CBD vs THC : The Complete Guide to Cannabis

CBD vs THC : The Complete Guide to Cannabis

If you’ve spent any time researching hemp, CBD, or THC on the internet, you’ve come across plenty of articles pitting these three concepts against each other. Most of them have titles like “CBD vs THC: Which is Better?” or “Hemp vs CBD: What the Farmers Won’t Tell You,” but they never seem to have the information you want to know.

So instead of trying to convince you that hemp, CBD, or THC are better than the others, let’s take a more in-depth look at all three to understand better what they are, what they do, and the history behind them.

Once you learn more about each one of these cannabis-based options, it will be much easier for you to ask further questions, seek out the products you want, and be completely satisfied with your decision.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before we can worry about making those decisions, we should learn a little history to appreciate the different paths that CBD, THC, and hemp took to get where they are today.

An old drawing shows people from medieval times making hemp paper

Hemp vs CBD vs THC: A Brief History

Much like the Bee Gees, Blink-182, and Alvin and the Chipmunks, the well-known trio of hemp, CBD, and THC have such a shared history – telling their stories would be impossible separately. However, the first of these three that we can credibly link to near-prehistoric usage is hemp, so let’s start there.

Hemp: The Early Years

Throughout the long history of hemp, it has been used to make rope, fiber, and other textiles, including hemp fibers found in pottery from around 5000 BC. It was used by rulers and shipbuilders and potters and everything in between. Whether it was a shirt, rope, or a bag, hemp had the potential to be useful to almost anyone.

However, it was not just textiles that hemp provided. In addition to the sturdy, fibrous stalks of the hemp plant, it’s flowering buds were also cultivated, and the long, strange history of THC would begin.

As hemp continued to be a fan-favorite in early human societies, ancient people like the Assyrians and the Aryans began to understand THC’s psychoactive properties. And while this mild intoxication didn’t cause any problems for hemp production in ancient Assyria, that would not be the case in early 20th century America.

Hemp and THC Find Trouble in America

After enjoying thousands of years as a cash crop used by every industry from textiles to paper to cars (shoutout Henry Ford), hemp finally hit a bump in the road thanks to THC. Many “activist groups” in the early 20th century held rallies, wrote pamphlets, and even made movies that showed THC and cannabis/hemp in general as something that minorities use to fuel their lawlessness and convince “upstanding” white people to commit crimes.

Unfortunately, these racist scare tactics succeeded in outlawing THC and put all hemp production in jeopardy. Lobbyists supporting the many industries that struggled to beat the efficiency of hemp-based products helped make sure people precisely knew where the marijuana came from and pushed to regulate hemp growth in America heavily. They succeeded.

Two marihuana act of 1937 stamps denote the currency change

From that “success” came the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which outlawed the use of cannabis and regulated hemp production more than nearly any other industry in the US. This regulation led to a drastic drop in the amount of hemp produced in America, but ironically did little to curb the THC problem.

In a nation where hemp production was once mandatory, hemp was all erased from American life. However, between the rampant popularity of THC in the American 60s and 70s and advancements in cannabis research happening across the world at the same time, hemp would soon find a new ally in the fight for mainstream acceptance.

Cloth and rope made out of hemp lay in a pile among hemp fibers

What is Hemp and What is it Used For?

Simply put, “hemp” is a name given to the low-THC varieties of Cannabis sativa with the tall, sturdy stalks necessary to make things like paper, rope, and clothing. On the other hand, “marijuana” is usually used to describe the opposite – shorter, less sturdy cannabis plants that produce more buds with higher THC content.

While both technically are “cannabis,” they differ on pretty much everything else. While marijuana is only grown for recreational or medical consumption, hemp plants are incredibly useful for various industries.

We mentioned earlier that Henry Ford created an engine that could run on hemp-based biofuel and that everyone from ancient Assyrians to American colonists used hemp ropes. Still, there’s even more hemp can do now.

The most fascinating of these new, hemp-based inventions is Hempcrete. Hempcrete is considered both stronger and more eco-friendly than traditional cement. And because it’s also a lighter and more flexible material, it is much less likely to develop cracks due to settling and expansion.

We have also learned that hemp is an amazing bioaccumulator, which means it can be used as part of regular crop rotation to keep the soil fresh and ready for the next harvest. This ability has also been used to help purify soil that has been destroyed by radiation, most famously in Chernobyl.

Recently, the most exciting, new use of hemp has been CBD products, made from the compound that Mechoulam and his lab discovered the potential of nearly 50 years ago.

But CBD is not the only cannabinoid vying for public attention, so let’s now cut to the heart of the hemp debates – the battle of CBD vs THC.

The Difference Between CBD and THC

You may have noticed that most of the debate surrounding hemp has less to do with the plant itself and more to do with its compounds. THC and CBD have been the topic of countless discussions, and THC content is the basis for what hemp is considered “legal.”

But for all the debates, fear, and praise that these two compounds spark, many people still ask the questions, “What is CBD?” and “What is THC?” daily. And it’s about time we give those people an answer.

The molecular structure of cbd is show over a field of light green hemp

What is CBD?

CBD is another compound that’s also found in cannabis, but unlike its cousin THC, CBD will not get you high. There is evidence suggesting that it can counteract the effects of THC, meaning that CBD could potentially be used to save those edible overeaters from a few paragraphs ago.

But just because it won’t get you high, doesn’t mean scientists aren’t rapidly unlocking its full potential. Much like THC, science and testing are quickly working to validate the benefits of CBD; however, many people are already using products made with CBD for everyday stress, pain management, and overall wellness.

A brown glass bottle sits among hemp leaves with a drop of cbd oil dripping from a dropper above it

Three Frequently Asked Questions About Hemp, CBD, and THC.

1. Does CBD Oil Have THC?

This question is one of the most common questions people ask when learning about CBD oil, and the answer is a little trickier than a simple “yes” or “no.” While industrial hemp, and therefore CBD, are legally not allowed to contain enough THC to get you high, that doesn’t mean that all CBD is entirely THC-free.

Some CBD oil products contain all of the natural cannabinoids in the hemp plant, including THC, and because they hold the “full spectrum” of cannabinoids, they are referred to as “full spectrum” products.

On the other hand, other companies produce products labeled “broad spectrum” that are said to host all cannabinoids except for THC. However, because there is no exact standard for “broad spectrum” products, there is no way to tell which cannabinoids are available in a product without looking up lab results.

But for those looking for CBD and nothing else, CBD isolate offers a pure CBD experience, free of all other cannabinoids. However, that also means missing out on what those other cannabinoids have to offer.

And while none of these options will get you high, if you’re worried about drug testing, you’re probably better off being safe than sorry.

2. Do all CBD Products Do the Same Thing?

In short, no. There is an almost countless number of new CBD products these days. From cotton candy to shampoo to bath bombs, it’s getting hard to find something that CBD isn’t in, but many people still want to know if these wacky, new ways of taking CBD are even any different from just taking a CBD oil capsule. So let’s break it down.

Despite all the flash presentation, CBD can only be taken in three different ways – as an ingestible, a topical, or a sublingual tincture. Every weird CBD product you’ve ever seen will fit into one of these three categories. But how does each group work?

A bottle of 300 mg cbd gummies from cbdmd sits on a kitchen counter


Ingestibles, or edibles, are perhaps the easiest way to take full advantage of all that CBD has to offer. They can come in the form of traditional capsules, CBD gummies, or even things like cotton candy, but they all work the same way.

Each edible product will contain a certain amount of CBD per serving, which allows you to know precisely how much CBD you are taking every time. After swallowing, the CBD makes its way to your stomach, where it is digested and absorbed into the bloodstream.

Because edible products are typically pre-measured and easy to take on the go, most people traveling with CBD oil carry edibles because they allow you to get the CBD you need without slowing down your day.

A tube of 750 mg recover cream from cbdmd sits on a counter next to a white towel


Unlike edibles, topical products are not meant to enter your bloodstream. Instead, they work at a surface level to help deal with aches and pains. Typically, CBD topical products combine CBD with pain-relieving and inflammation-fighting compounds like menthol and arnica to produce a powerful one-two punch.

By taking advantage of multiple support methods, these products can help everyone from athletes to accountants to stay-at-home parents get through a tough day.

Several bottles of cbd tincture from cbdmd sit on a rock near the beach

Sublingual Tincture

Even though the word “sublingual” seems scary, sublingual tinctures are very simple and efficient.

First of all, “sublingual” just means “under the tongue,” and a “tincture” is a mixture of CBD and a carrier oil (like MCT oil), that is either taken directly with a dropper or mixed into food.

And just like that definition suggests, to take a CBD oil tincture, just place a full dropper of CBD oil under your tongue, hold it there for 30-60 seconds, and swallow. Another option is to add a drop or two of your favorite CBD oil tincture to your coffee, smoothie, or nearly any dish.

However, it should be noted that taking a tincture under your tongue will allow more CBD to enter your bloodstream faster than if you were to ingest it. And it’s because the under-the-tongue method allows the CBD to partially bypass the liver, meaning that less CBD is filtered out before entering the bloodstream.

3. Is CBD Federally Legal?

One of the most common questions we get asked at cbdMD is, “In what states is CBD oil legal?” And while the answer is undoubtedly less tricky than learning the difference between “full spectrum” and “broad spectrum,” it definitely requires a little explanation.

A gavel rests on its wooden striker near the scales of justice

When it comes to CBD oil's legal status, just like with judging the legal status of hemp, it all comes down to THC content. While the 2018 Farm Bill federally legalized hemp and hemp-based products, not all CBD oils are made from federally legal hemp.

Thirty-three states have already begun or are creating medical marijuana programs, which means that in those 33 states, there may be “CBD Oil” that contains more than the federally sanctioned amount of THC. In the case of these oils, they are only legal in the state they were purchased in, and taking them across state lines would technically be a federal offense.

On the other hand, CBD products made with industrial hemp containing less than 0.3 percent THC are federally legal. That means it’s ok to order these products online without fear of breaking the law, and the TSA has even approved these types of CBD products to take onto airplanes so that you can travel all over.

What Do You Think About Hemp vs CBD vs THC?

We covered a lot of information in this blog about hemp, CBD, and THC, and while it would take forever to tell you literally everything there is to know about these three topics, this is a great place to start. Education has no exact finish line, so keep reading, asking questions, and searching for exactly what you need to make the most informed decisions possible.

So scour the blog for more exciting topics and connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to continue your “hempucation” and join our community of helpful hemp lovers!