CBD vs THC – what’s the difference?
Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are chemical compounds found in cannabis and derived from the Cannabis sativa plant.
While both are classed as cannabinoids, there are some fundamental differences between the two.
Here, we explore CBD and THC, how the two are different, and the side effects of using each substance.
What is THC?
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a chemical compound and the main psychoactive ingredient found in cannabis.
This means that THC is responsible for the ‘high’ that people experience when using cannabis.
It is most commonly ingested by smoking cannabis. However, some people also vape it using electronic cigarettes/atomisers, or infuse it into food or drinks including biscuits, cakes, and tea.
Food and drinks that contain cannabis are known as ‘edibles’ or ‘cannabis edibles’.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD), is a chemical found in cannabis. Unlike cannabis however, CBD causes few if any psychoactive effects.
This is because CBD only contains small amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.
It is typically sold in select shops or online in the form of CBD oil but can also be found as an oil-based capsule or in liquid form.
Although legal in Ireland, CBD products are heavily regulated, and must contain less than 0.2% THC when sold online or over the counter.
What are the differences in chemical composition between THC and CBD?
Although both CBD and THC are cannabinoids derived from the Cannabis sativa plant, each has a different composition.
Each shares the same molecular structure but the atoms within them are arranged differently. This means that CBD and THC have different effects on the body.
For example, THC is the main psychoactive ingredient found in cannabis, and is responsible for the physical and psychological side effects people experience when they take cannabis.
When a person uses cannabis, THC binds to specific receptors in the brain. In many people, this produces a sense of euphoria.
In contrast, CBD binds very weakly if at all to the brain’s receptors, meaning that it produces few if any psychoactive effects.
What are the medical benefits of CBD and THC?
Although rare, cannabis-based medicines may be prescribed in Ireland on a case-by-case basis to relieve symptoms of certain conditions.
However, medical cannabis would only be considered where other treatments had not helped or had been deemed unsuitable.
People with the following conditions may be eligible for access to medicinal cannabis:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Nausea and vomiting associated with cancer treatment (chemotherapy)
- Severe, treatment-resistant epilepsy, where anticonvulsant medications have not worked
Advocates of medical cannabis claim that it can help people with mental health conditions such as anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. However, further research is still being undertaken in this area.
Advocates of CBD will often use CBD products as an alternative treatment for conditions including anxiety and insomnia.
What are the side effects of CBD and THC?
Because THC and CBD have different chemical compositions, the side effects of each are also different.
People who use cannabis – which is illegal in Ireland, and which contains a higher concentration of THC than CBD – have been known to experience side effects including:
- Increased heart rate and low blood pressure
- Problems with coordination
- Red eyes
- Dry mouth
- Anxiety and distress
- Memory loss and confusion
Regular ingestion of THC (via cannabis) over a prolonged period has been linked to many other long-term physical and psychological effects.
It is also important to note that the side effects of cannabis can vary considerably and can be much more harmful, depending on the strain of the drug. This is because some strains of cannabis contain much higher levels of THC than others.
In contrast, CBD products containing less than 0.2% THC are generally considered safe and are legal to buy and sell in Ireland.
This is because CBD containing less than 0.2% THC is unlikely to cause any psychoactive effects.
However, CBD still has the potential to cause adverse physical side effects, depending on how much a person uses, and whether they are taking CBD at the same time as other over the counter or prescription medications.
Some known side effects of CBD use include:
- Dry mouth
- Reduced appetite
- Stomach issues
Excess use of CBD has also been linked to an increased risk of liver damage and can interfere with the effects of some prescription medications.
If you are considering taking CBD for medicinal purposes, it is recommended that you speak to your doctor in the first instance, especially if you are already taking prescribed medications.
Is THC legal in Ireland?
THC is the main psychoactive ingredient found in cannabis.
In Ireland, cannabis is controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 and 1984. This means that it is an offence to have cannabis in your possession either for personal use, or with the intent to supply.
The penalty for cannabis possession can include a fine, prison sentence, or both. However, several factors will be considered for sentencing including the type, quantity, and total value of the drugs found.
Is CBD legal in Ireland?
CBD products are legal to buy and sell in Ireland, subject to strict regulations.
They are regulated by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) and are sold and marketed as food supplements.
To be legally compliant, CBD products sold in Ireland must:
- Contain less than 0.2% THC – the psychoactive ingredient found in the cannabis plant
- Be hemp-based – hemp is a species of the Cannabis sativa plant that typically contains much lower levels of THC than cannabis (marijuana). This means that hemp products do not contain enough THC to produce psychoactive effects
- Sold without any health claims – this includes health claims made verbally, on the label, or in marketing materials such as on websites or social media channels
Despite these guidelines, many unscrupulous online retailers sell CBD products with much higher THC levels, making them illegal to buy (and sell) in Ireland.
This means that anyone buying online needs to be extra vigilant when ordering CBD products.
It is also worth noting that the method for extracting CBD from hemp also impacts on how it is regulated under European law.
For example, CBD extracted using solvents and CO2 is classed as a ‘novel food’ and is restricted under the Novel Food Regulation. This regulation applies to any ingredient that does not have a long history of consumption in Europe (prior to 15 May, 1997).
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