THC and CBD Overview for Australians
There are over 400 chemical compounds in the cannabis plant, with at least 100 of those being cannabinoids.
When we consume cannabis, cannabinoids enter our system and interact with our internal body regulators.
THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol) are two of the most prominent cannabinoids present in cannabis products. When we feel the “high” and medicinal effects after ingesting cannabis, it’s all thanks to these tiny compounds.
As more medical marijuana products surface in the Australian market and (hopefully) more states and territories allow personal recreational use - it is important to know the difference between a THC and CBD product.
In this article, we will provide a brief introduction to cannabinoids, along with the following topics:
Effects of THC & CBD
The legality of CBD and THC
The human body contains a network of receptors which helps maintain our internal health and well-being. These receptors are better known collectively as our endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS is a complex communication system which sends signals all throughout our body via these receptors. This process helps us monitor and maintain balance with various internal functions (homeostasis).
"Cannabinoids such as THC and CBD have the ability to mimic our body’s naturally produced compounds called endocannabinoids"
There are two main types of receptors in the ECS:
CB1 receptors - commonly found in the central nervous system, which include the brain and spinal cords.
CB2 receptors - exist mostly within the peripheral nervous system, such as our immune cells and gastrointestinal system.
Cannabinoids such as THC and CBD have the ability to mimic our body’s naturally produced compounds called "endocannabinoids". As you might have gathered by the name - endocannabinoids are a critical part of the ECS. These tiny chemical compounds bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors and activate signals for communication.
THC and the human body
THC is the most abundant cannabinoid found in marijuana strains and is the main psychoactive compound responsible for the “high” sensation. After being ingested into our system, THC has the ability to bind to our CB1 receptors, just like endocannabinoids.
CB1 receptors are in charge of regulating our mood, pain perception, motor function, memory processing, sleep, amongst many other functions.
By binding to CB1 receptors, THC can cause a myriad of effects on our bodies and mind. Feelings of euphoria, appetite stimulation and mood changes are some of the most common effects felt by consuming THC.
CBD and the human body
The second most common cannabinoid in the cannabis plant is CBD. Unlike THC, CBD does not induce any psychoactive effects.
When CBD is present in our system, it does not bind to our receptors as strongly as THC. Instead, it occupies CB1 and CB2 receptors and prevents other cannabinoids such as THC from activating them.
In short, whilst CBD is non-intoxicating on its own - it is reported to further reduce and counteract the psychoactive effects of THC when consumed together.
Even though CBD is non-psychoactive, it does induce other effects on the human body. Higher concentrates of CBD often provide a more relaxed sensation and are often used for its therapeutic properties.
Effects of THC & CBD
The high experienced from THC and CBD use can vary from user to user, and there are a few reasons for this phenomenon.
Differences in genetics and chemical biochemistry
Tolerance, fitness and diet
Potency and method of consumption
As with plants and other mammals, every individual has unique body chemistry and genetics - this can affect how cannabinoids interact with the ECS. The ECS will also behave differently depending on our health, age, diet, sex and tolerance.
As such, the effects stated below may or may not be felt by the individual, but are the most commonly reported with THC and CBD usage.
The THC high is often described as euphoric and uplifting, increasing brain activity and bringing on a sense of creativity.
It can also have adverse effects on certain individuals.
For example, if a person is prone to anxiety or paranoia, THC may heighten the severity of these conditions.
The most commonly reported sensations for THC include:
Some adverse effects of THC include:
Dry / red eyes
Slowed perception of time
Heaviness in limbs or “Couch-lock”
As mentioned earlier, CBD does not induce any psychoactive effects. Instead, CBD reduces the intensity of the cannabis high when used in conjunction with THC. On its own, CBD is known to have a full-body relaxing experience, along with a wide range of therapeutic properties.
Similar to THC though, it does come with some adverse effects:
Change of appetite
Due to the possible side effects, medicinal cannabis patients are recommended to start with a low dose. This allows the monitoring of adverse effects and dosage can be increased as required
The use of medicinal cannabis has been a part of human culture for thousands of years. However, cannabis has only gained popularity as a mainstream medicinal product again in the last decade. Due to this, a great deal more research is currently underway to further understand and validate the potential health benefits of THC and CBD.
There is however some strong scientific evidence suggesting the effectiveness of cannabinoids to support specific conditions which we will outline below.
Medicinal Benefits of THC
THC is less popular with medical patients due to its intoxicating effects. Nonetheless, it still contains a host of therapeutic properties. With credits to its ability to strongly bind to the endocannabinoid receptors, THC known to assist with the following conditions:
Loss of appetite
Medicinal Benefits of CBD
CBD has emerged to be the preferred compound for medical patients without the mind-altering effects. Some of the alleged medical applications of CBD include support for:
Epilepsy / Seizures
As you may have noticed, THC and CBD have some obvious similarities in their medicinal properties. Some studies even suggest when both major and minor cannabinoids are used together, it greatly enhances the therapeutic effects of the final product. This is referred to as the “entourage effect“
Types of THC and CBD Products available to Australians
The types of cannabis products available to Australians continue to grow, with more than 100 products available for Doctors currently.
The list of cannabis product types currently available for Australians include:
Flower / Granulated flower
A list of manufacturers and suppliers of medicinal cannabis products in Australia can be found on the Australian Office of Drug Control website.
The legality of CBD and THC in Australia
Unless you live in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), both THC and CBD are currently scheduled substances under the Australian Poisons Standard.
The responsibility remains within each state and territory to govern and even down-schedule any controlled substances. Put simply, the laws governing the use of medical and recreational use may vary slightly under different Australian jurisdictions.
As mentioned, currently only the ACT allows the use of recreational cannabis to an extent. Most other states and territories only approve medicinal cannabis products through the Special Access Scheme or the Authorised Prescriber Scheme.
This means the use of THC and CBD products require a prescription from a medical practitioner, and in most cases, approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration(TGA)
Legality of THC
THC is currently classified as a schedule 8 (controlled drug) in most Australian jurisdictions.
For patients, this means they require a valid medical prescription prior to using products containing THC
For doctors, they will need approval from the TGA and a permit from the state / territory health department to prescribe most THC products.
Driving with any amount of THC in your system is an offence, even with a valid prescription.
Legality of CBD
CBD is currently classified as a schedule 4 (prescription only medicine) in most Australian jurisdictions.
For patients, this means they require a valid medical prescription prior to using any form of CBD products.
For doctors, they will need approval from the TGA to prescribe most CBD products.
Roadside drug tests will not detect CBD in your system, however, some CBD products may contain traces of THC - always ask for lab test results prior to using CBD products.
If you want to find out more on how to access cannabis products for your medical condition, check out our article on How to access CBD & Medical Marijuana in Australia.
Therapeutic Goods Administration. (2017). Guidance for the use of medicinal cannabis in Australia Patient information [PDF]. https://www.tga.gov.au/sites/default/files/guidance-use-medicinal-cannabis-australia-patient-information.pdf
Therapeutic Goods Administration. (2017). Guidance for the use of medicinal cannabis in the treatment of chronic non-cancer pain in Australia. https://www.tga.gov.au/publication/guidance-use-medicinal-cannabis-treatment-chronic-non-cancer-pain-australia
Kuhathasan N, Dufort A, MacKillop J, Gottschalk R, Minuzzi L, Frey BN. The use of cannabinoids for sleep: A critical review on clinical trials. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol. 2019;27(4):383-401. doi:10.1037/pha0000285
Nagarkatti P, Pandey R, Rieder SA, Hegde VL, Nagarkatti M. Cannabinoids as novel anti-inflammatory drugs. Future Med Chem. 2009;1(7):1333-1349. doi:10.4155/fmc.09.93
Therapeutic Goods Administration. (2017). Guidance for the use of medicinal cannabis in Australia: Patient information. https://www.tga.gov.au/publication/guidance-use-medicinal-cannabis-australia-patient-information
Multiple Sclerosis Research Australia. (2020). Medicinal Cannabis and MS. https://msra.org.au/medicinal-cannabis-ms/
Tramèr MR, Carroll D, Campbell FA, Reynolds DJ, Moore RA, McQuay HJ. Cannabinoids for control of chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting: quantitative systematic review. BMJ. 2001;323(7303):16-21. doi:10.1136/bmj.323.7303.16
Therapeutic Goods Administration. (2017). Guidance for the use of medicinal cannabis in the treatment of palliative care patients in Australia. https://www.tga.gov.au/publication/guidance-use-medicinal-cannabis-treatment-palliative-care-patients-australia
Sun X, Xu CS, Chadha N, Chen A, Liu J. Marijuana for Glaucoma: A Recipe for Disaster or Treatment?. Yale J Biol Med. 2015;88(3):265-269. Published 2015 Sep 3.
Thiele EA, Marsh ED, French JA, et al. Cannabidiol in patients with seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (GWPCARE4): a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase 3 trial. Lancet. 2018;391(10125):1085‐1096. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(18)30136-3
Iskedjian M, Bereza B, Gordon A, Piwko C, Einarson TR. Meta-analysis of cannabis based treatments for neuropathic and multiple sclerosis-related pain. Curr Med Res Opin. 2007;23(1):17‐24. doi:10.1185/030079906x158066
Bergamaschi, M., Queiroz, R., Chagas, M. et al. Cannabidiol Reduces the Anxiety Induced by Simulated Public Speaking in Treatment-Naïve Social Phobia Patients. Neuropsychopharmacol 36, 1219–1226 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2011.6