in cannabis (113 unique cannabinoids was the last official definition as of Q3 - 2019), but researchers all agree that we’re barely scratching the surface on these mysterious plant compounds.  The most studied and renowned cannabinoids today are:


  • CBGA (Cannabigerolic acid)
  • THCA (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid)
  • CBDA (Cannabidiolic acid)
  • CBCA (Cannabichromenenic acid)
  • CBGVA (Cannabigerovarinic acid)
  • THCVA (Tetrahydrocanabivarinic acid)
  • CBDVA (Cannabidivarinic acid)
  • CBCVA (Cannabichromevarinic acid)

Friends or Foes? CBD vs THC

For a long time, THC was the only well-known cannabinoid, and it is this “curse of being first” that has likely contributed to THC’s demonization as a harmful narcotic.  The war on drugs has basically been proven to be an ineffective and overall ridiculous pursuit of punishing users, while allowing illicit drug producers and distributors to thrive.  THC has been through a lot in the court of public opinion. Once, it was called “devil’s lettuce”, labelled “an addictive and destructive gateway drug” and also misclassified as a “harmful substance that can fry young minds”. The psychoactive nature of THC has made for a very arduous journey, as cannabis has climbed out of the basements of stoners and has risen to the pinnacle of legalization.

Now that cannabis is becoming legal all over the globe, slowly but surely the public is becoming properly informed on the true nature of cannabis and its misunderstood cannabinoids.  To be frank, THC should send its cannabinoid cousin CBD a gift basket, because without the non-psychoactive healing powers of Cannabidiol gaining a lot of positive press, cannabis as a safe, reliable and effective medicine would be a very difficult proposition to many policy makers.  The major reason that authorities and the scientific community have lobbied against THC, but largely been in favor of CBD is due to this single difference: psychoactivity vs non-psychoactivity.

The most definable difference between CBD and THC is how they alter our states of consciousness, but that would be like saying the only difference between apples and oranges is that one is orange and one isn’t.  Both THC and CBD interact with our Endocannabinoid System (ECS) - the complex network of nerves and receptors that processes cannabinoids and applies their chemical compounds to certain areas of the body or brain.  Your CB1 and CB2 receptors are the primary drivers of the “effects” of consuming cannabis, as these ECS receptors are like the dish-arrays that receive the signals from the incoming cannabinoids.  Once a signal is received, they trigger the appropriate response within your cells.  For instance, CB1 receptors are mostly found in the brain, whereas CB2 are prominently involved with your immune system, muscles and joints.  There are numerous other receptors found in the human body, but just like CBD and THC have received the most attention and study, the same goes for CB1 & CB2.  What we do currently understand is that when you smoke a joint, for instance, if it has a significant amount of THC these cannabinoids will interact with your CB1 receptors, inducing the psychoactive “high” associated with smoking pot.  On the other hand, CBD consumption does not trigger these same receptors in the same way, but might instead interact with your CB2 receptors that manage your anxiety or stress.

Cannabinoids Are Like Temperature - Some Like It Hot Some Enjoy The Cold

Both cannabinoids and receptor types can affect multiple reactions, but in essence the reason we can feel “high” when consuming THC vs CBD having no noticeable effects has to do with how our bodies process them.  Think of your Endocannabinoid System like an HVAC system: it is the mechanism that regulates temperatures (cannabinoids), and maintains a consistent balance, as determined by the controls you establish.  Your body does the controlling, setting certain reactions and processes whenever it deems necessary - such as when you have an imbalance (i.e. arthritis) and need some heat (THC) to bring the temperature up (block pain), or cold (CBD) to reduce it back to ideal conditions (reduce inflammation).  Both temperatures - in this example, THC (heat) or CBD (cold) - each have their own value in their own rights, but it’s very situational and can change from person-to-person.

Also, just like with temperatures, no two people are truly alike in how they feel comfortable in certain conditions. If you’ve ever fought over the thermostat with your parents or children, imagine what it would be like for a health practitioner trying to prescribe a “one temp for all” to his/her patients as a group? Just like you cannot lump everyone into one category or the other when it comes to comfort, it is very difficult to dose CBD vs THC to people in general - each interaction of cannabinoids with your ECS can yield unique results.  This doesn’t mean that we can’t have some idea of how THC or CBD affect our minds & bodies, but it is meant to highlight the difficulty with which many modern medical systems struggle to get behind cannabis as a medicine.  The current “research, test, prescription, analysis” model does not really work for cannabis products, leading many doctors and medical professionals to throw their hands up and say “I don’t have a formula for this… I just can’t recommend it at this time”.

Like anything in modern society, the burden of proof means having a mountain of research from which you can stand atop and prominently announce: “The data clearly shows ________”.  Cannabis undoubtedly has positive influences on human health and happiness, but until the data is collected, analyzed and published it’s going to be a “hurry up and wait” game in the fields of medical cannabis.  In the meantime, we can continue to experiment with marijuana and determine what works for ourselves - as many Canadians have been doing for decades already.  With that being said, it’s time to switch from analyzing WHAT cannabis is doing in our bodies, and focus on WHY we might want to try it.


What is THC and CBD? What are the differences between CBD and THC? We’ve looked at these fundamental questions, but something missing from the question of “What” is the “Why”. If you’ve ever smoked a fat blunt by yourself, sat in a comfortable chair and waited for the euphoria to wash over you, you can already articulate what makes THC different from CBD.  Most people weren’t even aware of the existence of distinct cannabinoids until cannabis legalization enforced strict contents on cannabis product labels.  A lot of people have been smoking weed, eating pot edibles or using marijuana topicals for years and they haven’t really understood how/why it has such a positive impact on their health & wellness.  To some, this magical herb was simply something they stumbled upon, or was passed down to them as part of a family tradition.

On the flip side, a lot of cannabis consumers are very well-versed and passionate about this unique plant we call cannabis.  Have you ever whipped up a batch of high-THC edibles, because you thought it’d be a good “two birds with one stoned” approach to getting high while also soothing your munchies? Maybe you’re a consistent CBD user, and you know that smoking some balanced THC-CBD buds means you won’t feel high and can still function throughout the day.  Once again, you don’t have to choose a side in the debate between CBD vs THC, but you should instead take advantage of each one wherever they are best suited to help you be at your best.

CBD IS Generally A Good Idea

Generally speaking, CBD is the best choice if you’re in any situation where you can’t risk getting high.  Without getting into the politics of it, simply put if you need to drive home later, work with heavy machinery, or are required to perform in high-pressure situations (like a court of law, or medical facility) you should avoid consuming THC.  Even if you’re an experienced stoner and you’re absolutely sure of your tolerance levels to THC, we’d recommend playing it on the safe side. If you absolutely need relief from anxiety, pain, inflammation, or a number of other common ailments, but you also shouldn’t risk being in an intoxicated state, then CBD just makes more sense.

Before you jump up and down and shout at us for cheering for the CBD team, THC also has a lot of benefits to offer - and we’ll tell you about them.  THC has been shown to be a very potent reliever of pain, reduces inflammation very well, can stimulate appetite efficiently, and is also a very powerful sleep aid.  These are just a few of the long-list of benefits that THC has to offer - there’s just always the factor of psychoactivity in the background.  Many cannabis consumers enjoy getting high, and for some that is one of the major appeals of marijuana - the escape, the unplugged relaxation, the freedom to explore the inner facets of one’s mind.  Nonetheless, many people still find the psychoactive effects of THC to be debilitating or inconvenient.  So, if you need pain relief, some help with anxiety or a good sleep aid, you can reach for both THC or CBD, but always remember that one might get you high while the other won’t.

THC Has Its Benefits Too

Which cannabinoid is better for certain ailments? CBD vs THC? We’ve covered why you get high from THC, but not from CBD, yet there are definite advantages to taking one or the other in certain circumstances.  There’s some overlap between them, but as we’ve stated over-and-over: the real choice comes to which one suits your current situation.  Here’s some popular used of CBD vs THC:

CBD is a favorite natural remedy for:

  • Seizures (epilepsy)
  • Pain & inflammation (arthritis)
  • Anxiety, stress or depression
  • Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Chronic headaches (migraines)
  • Trouble staying asleep (insomnia)

THC has been popularly used to treat:

  • Severe pain (injury, arthritis)
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Nausea, loss of appetite
  • Glaucoma
  • Difficulty falling asleep (insomnia)
  • Symptoms of cancer (pain, nausea, anxiety)

Which Cannabinoid is Right for you?

Both THC and CBD can be relied on for hundreds of other symptoms, but these highlight some very common practices of cannabis treatment.  As we mentioned, cannabinoids don’t have to serve a specific medical function - many Canadians simply smoke weed to take the edge off, or to help them enjoy a party.  Cannabis is a very potent plant, and its relationship to humankind is a very unique story of healing, happiness and exploration.  However you choose to consume cannabis, the most important thing is that you enjoy it to the fullest and keep trying new ways of benefiting from this wondrous weed.  Next time you are looking to buy some dank buds online, maybe consider trying a soothing CBD oil instead? Maybe you’ve been taking CBD at work to help you focus, but it’s time you deserved some chillaxing THC? Invest your time and money in all that cannabis has to offer, and this one-of-a-kind plant will invest its powers in you.


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