From ‘A’ To Weed: Cannabis Questions Answered

What’s the difference between CBD and THC? How about hemp and marijuana? A Weed 101 Primer
Marijuana buds stored in a glass jar.


Are hemp and marijuana different? How does THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) compare with CBD (cannabidiol)? And what the heck is the endocannabinoid system?

There has been confusion since low-dose THC edibles became legal in Minnesota last year. For a crash course on all things cannabis, we sat down with Allison Vaillancourt, co-founder of the Minneapolis-based THC and CBD brand BLNCD Naturals and Scott O’Malley, CEO of CLRTY Company.

Cannabis vs. hemp vs. marijuana—what’s the difference?

Cannabis is the name of a plant family that includes several species, including hemp and marijuana. “Hemp and marijuana are both cannabis,” Vaillancourt explains, and they look and smell very similar. The main difference between the two is that hemp has a lower concentration of THC—less than 0.3%. Anything that has over 0.3% THC is characterized as marijuana.

So What’s the difference between THC and CBD? 

THC and CBD are both cannabinoids, compounds found in cannabis. There are more than 100 cannabinoids, but we’re just focusing on these two here. The main difference between CBD and THC is that CBD is non-psychoactive, while THC is psychoactive. “That high that’s primarily associated with marijuana? That’s coming from the THC,” Vaillancourt says. O’Malley says THC is a much stronger component than CBD. CBD and THC are sometimes combined together as CBD can mitigate some of the psychoactive effects of THC for a more mellow experience or for specific applications like relaxation or sleep.

Where do THC and CBD come from?

Because hemp contains high levels of CBD and lower levels of THC, CBD is typically derived from hemp. Marijuana contains high levels of THC and lower levels of CBD, which means THC is typically derived from marijuana. However, because of the way Minnesota’s current cannabis law is written, all THC must be derived from hemp—this is different than in most recreational markets.

Is there a difference between THC that’s derived from hemp vs. marijuana?

No. This is the same compound; it does the same thing. They are the same compound but the amount of THC is much more prevalent in marijuana plants than in hemp plants currently, O’Malley says.

How do THC and CBD work?

It is related to your endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is a neurotransmission network that exists in all mammals, and it helps regulate body functions including (but not limited to) appetite, sleep, anxiety level, and cognition. THC and CBD interact with receptors in your endocannabinoid system to stimulate changes in the body.

What kind of changes?

That really depends on the person. “Just like a snowflake, everybody has a different endocannabinoid system,” Vaillancourt says, which is why CBD and THC affect everyone a little bit differently. This also explains why CBD appears to help people with so many different things, from muscle soreness to anxiety to sleep issues to joint pain.

Why do some products combine THC and CBD? 

You may have seen gummies and drinks on the market that contain both THC and CBD. Vaillancourt says CBD sort of “mellows out the edges” of a THC experience, reducing some of the less desirable effects like the munchies or sleepiness. The higher the ratio of CBD to THC, the more it may mellow out the functions of THC.

What’s the difference between indica and sativa, two types of cannabis?

Indica and sativa are botanical names referring to the plant’s structure. It’s generally accepted that indica strains are more relaxing and mellow (they’ll put you “in da couch”) while sativa strains are said to be more energizing. However, when it comes to understanding how a strain will make you feel, research indicates that terpene profiles are actually more important than these broad classifications.

OK, so then what are terpenes?

Terpenes are the essential oils of the cannabis plant, and they’re cousins to cannabinoids. (You can find terpenes in lots of plants, including herbs and citrus fruits.) They’re not only responsible for the aromatics and taste of different cannabis strains, but they also have different reported benefits, from anti-anxiety properties to anti-inflammatory benefits. Vaillancourt says this is kind of “the new frontier of cannabis,” and in states where it’s fully legal, some dispensaries organize their strains based on their terpenes.

How do edibles differ from beverages?

Edibles made with distillate THC are metabolized in the liver, which actually turns the THC into a more potent compound known as 11-hydroxy-THC. This takes a while, which is why they can kick in between 45 minutes and two hours after they’re eaten, and the transformation to 11-hydroxy-THC can cause a different, stronger high. Beverages and edibles made with water-soluble THC—think beverages and gummies—are absorbed into the bloodstream through the tissue of your mouth, esophagus, and stomach, which leads to a quicker onset of the effects, as well as a shorter and more predictable high.

What can a user expect for their first THC experience?

It’s tough to predict exactly how THC will impact someone. Dose, tolerance, and metabolism can all lead to a slightly different experience, as can the specific strain. Some people experience a feeling of euphoria or relaxation; other people feel energized and motivated. It could also make someone sleepy, or giddy, or hungry. However, if too much is consumed, it can also trigger negative feelings like anxiety or paranoia.

So how much is too much?

The current Minnesota law says gummies can contain at most 5 milligrams of THC. For someone totally new to the stuff, that’s a good place to start. Vaillancourt recommends cutting one in half at first, and ramping up the THC from there. She also recommends users try it in a place where they feel comfortable and safe. Low and slow is the way to go. “The best way to ensure your experience remains positive is to avoid using too much,” Vaillancourt says. “Take a little bit, and kind of work your way up and see.” O’Malley agrees, “Our motto is, ‘If you’re new to THC, start low and go slow.’” The onset will be fast acting and you will feel the effects much as you do with a glass of wine or a drink.