Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol VS. Cannabidiol

Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol VS. Cannabidiol

Before I begin, I must emphasize that this post is not endorsing or promoting the use of either of these substances for medical and/or personal use.  The purpose of this article is to simply educate on the scientific differences between Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) and to promote understanding, since the best way to minimize misunderstanding is to have understanding.  This post was inspired by the recent legalization of cannabis on October 17th 2018 via the approval of Bill C-45, The Cannabis Act.  Since this substance will likely come up in conversation I wanted to take the time to break down these compounds how they react in the body.

First, what is Cannabis?               
Cannabis is a flowering plant that comes from the Cannabaceae family and contains more than 500 chemical compounds.  There are 3 main subtypes of this plant commonly referred to as Cannabis sativa (C.Sativa), Cannabis indica (C. Indica), and Cannabis ruderalis (C. Ruderalis). Cannabis as a whole is also referred to as hemp, although, hemp is a term typically applied to cannabis products for non-medical use. What is the difference between these 3 main subtypes? The most commonly compared subtypes are C. Sativa and C. Indica which are similar in look, size, smell and composition; however, they seem to work in opposition. C. Sativa is known for its stimulating brain properties while on the other end of the spectrum, C. Indicia is known for its sedating properties making it a preference for nighttime use.  Finally, C. Ruderalis is a low-THC species of cannabis and is considerably different in its look, size, smell and composition making it almost an outlier.  Due to its low-THC content it is not used for recreational or medical use and because of its relative short stature compared to C. Sativa and C. Indica it is not used for non-medical hemp products either.

What is Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)?

THC is one of at least 113 cannabinoids identified in cannabis and is the principal psychoactive component of cannabis. Cannabinoids are a class of chemical compounds that interact with cannabinoid receptors in cells that alter neurotransmitter release in the brain   THC is a lipid (fat) found in cannabis and it is believed to be involved in the plant’s self-defense mechanisms against insect predation and to help protect it against ultraviolet light and environmental stress. THC can be administered into the body in multiple ways, including by inhalation of cannabis smoke or vapor as well as an aerosol spray by mouth.

What are the effects of THC?

THC interacts with the cannabinoid receptors of the body and has been shown to relieve pain and decrease spasms of involuntary muscles in addition to reducing chemotherapy-induced nausea & vomiting. Furthermore, THC has been shown to stimulate appetite (probably not surprising) and decreases intestinal movement contractions. THC also has psychoactive effects and with high concentrations it can provoke anxiety, disorientation and intoxication in certain individuals.[1],[3],[4]

What is Cannabidiol (CBD)?

CBD is another naturally occurring cannabinoid component of cannabis and accounts for up to 40% of the plant’s extract. Since it is also a cannabinoid it has the ability to interact with cannabinoid receptors and alter neurotransmitter release in the brain. Similar to THC, CBD can be taken into the body in multiple ways, including by inhalation of cannabis smoke or vapor, as an aerosol spray by mouth. It may also be taken as an oil in droplets or softgels.

What are the effects of CBD?

CBD has been shown to have the following effects: anti-inflammatory, pain relief, anti-nausea/vomiting, antipsychotic, anti-anxiety and anti-seizure.  CBD lacks the psychotropic effects of THC and has been demonstrated to have efficacy in the treatment of anxiety disorders.[1],[2],[5],[6]


[1] Abramovici, H. (2013). Information for health care professionals: cannabis (marihuana, marijuana) and the cannabinoids. Health Canada. (Full Article).

[2] Blessing, E. M., Steenkamp, M. M., Manzanares, J., & Marmar, C. R. (2015). Cannabidiol as a potential treatment for anxiety disorders. Neurotherapeutics, 12(4), 825-836. (Full Article).

[3]Grotenhermen, F., & Müller-Vahl, K. (2012). The therapeutic potential of cannabis and cannabinoids. Deutsches Ärzteblatt International, 109(29-30), 495. (Full Article).

[4] Howlett, A. C., Barth, F., Bonner, T. I., Cabral, G., Casellas, P., Devane, W. A., … & Mechoulam, R. (2002). International Union of Pharmacology. XXVII. Classification of cannabinoid receptors. Pharmacological reviews, 54(2), 161-202. (Full Article).

[5] Izzo, A. A., Borrelli, F., Capasso, R., Di Marzo, V., & Mechoulam, R. (2009).Non-psychotropic plant cannabinoids: new therapeutic opportunities from an ancient herb. Trends in pharmacological sciences, 30(10), 515-527. (Abstract).

[6] Parker, L. A., Rock, E. M., & Limebeer, C. L. (2011). Regulation of nausea and vomiting by cannabinoids. British journal of pharmacology, 163(7), 1411-1422. (Full Article).

Anthony Barsby

As our Human Performance Specialist, Anthony provides clients with comprehensive and customized lifestyle coaching through face-to-face consultations and online mentoring. A Certified Exercise Physiologist, Anthony administers fitness assessments and designs exercise programs that address each individual's goals and needs.