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Cannabis 101: What's The Difference Between THC And CBD, And Are Either Of Them Considered An Illegal Drug?

Feb. 3 2021, Updated 10:28 a.m. ET

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Though Cannabis-infused products continue to take the country by storm, there's still plenty of confusion when it comes to what's legal and what's not — so we're here to help sort it all out.

When it comes to THC and CBD, there are some important differences to keep in mind even though they come from the same plant.

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CBD and THC are both phytocannabinoids, which are molecules found in cannabis plants. While people refer to cannabis as “hemp” or “marijuana,” the distinction is based on the level of THC.

THC is one of the intoxicating phytocannabinoids in the plant (aka, the element that can make a person feel “high”), but CBD and the majority of the other phytocannabinoids do not have intoxicating effects, which is why many wellness products are allowed to incorporate CBD.

For crop cannabis plants to be considered hemp in the U.S., they must follow the legal cutoff for THC — less than 0.3% — established by the Farm Bill. If a plant contains more than that amount, it is categorized as marijuana.

Hemp was originally an industrial product that was used in everything from lotion to rope to clothing, but newer, less fibrous strains were discovered — and since those contained higher levels of CBD, hemp started to became more prominent in the wellness industry,

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Since CBD and THC are distinct compounds, they don’t affect our bodies in the same ways. THC directly binds to receptors in the brain and nervous system, known as CB1 receptors. The activation of these receptors leads to the “high” sensation people get from consuming cannabis. 

THC has direct action with another receptor type, CB2, which is mostly found in immune cells. 

On the other hand, CBD does not directly bind with CB1 and instead goes about activity indirectly. It also interacts with other receptors and pathways that explain many of its potential health benefits.

Nowadays, CBD, which acts as an inflammatory treatment, is used for pain relief and as a natural sleep aid. It can also be used to treat epilepsy (specifically rare forms of childhood epilepsy), as it's shown to reduce or all together eliminate seizures.

CBD can also treat Parkinson’s disease, glaucoma, Huntington’s disease, diabetes and anxiety.

For more info on Neptune Wellness Solutions' high-quality cannabis extracts, click here.

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