The cannabinoids CBD and THC are both constituents of the cannabis plant. CBD products do not contain THC and will not give people a “high.”

Although CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are both parts of the same plant, they have very different effects on the body. THC is the substance in cannabis that gives a person the feeling of being high. Conversely, CBD is commonly used to manage pain and aid in relaxation.

While it is possible to buy CBD products, research shows that these products may still contain varying amounts of THC. It is advisable for people to check the label of a product before trying it.

Read on to learn about the benefits, risks, legality, and more.

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Cannabidiol (CBD) is a substance found in plants and is well-known for being a cannabinoid in the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, it does not give a person who consumes it a high.

CBD itself does not contain THC. However, some broad-spectrum CBD products may have small amounts.

A 2017 research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association discussed whether the labels of CBD products sold online were accurate. The researchers also looked for cannabinoids that were contained in the products but not listed on the labels and found THC in 18 of the 84 samples they tested.

This means that while a person buying a CBD product may think that they are choosing a product with no THC in it, this may not always be the case.

Despite being derived from the same plants, CBD and THC have distinctly different properties and effects on a person. They also have different legal statuses.

The high a person gets from consuming THC happens when THC binds with cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors in the brain. It can make a person feel happy, relaxed, paranoid, or fearful.

A 2021 study suggests that a person may get more of a high from inhaling it than ingesting it.

Conversely, CBD cannot bind to these receptors without THC. This means that if a person uses CBD and THC is not present, they will not get high. CBD has a low tendency to combine with the receptor on its own.

Learn more about the differences between CBD and THC.

Marketing CBD by adding it to a food or labeling it as a dietary supplement is illegal in the United States.

At the federal level, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved one CBD product to date. This medication is used to treat seizures in people with the following health conditions:

  • Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy
  • Dravet syndrome, another rare type of epilepsy
  • tuberous sclerosis complex

While the 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the definition of cannabis in the Controlled Substances Act, CBD products still have to abide by the same legal requirements as regulated products containing any other substance.

As of 2021, the FDA is still of the opinion that THC and CBD products should not fit within the definition of a dietary supplement under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

Instead, many CBD products available are meant for topical use. For example, a company may manufacture a CBD balm that is meant to be used for sore muscles.

Hemp is another name for cannabis when people grow it for a range of industrial uses, such as making clothing, paper, or animal feed. It has lower levels of THC.

A CBD extract can be broad-spectrum, full-spectrum, or isolate.

Full-spectrum CBD contains all extracts of the cannabis plant, which includes CBD, terpenes, flavonoids, essential oils, and other cannabinoids. Broad-spectrum CBD is similar to full-spectrum, except it has almost no THC in it. Finally, CBD isolate is pure CBD.

The three types are as follows:

TermMeaning
Full-spectrumA full-spectrum product will contain all of the natural compounds in the cannabis plant, including THC. However, THC levels must be no more than 0.3% to comply with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation on full-spectrum CBD products.
Broad-spectrumBroad-spectrum products contain natural compounds of the cannabis plant. However, while manufacturers remove all or most of the THC in broad-spectrum CBD, it may still be present in trace amounts.
CBD isolateThis is the purest form of CBD and should contain 0% THC.

A 2020 study explains that some of the benefits of broad- and full-spectrum CBD products may be due to the various cannabinoids and other plant constituents working together. This phenomenon is known as the “entourage effect.”

Read more about terminology and other important CBD information.

CBD has a range of benefits, both proven and anecdotal.

A 2020 study found preclinical research showing the beneficial effects of both CBD and THC in relation to chronic pain, anxiety, sleep, and inflammation.

However, the study’s authors noted that much of the evidence from systematic reviews did not differentiate between unregulated herbal cannabis and pharmaceutical-grade regulated cannabinoid-based medical products (CBMP). This means that it is difficult to determine what exactly caused the benefits.

Despite this criticism, the authors concluded that CBMP causes few side effects and can benefit people with:

The FDA says that while safety data is limited, the research it has seen suggests there are risks associated with taking CBD. Additionally, it points out that some manufacturers make unproven medical claims about their products.

Possible CBD side effects listed by the FDA include:

  • drowsiness or sleepiness
  • gastrointestinal issues, such as diarrhea or reduced appetite
  • irritability and agitation
  • liver injury
  • altering the effect of other drugs a person is taking
  • risk of injury if a person uses CBD with other medications that cause drowsiness or sedation
  • damaging male fertility, including male infants exposed in the womb

The FDA says it is working to better understand the safety of CBD and CBD products. Besides the range of side effects, the regulator is investigating factors such as:

  • The cumulative effect of consuming CBD in more than one product — for instance, applying a CBD cream to the skin and taking CBD supplements orally on an ongoing basis.
  • The effect of CBD on populations including children, older people, adolescents, and people who are pregnant or lactating.
  • The effect of giving CBD to animals that become meat or produce dairy products, eggs, and more.

According to the FDA, there is limited research on potential interactions between CBD and other herbs and dietary supplements. Therefore, people should be careful when combining CBD with other supplements and herbal remedies.

Cannabis contains a range of natural plant substances called cannabinoids, which include CBD and THC. Full-spectrum CBD products may contain up to 0.3% THC, while broad-spectrum products contain almost none.

The potential benefits of medical-grade cannabis include managing chronic pain, nausea following chemotherapy, and epilepsy that is resistant to other treatments. Research suggests that all the cannabinoids, including CBD and THC, and other plant components in cannabis may work together to provide the plant’s therapeutic effects.