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Does CBD Work Without THC? Separating Fact From Fiction

Written By Ellese Symons Jun 16th 2023
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 A detailed analysis of just about any high-quality full spectrum hemp extract will reveal an ample amount of CBD (cannabidiol) and a small amount of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). The 15-25:1 CBD to THC ratio mitigates intoxication. With so many sources explaining how the combined impact of the plant's many minor cannabinoids and terpenes contribute to the overall effects of full spectrum tinctures, topicals, gummies, and softgels, it's only natural to wonder if products made without THC are worth the investment. 

After all, you'll find numerous posts from well-intentioned CBD users claiming cannabis products need at least a small amount of THC to work. But there are also plenty of comments suggesting CBD has a considerable number of possible benefits when used on its own. Before limiting your options based on common misconceptions, consider taking a few minutes to explore their similarities and differences. Once you understand the science, it's much easier to separate fact from fiction. 

CBD vs THC: What's the Relationship?  

CBD and THC are just two of at least 113 potentially beneficial cannabinoids in cannabis plants (Rudd, 2023). On a molecular level, they're quite similar. Both are made up of 30 hydrogen atoms, 21 carbon atoms, and two oxygen atoms. However, there are slight differences in the way those atoms are arranged (Baldwin, 2021). Whether sourced from hemp or marijuana, CBD and THC are considered "offspring" of CBGA (cannabigerolic acid), the "mother" of all cannabinoids. 

CBGA is the first cannabinoid produced in the plant. Natural enzymes convert CBGA to CBCA (cannabichromenic acid), CBDA (cannabidiolic acid), and THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) as crops mature. Over time, heat and sunlight convert these acidic cannabinoids to their active, non-acidic forms, CBG, CBC, CBD, and THC (Komarnytsky et al., 2021). The intoxicating effect of cannabis with more than a small amount of THC is linked to the cannabinoid's ability to bind with a specific target in the brain, CB1, an endocannabinoid system (ECS) receptor. 

How CBD Works: Understanding the Basics of ECS Function  

Your endocannabinoid system is made up of three main components, the ECS receptors (CB1 and CB2), the endocannabinoids system messengers produced as needed in your body (anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol), and the enzymes that break down your ECS messengers once they've served their purpose (Marzo & Piscitelli, 2015). As the largest regulatory system in your body, researchers believe the primary role of ECS function is to restore balance when internal or external factors threaten essential equilibrium. 

Although most of the evidence is based on lab reports and a steadily increasing number of clinical trials, decades of research suggest CBD asserts its influence by interacting with multiple molecular targets, including the receptors of the dopamine, GABA, serotonin, and endocannabinoid systems. Cannabis researchers believe CBD helps support ECS function in a way that promotes homeostasis (Sallaberry & Astern 2018). 

What could that mean for you? Based on the feedback of nearly 2000 survey respondents, most CBD users report positive results using hemp-derived products for relaxation, better sleep, mild (temporary) anxiety, pain and inflammation after physical activity, and more. Unlike THC, CBD is non-intoxicating. It also inhibits THC's ability to bind with CB1 receptors. 

How THC Works: The Potential Risks and Possible Benefits 

The THC concentrations in commercial strains of marijuana tend to fall between 9 and 30% depending on the strain (NIDA, 2019). Most full spectrum hemp-derived CBD products contain too little THC to cause intoxication, but not every product. Several companies offer a selection of hemp-derived CBD products made with precisely enhanced levels of naturally occurring Delta-9 THC, usually just enough to give an uplifting buzz. Others add varying amounts of Delta-8, a synthetic form of THC made from chemically converted CBD (FDA, 2022). That's an important point to keep in mind in light of how many (outdated) sources claim people using hemp-derived products "never" have to worry about intoxication. THC is THC regardless of the source. 

The small amount of THC in unaltered full spectrum hemp extract helps maximize the overall potency of full spectrum CBD products by contributing to a property cannabis is known for called an "entourage effect" (Nahler et al., 2019). In states where medical use is allowed, physicians have the option of prescribing highly regulated marijuana strains for a list of pre-approved conditions through a limited number of dispensaries. While the cannabinoid clearly contributes to the health and wellness potential of cannabis, it does carry a higher risk of causing unpleasant side effects than CBD, symptoms that can include impaired motor function, drowsiness or sedation, a rapid heart rate, anxiety, paranoia, and hallucinations when ingested in large amounts (Rae, 2022). 

CBD Without THC: What the Science Says   

According to a 2020 report published by the World Health Organization, hemp-derived CBD poses no "risk to public health" (WHO, 2020). But side effects are possible. For some, hemp-derived CBD can cause dry mouth, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, or changes in appetite (Bergamaschi et al., 2011). With that being said, most (93%) of the 1,900 participants in a 2019 CBDistillery® customer survey report no adverse effects. 

While you're sure to find numerous reports from CBD users who prefer hemp-derived products with their natural CBD-to-THC ratios intact, no two CBD users are the same. Many prefer products made with broad spectrum CBD or pure CBD isolate powder, options without THC. Whether you're browsing the aisle of your favorite specialty shop or purchasing online, it's important to know how they compare. 

Broad Spectrum CBD Products  

Broad spectrum CBD gives you many of the same additional cannabinoids and terpenes found in full spectrum hemp extract, but the THC is reduced to non-detectable levels, meaning 0.01% or less. When you choose broad spectrum CBD, you'll still get the potency-maximizing potential of the plant's many minor cannabinoids and terpenes, but it may not have the same intensity. Some CBD users feel removing the THC from full spectrum CBD diminishes the impact (Wilkins, 2022), while others notice little (if any) difference. 

0% THC CBD Isolate Products  

CBD isolate is highly refined. All that remains after the plant extract is distilled and "winterized" is a flavorless, odorless powder that gives you everything CBD has to offer on its own. You won't get any of the additional cannabinoids and terpenes needed for an entourage effect, but that's no reason to overlook the considerable health and wellness potential of CBD isolate. In a 2020 publication, researchers specified that most of the positive data used in their report reflected the effects of the "pure form" of CBD (Larsen & Shahinas, 2020). 

Could You Benefit From Adding CBD Without THC to Your Daily Routine?  

Although some CBD users feel the small amount of THC in full spectrum hemp extract enhances overall potency, decades of research confirm that CBD does not need THC to work. If you're uncomfortable ingesting THC for any reason, you still have plenty of options. 

CBDistillery® broad spectrum CBD tinctures, softgels, and gummies give you many of the same cannabinoids, terpenes, amino acids, and other phytonutrients as their full spectrum counterparts. Our 0% THC CBD isolate tinctures and topicals could be your best bet if you're not all that thrilled about the rather distinctive flavor or aroma of cannabis. 

When using any hemp-derived product for the first time, it's important to understand that the serving size suggestions printed on product labels are intended as a guide. An amount that works for someone else could be significantly more or a lot less than the serving size that's best for you. Most reputable sources recommend going "low and slow" by starting with a partial serving and increasing the amount you're using gradually over time. Using more than your ideal serving size is not harmful, but there's also no additional health benefit. 

Of our 1,900 survey respondents, most report achieving their best results for better sleep, mild (temporary) anxiety, relaxation, and discomfort after physical activity using a wide range of products within 7-14 days of consistent use. If you're intrigued by what you've learned so far but not quite sure where to start, consider taking our CBD Quiz or scheduling a personal consultation

References  

Baldwin, J. (2021) CBD vs THC: What Are the Differences? Weed News. 

Bergamaschi M, Mateus R, et al. (2011) Safety and Side Effect of Cannabidiol, a Cannabis Sativa Constituent. 6(4) Curr Drug Saf 237-49. https://doi.org/10.2174/157488611798280924 

FDA (US Food & Drug Administration). (2022). 5 Things to Know About Delta-8 Tetrahydrocannabinol – Delta-8 THC. 

Komarnytsky S, Rathinasabapathy T, et al. (2021) Endocannabinoid System and Its Regulation by Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Full Spectrum Hemp Oils. 22(11) Int J Mol Sci 5479. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms22115479 

Larsen C, Shahinas S. (2020) Dosage, Efficacy and Safety of Cannabidiol Administration in Adults: A Systematic Review of Human Trials. 12(3) J Clin Med Res 129-41. 

Marzo, V, Piscitelli F. (2015) The Endocannabinoid System and Its Modulation by Phytocannabinoids. 12, Neurotherapeutics 692-98. 

Nahler G, Jones T, et al. (2019) Cannabidiol and Contribution of Major Hemp Phytocompounds to the "Entourage" Effect: Possible Mechanisms. 5, J Altern Complement Integr Med 70. PDF 

NIDA, (2019). Cannabis (Marijuana) Drug Facts. NIDA. 2019, December 24. Cannabis (Marijuana) Drug Facts. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/cannabis-marijuana 

Rae, A. (2022) The Side Effects of THC. Weed Maps. 

Rudd, J. CBD vs THC – What Are the Main Differences? Analytical Cannabis. 

Sallaberry C, Astern L. (2018) The Endocannabinoid System, Our Universal Regulator. 34(6) JYI 48-55. https://www.jyi.org/2018-june/2018/6/1/the-endocannabinoid-system-our-universal-regulator 

Wilkins T. (2022) What Is the Entourage Effect? How This Enhances CBD Effects. Marijuana Takers. 

World Health Organization. (2020) Cannabidiol (CBD) Critical Review Report. PDF https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/controlled-substances/whocbdreportmay2018-2.pdf?sfvrsn=f78db177_2