What is the difference between CBD and marijuana?

The media is full of talk about CBD these days, with stories about it curing migraines, relieving anxiety and joint pain, and it might even be useful for treating autoimmune diseases and cancer. Many people would like to try it, but it’s a confusing topic. Is it legal? Does it give you the munchies? Can you drive after taking it? Is it the same thing as marijuana or not?


Cannabinoids are a group of molecules with similar chemical structures. There are natural cannabinoids synthesized in the human body that act as messengers. They bind to cannabinoid receptors found on neurons and other cell types such as immune cells. The system is quite complicated but, in general, their effect can be thought of as a dimmer switch; they down-regulate certain neural pathways. There are hundreds of different cannabinoids found in cannabis, but the two most prominent are called THC and CBD. THC is the component that causes the “high” of marijuana. CBD does not cause a high, although it can make people sleepy.

CBD is not marijuana

The hemp plant has been grown for eons for its fibers. The fibers from hemp plants can be woven into countless products, similar to the fibers derived from cotton plants. Hemp fabrics are stronger, more durable, and more insulating than cotton fibers – although hemp fabrics tend to be a bit stiff in comparison to the soft, slightly elastic cotton fabrics everyone is familiar with. It also costs less to produce hemp fabrics than cotton fabrics.

CBD is produced from the flower buds of hemp plants. The buds are processed in various ways in order to isolate and purify the CBD. CBD products are generally classified as:

  • Full-spectrum
  • Broad-spectrum
  • Isolate

Full and broad-spectrum products are rather crude extracts from the hemp buds. They contain a cocktail of hundreds of different cannabinoids, with CBD predominating. Full-spectrum usually refers to a product that contains some THC while broad spectrum contains less than 0.3% THC. CBD isolate is the purified CBD; all of the other cannabinoids have been removed. CBD isolate is a powder while full and broad-spectrum CBD is usually available in an oil carrier, although they can also be incorporated into edibles, creams, and a wide variety of other products.

It is very important to distinguish between CBD oil, made from the buds of the hemp plant, and hemp seed oil. The hemp seed oil contains no cannabinoids at all.

It is also important to realize that some CBD products are derived from the buds of the marijuana plant. These products generally have much higher levels of THC in their full and broad spectrum forms. Reputable manufacturers are open about what plants they extract their CBD from, how much THC is in each product, and how much CBD is present per drop or dose.

Is it legal?

CBD that contains less than 0.3% THC is legal in all 50 states. CBD that contains higher levels of THC is legal for medicinal purposes in places that have legalized medical marijuana and it is also legal in places that have legalized recreational marijuana. You can legally drive after using a CBD product that contains less than 0.3% THC although, as mentioned briefly above, it may make you feel sleepy.

It should be noted, however, that drug-sniffing dogs may alert on full and broad spectrum CBD preparations, which can lead to delays in airports while you show the officers proof that your preparation is indeed legal in your current locality. In addition, it is possible that you will test positive on a drug test after using a broad spectrum CBD product, and in rare cases, some people have tested positive when using a full spectrum CBD product. CBD isolates will not be detected by drug-sniffing dogs nor will they cause anyone to test positive on a drug test.

What is it used for?

CBD is used for many different reasons. The most common reasons are to assist in sleeping, to relax and help relieve anxiety, and to ease the pain. CBD products have been FDA-approved to treat certain types of epilepsy. Some individuals with cancer and autoimmune diseases report that taking CBD in addition to their regular treatments can alleviate some of their symptoms.

How is it taken?

CBD in an oil carrier is very rapidly absorbed through the mucous membranes of the mouth. The most common method of administering it is to place the desired number of drops underneath the tongue and hold it in the mouth for several minutes before swallowing. This method allows the CBD to rapidly hit the bloodstream and get right to work.

CBD can also be vaped. This method allows the CBD to be absorbed through the lungs and reach the bloodstream almost as quickly and efficiently as a sublingual application. Vaping CBD will not cause the lung damage that has recently been all over the news; those cases appear to be caused by vaping black market THC that is contaminated because it comes from a disreputable source.

For a slower onset, it can be swallowed or consumed in an edible preparation. Since passage through the digestive tract is a less efficient way to absorb CBD, a higher dose is usually recommended for edible preparations than for sublingual methods.

Some people enjoy using topical creams and lotions that contain CBD. When used in this manner, it only affects the skin and does not enter the bloodstream in any appreciable amount.

The bottom line

CBD comes from the hemp plant, not marijuana. It will not make you high. It is legal everywhere if it contains less than 0.3% THC.

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