Everything You Need To Know About CBD & THC

Words: Robyn Samuels

Not too long ago, petrified parents and anti-pot propaganda referred to cannabis as ‘the gateway drug’, but in recent years reefer’s reputation has made a turnaround – thanks to Seth Rogen and scientists. But despite mainstream popularity, Mary Jane remains misunderstood – especially when it comes to discerning the difference between CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), and their respective benefits, associated side effects and legalities.

the difference between CBD & THC

Is CBD legal in South Africa?

Cannabis has always been a controversial substance, but there have been developments regarding mainstream applications of cannabis and CBD, in recent years.

On 23 May 2019, the South African Department of Health announced that cannabidiol (CBD) would become legal for local wholesale distribution, granted that the dosage doesn’t exceed 20 milligrams.

According to the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill, adults may recreationally use cannabis and hemp within private spaces. Though some progress has been made with destigmatising cannabis, many local citizens remain confused about details pertaining to the bill.

The commercial use of hemp and the production of cannabis are also tightly regulated, and permits remain difficult to acquire. Although legalities are still unclear, the CBD market has proliferated in recent years, and many CBD varieties can be found at wellness stores and commercial pharmacies. With a growing community of herbalists and alternative-health seekers, the demand remains high. But part of dispelling preconceived notions involves understanding cannabis and its derivatives better.

The difference between CBD & THC

Cannabis has been used for ages, both medically and recreationally. Jamaican Rastafarians use it to connect to Jah (Jehovah) and for creative purposes. Native American tribes like the Cherokees used it for treating pain, while Navajo tribes used it to treat respiratory illnesses. In Indian Ayurvedic medicine, it treats digestive issues and lack of appetite, and in Western medicine, CBD has been known to treat epileptic seizures. More research is still needed to determine the extended benefits of cannabis – here’s what we already know:

CBD and THC are active components derived from the cannabis plant, and while they share similarities, both have different effects on the body and mind. CBD and THC share the same chemical formula, but both compounds are expressed differently in terms of their chemical structures – same same, but very different!

Furthermore, CBD and THC bind to different receptors (CB1 and CB2) in the endocannabinoid system, which controls some of the most important bodily functions. This includes modulating food intake mechanisms and hunger cues, as well as learning and memory processes – hello munchies and brain fog! It also helps regulate moods, sleep and pain, and affects the immune system.

How CBD & THC receptors work

Medical doctors and researchers have just recently discovered the endocannabinoid system, but for the most part, it’s understood that it communicates changes by transporting neurotransmitters across synapses and binding to receptors, which either up- or deregulate activity within the respective centres of the body. What’s more interesting is that our bodies naturally produce endocannabinoids that actually resemble molecules found in cannabis. The body produces two types of cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2.

While CBD has a low affinity for connecting to CB1 and CB2 receptors, it still has psychoactive effects. THC, however, has a high affinity for binding to both receptors, producing that ‘high’ feeling.

CB1 receptors are abundant in the brain and present in the liver, bones, adipose and cardiac tissue. They also control cellular traffic, but the body first needs to produce endocannabinoid neurotransmitters for uptake before they can connect to these receptors.

CB2 receptors help regulate the immune system and manage physiological responses within the digestive system, such as inflammation and pain relating to intestinal bowel conditions.

Although both have unique purposes, the key differentiator is that when neurotransmitters bind to CB1 receptors, the ‘high’ associated with cannabis is experienced. However, stimulated CB2 receptors do not produce the same psychoactive effects – for this reason, researchers have shown interest in exploring CB2 receptors within drug development.

Different Cannabis strains & their uses

Since CBD does not produce the unwanted effects associated with THC, many people use it for its other benefits. CBD is derived from Cannabis sativa, indica and ruderalis strains. Sativa is often used for its revitalising and euphoric effects, like improving anxiety and stress and stimulating creativity and focus – while Indica has more of a calming effect and is used to help relax the body and improve sleep.


Cannabis ruderalis is the lesser-known of the three, and contains high CBD levels and low THC levels. Ruderalis thrives in harsh growth conditions – unlike sativa and indica, which can be pesky to cultivate outside of suitable environments. While CBD and THC are mostly consumed in the form of oils and edibles or smoked and inhaled, hemp is used for its industrial applications. Hemp can be derived from sativa or ruderalis and is used to make textiles, clothing, bioplastics, construction materials and biofuel.

Benefits & side effects of CBD & THC

CBD has been praised for its health benefits for centuries, and, even today, the CBD products on the market are mind-blowing. Traditionally, it’s been known to treat pain, and it may help treat arthritis. Other sought-after benefits include improved sleep and mood regulation. CBD has also been studied as an alternative treatment for anxiety, depression and psychotic disorders. While more conclusive results are needed, medicinal cannabis and cannabinoids may help relieve symptoms of cancer, like nausea, pain and loss of appetite.

CBD doesn’t have intense psychoactive properties compared to THC, but it could have negative effects, depending on the strength and amount of the CBD consumed, as well as and the individual’s tolerance. Side effects could include diarrhoea, fatigue and changes in weight and appetite.

THC usually has a bad reputation, often associated with producing lethargy and cognitive dysfunction, but THC has potential health benefits too. THC is believed to assist in pain and sleep management. One study also suggested that THC may help treat muscle spasms in patients with multiple sclerosis. In fact, many people use cannabis to alleviate chronic pain.

CBD products in Cape Town

Though some people look to cannabis/THC for its therapeutic effects, others may experience paranoia, an increased heart rate, extreme thirst (cottonmouth), nausea and anxiety. If you’ve ever consumed too much cannabis, it can feel like you’re about to die, but a weed overdose is unlikely. On the other hand, adverse side effects could be experienced when taking cannabis in conjunction with medication, illegal drugs or alcohol.

*If you have any underlying health conditions or are considering using cannabis, please consult a medical practitioner to ensure that it won’t interfere with prescribed medicine.

Cannabis curious? Check out these CBD products in Cape Town

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