Cannabinoid compounds such as CBD and THC have become quite popular for pain management. A common question that people wrestle with is, which compound is better for the job? Is CBD better for pain relief, or is THC more effective in combating chronic pain?

To find out which one is better, it is important to understand the two compounds, how they differ, and how they interact with our bodies' receptors. Let us shed more light on the subject by looking at the two substances in more detail.


What is CBD?

Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, is a phytocannabinoid derived from the cannabis group of plants. CBD is not the only one of its kind. There are over 100 similar chemicals derived from cannabis plants called cannabinoids. CBD can account for almost half of the cannabis plant extract, making it one of the most widely available and popular cannabinoids. 

CBD, like all cannabinoids, has effects on the body by binding to specific receptors in the brain or immune system. But CBD does not bind to receptors directly. Instead, it instructs the body to produce more of its own cannabinoids to achieve the therapeutic effects of CBD. 

Clinical research on the effects of CBD has been ongoing for many years, with the majority of studies revealing positive effects of CBD on various bodily conditions, such as anxiety, movement disorders, environmental cognition, and pain. With this, many CBD products have entered the market, such as CBD oils, creams, and gummy bears


What is THC?

Tetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC for short, is another principal cannabinoid found in cannabis plants, like CBD. There are multiple varieties of THC, but in general, the term THC refers to the delta-9 THC type, which is the most pharmacologically active form of the substance. 

THC is a psychoactive substance, which means that it can alter the nervous system receptors of the human body and cause changes in the user's mood, perception, and cognition. 

THC is an active ingredient in botanical drugs such as nabiximols, used to treat multiple sclerosis. Notably, the presence of THC in nabiximols helps ease neuropathic pain in the area. 


Differences between CBD and THC

Both CBD and THC are found in the cannabis plant, and chemically speaking, they are very similar to each other. Both have the same elements and even the same number of atoms of each element: carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. The use of CBD or THC for pain relief and management is widely popular. 

Despite these similarities, the two compounds have entirely different effects on the nervous system:

  • CBD forms the bulk of the cannabis extract, while THC is found in a much smaller quantity. 
  • CBD and THC have different molecular structures. The atoms are arranged differently, and therefore, they lead to different reactions and release various neurotransmitters. 
  • CBD has a much 'weaker' effect in comparison to THC. It is helpful in 'calming' the user and helps with anxiety, depression, and seizures. On the other hand, THC has a much 'stronger' effect, creating that 'high' effect that cannabis is known for. 

Research on phytocannabinoids was halted primarily due to legal restrictions on cannabis during the twentieth century, but increased analysis yielded positive results. Flowering plants of the genus cannabis have been cultivated for thousands of years for their efficacy in treating chronic pain. Thus, CBD or THC for pain relief can be considered good options.


Cannabinoids and pain

Cannabinoids are substances that can interact with the cannabinoid receptors present in the human body. Let us take a closer look at how they work:

  • The receptors are like locks that can be opened with cannabinoids as keys. Once the receptors are unlocked, specific types of neurotransmitters are released, which can alter the brain's state and affect how we perceive the environment, including our ability to feel pain.
  • Acute pain, which results from surgeries or diseases, is effectively managed with the help of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Chronic pain, however, is hard to manage, even with opioids, and it can be very disabling, so this is where cannabinoids come into play. Endocannabinoids help release transmitters that inhibit the release of cortisol, the hormone responsible for the fight response in a fight or flight situation. Cortisol also helps with stress and pain management


CBD or THC for pain management

CBD and THC both bind to the receptors of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) to release neurotransmitters. It is helpful to understand that there are two different receptors in the endocannabinoid system: the CB1 and CB2 receptors. The fundamental difference between CBD and THC is that THC combines directly with CB1 receptors present in the brain, making THC directly responsible for the high feeling when using it. 

On the other hand, CBD does not directly bind with CB1 and CB2. Instead, CBD interacts with TRPV1 receptors, which then react with the CB receptors - the reason why CBD has a much 'softer' effect. 

Given the different effects of the two compounds, it is safe to say that CBD is much more suited for dealing with chronic pain because of CBD's mild effects. THC works by flooding the nervous system with transmitters, causing a "heightened" state in the brain, leading to various negative schizophrenia-like symptoms, altered perception, and increased anxiety if used for an extended period. CBD is known to show no issues like that. 


Why CBD may be more suitable for pain management

CBD works by interacting with the brain's vanilloid receptors. The combination of TRPV1 and CBD allows the release of a particular chemical called anandamide. Anandamide is a lipid mediator, or basically, a messenger that aids in managing pain and the faster release of pain-handling hormones. With this, CBD users experience quicker relief from pain than THC users.


Combining CBD and THC for pain management 

People take CBD and THC in various ways, and they can be taken separately or together. Some research suggests that combining them with smaller organic compounds found in the cannabis plant known as terpenes or terpenoids is more effective than taking CBD or THC alone.

The interaction between phytocannabinoids and terpenes is known as "the entourage effect.” It is a theory that all of the compounds in cannabis interact with one another and, when taken together, produce a stronger effect than when taken separately and may be beneficial for pain management.



There is no clear winner in the THC vs CBD debate for pain relief. However, the current state of research strongly suggests that cannabinoid substances aid in the management of pain. Both CBD and THC have the potential to alleviate pain, but in different ways. Choosing a product high in THC or CBD for pain management may influence the type of pain relief you experience. According to new research, a combination of THC and CBD in the proper amounts may be an even better solution to the problem, with users experiencing a greater reduction in pain.