CBD and THC – The Only Distinction Is One particular Chemical Bond


For all you stoners who did not spend consideration in organic chemistry, here’s a second likelihood to understand how to do anything that you would have currently identified if you’d stayed awake. I am not recommending you do this. And it really is not like the Manhattan Project this info is on-line in a variety of types. Rather, it really is basic organic chemistry – referred to as a cyclization – exactly where a molecule of CBD oil, aka cannabidiol, beneath particular sets of situations, can be coaxed to forming an totally distinct chemical compound – THC, 1 of the psychotropic chemical substances in marijuana

Admit it, the only explanation that you guys are all reading this is that you think I’m going inform you how to convert CBD oil, which is not illegal or psychotropic (1,two) and can quite significantly be obtained in just about every shop in Manhattan, into THC, which is each illegal and psychotropic. “Hmm,” these of you who have not currently nuked just about every brain cell are considering,” why can not I just get a complete bunch of CBD and make my personal THC?”

Properly, you can, and that is exactly where organic synthesis – the art of converting 1 organic (three) molecule into an additional by 1 or much more chemical reactions – comes in handy. Any one in the mood for a lesson?


Organic compounds that include six-membered rings exceedingly frequent, each in nature and synthetically. The atoms most typically located in six-membered ring compounds are carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. Six is a magic quantity in organic chemistry. You never want to know why. Here are a couple of examples (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Some examples of naturally occurring organic chemical substances containing six-membered rings.

There is an infinite quantity of synthetic organic molecules with six-membered rings out there as properly. Some examples – DDT, dioxin, TNT, aspirin, Valium. 


So, let’s appear at the structures of CBD side by side with THC and see how close they definitely are, and also why CBD is experiencing an inferiority complicated.

Figure two. CBD (Left) and THC are isomers – they have the very same chemical formula C21H30Otwo but distinct structures and chemical and pharmacological properties. To convert CBD (open type, Left) to THC (closed type) the hydroxyl group (blue arrow) requires to type a bond to carbon #five. This new bond is shown (Appropriate) as a green line. The oxygen atom becomes the sixth member of the new ring.


Yes. Any organic chemist will appear at this basic difficulty and inform you that this reaction will be catalyzed by acid. Based on who you ask you may possibly get a wide wide variety of answers, such as:

  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Sulfuric acid
  • p-Toluenesulfonic acid
  • Boron tribromide
  • Acetic acid (vinegar)

All of these are “appropriate” in that they will execute this conversion, at least to some extent. But if you happen to be going to be smoking what ever you happen to be cooking up in your kitchen the term “to some extent” comes into play. 


Possibly the most effective measure of the good results of a chemical reaction in organic chemistry is the yield. This is just the quantity of pure, isolated material that goes in a bottle divided by the theoretical quantity that should really be formed if the reaction have been ideal. Ideal reactions are uncommon. A yield of 100% is ordinarily greeted with suspicion. No matter how excellent a offered reaction, byproducts (impurities) virtually constantly type. Just about every gram of byproduct reduces the quantity of final material in the bottle. A yield of 90% is great, 70% is fair, 50% is quite undesirable, and under that is a horror show. Low yielding reactions normally have many impurities. This is why you should really not make your personal THC.

There are a quantity of literature examples of people today attempting to do just this. What seems on paper to be a basic transformation is, in reality, a large mess. 

Watanabe, et. al.al., utilized simulated gastric fluid (SGF, generally salty hydrochloric acid, either with or without the need of a digestive enzyme) to see regardless of whether this conversion could take location in the stomach (it in all probability does not). Following 20 hours – far longer than any drug would remain in the stomach – only two.9% of the CBD was converted to THC. 3 other cannabinoids have been types in yields ranging from 1-10%. The rest? Who knows? Based on the reaction situations, dozens, maybe hundreds, of byproducts, could be formed. Most of them are unknown and could be harmful. (For the quintessential instance of how even minor deviations from a identified process can ruin lives see Frozen Addicts, Garage Drugs And Funky Brain Chemistry).

Merrick, et. al., investigated the psychoactive elements of CBD following it was exposed to SGF. Making use of HPLC (four), a common process of figuring out the purity of a reaction mixture, the group identified two THC isomers, unreacted CBD, and two unknown impurities. Retain in thoughts that even this reaction, which was run beneath cautiously controlled situations gave a mixture of 5 chemical substances. There are virtually surely much more in there that have not been identified. 

The investigation chemical supplier Sigma-Aldrich extracted the cannabinoids from a pot brownie and got this collection of 11 distinct chemical substances.

HPLC trace of pot brownie chemical substances. Every single peak represents a distinct chemical compound. Supply: Sigma-Aldrich


So, if you really feel sufficiently empowered by this short article to place on your lab coat and attempt your luck I want you a lot of it. Organic chemistry is not constantly predictable. On paper, it appears like you could sneeze on CBD and have all the THC your heart desires. In the lab, factors are pretty distinct. In your kitchen – overlook it. 


(1) Psychotropic drugs make altered mental states.

(two) CBD may well not pack the punch of THC, but this does not imply it really is inert. In reality, Epidiolex – pure CBD – is approved by the FDA for treating particular seizures in youngsters younger than two years. It also may well or may well not be legal based on how significantly THC is in it. The complete factor is a giant mess. 

(three) What chemists imply by organic is pretty distinct than what is utilized for foods. See my op-ed in the Chicago Tribune Organic Oreos? A chemist explains what ‘organic’ definitely signifies

(four) HPLC stands for Higher-Functionality Liquid Chromatography – a quite strong analytical process for figuring out the composition of mixtures or the purity of single compounds.


Latest posts