CBD and THC: What is the difference?

31 August 2022 — by F. D.  

CBD and THC are natural ingredients of the cannabis plant. In Germany, the psychoactive THC is illegal, whereas CBD regulations are more relaxed. But what actually is the difference between the two substances, how do they differ and what effect do they have in the body?

The hemp plant

Hemp is one of the oldest cultivated plants on earth and has a wide range of uses: ranging from the resistant fibers of the stalk for the production of clothing and ropes, to the consumption of the seeds and the oils pressed from them, to their use for medicinal purposes and consumption as an intoxicating drug.

For thousands of years, people have known about the many qualities of the hemp plant. There are several subspecies of the hemp plant. Broadly speaking, Cannabis sativa is cultivated for consumption and fiber production. Cannabis indica is primarily used for the extraction of CBD and THC. In everyday language, Cannabis indica is simply referred to as cannabis. Cannabis is a separatesex plant, individual plants usually bear only female or only male flowers.


The cannabis plant is interesting as an intoxicant and for medicinal purposes because of the cannabinoids found predominantly in the female plant: THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). Both substances differ in their chemical structure and in their effect on the body. Both CBD and THC bind to the two endogenous receptors of the cannabinoid system, which are located in the central nervous system as well as in the peripheral nerves. These receptors, (called "CB1" and "CB2"), are the actual binding point of the body's own endocannabinoids, whose function has not yet been conclusively clarified. What is known: They have a modulatory function on the immune system and the psyche and are involved in anxiety and pain processes. CBD and THC are so similar to the body's own endocannabinoids that they can also bind to the receptors.

What effect does THC have?

As a cannabinoid, THC binds partially agonistically to the body's cannabinoid receptors. Therefore, it presumably replaces a neurotransmitter in the brain and causes the release of neuromediators that alter the activity of the neural pathways and synapses. Due to the location of the affected receptors, THC is psychoactive and alters the user's perception and state of consciousness. Frequent use and mental health problems are suspected to trigger or exacerbate schizophrenia or similar psychological disorders. In addition, because THC does not act exclusively on the central cannabinoid receptors, consumption also has peripheral effects such as dry mouth or bloodshot eyes.

And CBD?

Like THC, CBD is a cannabinoid of the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, CBD is also found in male cannabis plants. CBD also binds to the receptors of the cannabinoid system. However, it not only activates them, but can partially block them and thereby inactivate them. Therefore, CBD can mitigate the effect of THC to some extent and reduce side effects. CBD also binds to peripheral receptors that are involved, for example, in the transmission of neural signals to the muscles. The exact mechanisms behind this still need to be further researched. While some of the effects of CBD on the body are known, they are difficult to grasp. The most important thing is that CBD is not psychoactive, it does not alter consciousness or perception. Even though CBD has not yet been licensed as an activeingredient, many manufacturers recommend its use for calming, anxiety relief, spasmolysis of muscle spasms, improvement of sleep and for pain - in humans as well as in pets.

The legal situation

In Germany, cannabis falls under the Narcotics Act due to the THC it contains. Thus, the sale and possession of larger quantities is subject to criminal prosecution. The law divides cannabis products into those that can be used for medical purposes and those that are categorically not marketable or usable. However, there are exceptions for commercial hemp and THC-free products. CBD does not fall under the Narcotics Act - nevertheless, the legal regulation is problematic: Cannabis products do not fall under the Narcotics Act in Germany if the THC content is no more than 0.2%. CBD products containing up to 0.2% THC may therefore be manufactured and sold to the end user for commercial purposes. However, this actually only applies if the products are not declared for medicinal purposes. For this reason, CBD oils are generally sold as cosmetics, for example as skin care or nurturing oils.