What’s The Difference Between CBD and THC in Cannabis?

There are two completely different compounds in cannabis, CBD and THC. They produce different effects, work in different ways, and can help in different ways too.

Cannabidiol (CBD) and Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are two of the active compounds that are extracted from the cannabis plant. The three main types of cannabis plant are cannabis sativa, indica, and ruderalis. In each varietal, there are over 400 different chemicals/ compounds, and around 60 of them are cannabinoid compounds. THC and CBD are the most well-known, and the most studied to date.

The effects of cannabis have long been known, and it’s been cultivated for various uses for more than 6000 years. CBD was isolated and identified in 1899 by Thomas Wood, Newton Spivey, and Thomas Easterfield. It was thought to be the psychoactive compound until THC was discovered in 1964 by Gaoni and Mechoulam.

To understand CBD and THC, there needs to be an understanding of the biology of cannabis plants. It’s important to note that these compounds come from the same plant.  The cannabis plant is readily identifiable with seven leaf points, and the central leaf being the longest. The leaves are smooth edged, not jagged, and there should be a pungent cannabis smell. The stem and leaves have little to no cannabinoid content. The buds and flowers contain the reproductive system and this has the highest expression of CBD and THC.

Male and female plants have a slightly different physical structure, with females having ‘pre-flower’ growth that look like thin strands of hair where the plant leaves separate from the stalk. A male plant grows pollen sacs.

The female plant grows buds which contain both THC and CBD. The male produces pollen, and THC and CBD in much smaller amounts.

What is Marijuana?

This is an informal term for cannabis.

The origins of the word marijuana are racist, originating from the US. When Mexicans were immigrating to the US to escape unrest during the Mexican revolution, this led to a strong anti-immigrant sentiment. The word marijuana, likely originating from Mexican Spanish, became synonymous with Mexicans, who were stereotyped as dangerous cannabis users. The US government used the terms in anti-cannabis propaganda, to further the association between those Mexican immigrants and cannabis.

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol is a non-psychoactive chemical that is found in cannabis plants. CBD oil has been linked to a number of health benefits and positive outcomes, such as:

  • Pain relief
  • Stomach problems such as Crohn’s
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Nausea from chemotherapy
  • Anxiety reduction
  • Brain health and wellbeing
  • Sleep
  • Addiction

It can be taken in a variety of forms, including capsules, oils, and topically. It has very few side effects and is well tolerated by most people.

What is THC?

Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the psychoactive component of cannabis. It can help with:

  • Pain
  • Insomnia (especially when used in conjunction with CBD)
  • Low appetite
  • Nausea
  • Muscle spasms

People can experience side effects with THC, including dry mouth, slow reaction time, and memory loss. This is due to the psychoactive properties.

Does CDB or THC Show Up in Drug Testing?

THC will likely show up in drug screening tests, New Zealand screening panels look for the metabolite THC-COOH or THC itself. CBD may or may not, depending on how sensitive the test is, and how high the levels of THC in the product are. There are low levels of THC in CBD products, but in medicinal cannabis these are controlled and managed through a range of processes.

Medicinal cannabis is legal in New Zealand provided it is a legitimate product and prescribed to you. It is best to alert your employer when you are prescribed. If you fail a drug screening test, then you can provide the employer with your prescription. Depending on when and why you take THC, it may not create a negative outcome. For instance, if you take THC and CBD to sleep, any intoxicating effects will have worn off by morning, and there should be no impairment to your work.


  • The male plant has less THC, and the female plant contains both CBD and THC
  • Cannabidiol (CBD) is non-psychoactive and typically is used therapeutically
  • Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is psychoactive and gives the ‘high’
  • THC and CBD may both show up in drug tests

Sign up to our Newsletter