If you’ve been considering getting a medical marijuana recommendation from a physician, you’ve likely been wondering about the difference between medical and recreational marijuana. With more and more states legalizing the use of medical marijuana, there’s never been a better time to find out more.
You might be feeling a little apprehensive as, like most people, you associate the word “marijuana” with illicit activities. However, there is a great wealth of evidence to show that cannabis can help in a variety of chronic medical conditions. It’s also been used for centuries by civilizations such as the ancient Egyptians.
In this article, we’ll look at:
- What recreational and medical marijuana is
- The histories of each
- The key differences between medical marijuana and recreational, including the concentration of the cannabinoids THC and CBD
- The science of cannabinoids and how these substances work on your system
- Uses for medical marijuana
- The differences in obtaining recreational versus medical marijuana
- Why you might want to choose medical cannabis over recreational marijuana
- And more
While reading, keep in mind that although medical marijuana is legal in Florida, recreational weed isn’t. With this mind, let’s take an in-depth look at the differences between medical and recreational marijuana.
What Is Medical Marijuana?
When people speak about medical marijuana, they’re talking about using the whole unprocessed plant or the chemicals contained within it to alleviate the symptoms of certain conditions or diseases. It’s important to note that the FDA does not approve or recognize the plant as a medicine.
The marijuana plant is comprised of over 100 chemicals, known as cannabinoids, with each of these having different effects on your body. The two main chemicals used in the medicinal application of marijuana are:
- Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. This is the psychoactive compound in marijuana — i.e. the element that produces the high.
- Cannabidiol, or CBD. This substance does not produce any psychoactive effects.
Medical marijuana has a higher CBD content, so when you’re taking it, you don’t feel the euphoria that’s associated with its recreational counterpart.
What Is Recreational Marijuana?
Recreational marijuana is pot that is used without medical justification. Recreational marijuana usually has more THC content than the medicinal variety, as this is what provides users with a “high.”
Medical Marijuana History
Marijuana is produced from the hemp plant that was traditionally used for making ropes and sails back in the 17th century. Nowadays it’s often found in the health food store in the form of hemp oil and hemp seeds, both rich sources of dietary fiber, protein and minerals.
You may not have known this and might think pot is a drug of the 60s, but people have been using the plant medically for generations. With all the misconceptions and misinformation available about marijuana, the following facts from Leaf Science might surprise you:
- The first records of marijuana being used medically come from China. As far back as 2737 BC, the pharmacologist and Emperor Shennong wrote a medical book that cited marijuana as a treatment for a variety of conditions, such as absent-mindedness, rheumatism, constipation and gout. Emperor Shennong carried out his research on himself to find out the medical value and use of hundreds of herbs.
- The ancient Greeks used cannabis on their animals. Battle-wounded horses had their wounds dressed with cannabis after battle. Furthermore, the ancient Greeks used cannabis on themselves to treat inflammation, ear pain and more. It’s thought that using medical cannabis in Arabic countries was spread by the ancient Greeks.
- The drug was introduced to us in the West in the mid-1800s. During a trip to India in the 1830s, an Irish doctor named William Brooke O’Shaughnessy witnessed the use of medical marijuana. From there, he studied it in detail and brought the drug back to England to be used in the treatment of conditions like pain, epilepsy, muscle spasms and rheumatism. The popularity of this “new” drug quickly spread throughout North America and Europe.
- The first society to use marijuana for tumors was Ancient Egypt. An ancient Egyptian text from the 2nd century, known as the Fayyum Medical Papyrus, is thought to contain the first ever recorded use of cannabis as a cancer medicine. Interestingly, there is still a great deal of interest in marijuana as a cancer treatment today.
- The drug was listed from 1851 to 1941 in the United States Pharmacopeia (USP). Cannabis was listed as an acceptable medical product for many years here in the U.S. In fact, preparations containing marijuana were often prescribed in the late 1800s. It then began to be replaced by synthetic medicines in the 20th century. After the 1937 Marihuana Tax act was passed, it became very difficult to prescribe the drug, and people began to forget about it. Cannabis was finally removed from the USP back in 1942 and has remained that way ever since.
So, you see, medically speaking, people have long known about the vast benefits of medical marijuana. This forgotten knowledge is something that’s very relevant in the treatment and management of many illnesses and conditions today.
Recreational Marijuana History
People have been using marijuana recreationally for centuries, probably for as long as it’s been known of. Let’s look at a brief timeline of recreational marijuana use in the U.S.:
- 1890s. Back in the 1890s, pot was found in many medicines sold over the counter. Hemp was also used in the manufacture of clothes.
- 1906. According to the Pure Food and Drug Act, all cannabis products were required to be labeled.
- 1920s. With Mexican immigrants coming to the U.S. after the Mexican Revolution, recreational pot use increased significantly.
- 1930. With the creation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, the federal criminalization of marijuana came one step closer.
- 1931. Twenty-nine states banned marijuana.
- 1936. The propaganda movie “Reefer Madness” terrified the middle classes into keeping clear of pot use.
- 1950s. Federal mandatory minimum sentences for possession and use of the drug came into play.
- 1960s. Upper-class Americans were using pot recreationally. Its effects were studied and were shown not to induce violent behavior.
- 1970s. Pot is differentiated from other more seriously harmful drugs and many mandatory sentences are repealed.
- 1986. Ronald Reagan announced he was toughening up on pot use. As a result, new federal minimum mandatory sentences were introduced.
- 2000-2011. More than 12 states voted to decriminalize medical marijuana use. However, due to federal laws, people could be charged for having the drug in their possession and using it.
- 2012. Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis for some adults.
The Main Differences Between Medical and Recreational Marijuana
There are various differences between the two different types of marijuana. These main differences include:
- Medical weed usually contains a higher CBD content than recreational. This means when you’re taking it, you don’t feel the “high” that’s associated with the recreational variety. Even though there’s no actual difference between the concentrates and flowers of both types, medical edible potency is frequently higher than its recreational counterpart.
- Recreational weed typically contains a higher THC content than medical. This means people usually take this variety more for the “high” effect than the benefits.
- You need a recommendation for medical marijuana. Recreational marijuana can be bought by anyone — however, you need to have a qualifying condition to get a medical marijuana recommendation, and this must be renewed regularly. This is a key difference between medical and recreational marijuana.
- You don’t need a recommendation for recreational marijuana. You can go into any recreational dispensary and buy what you need if that’s legal in your state and you’re over the required minimum age. No medical card is required to buy the recreational variety, which is another significant medical marijuana vs. recreational contrast.
- You need to be over 18 to purchase medical marijuana from a dispensary. Although you must be 18 or over to buy medical marijuana for yourself, there are certain circumstances where people under 18 can apply for a medical marijuana card. These vary from state to state, so it’s crucial to do your research if this applies to you.
- You need to be over 21 to purchase recreational marijuana from a dispensary. To buy recreational marijuana in states where it’s legal, you must prove you’re over 21. If you live in a state where recreational pot is legal and you’re over 21, you can easily obtain the drug by simply walking into a dispensary with your driver’s license and buying it. In legal states, you can also possess pot and even grow it if you’re over 21.
- You can buy medical marijuana from a regulated dispensary. Medical weed can be obtained from any medical pot dispensary.
- You can buy recreational pot from a dispensary if they’re legal in your state. You can obtain recreational weed either from a dispensary or it can often be found alternatively off the street.
About THC and CBD
THC and CBD are the main active ingredients found within the cannabis plant. Both of these are classed as cannabinoids. Both of these substances are in medical and recreational marijuana. But to understand the difference in these compounds and where they fit in in terms of medical and recreational marijuana, we must first understand what a cannabinoid is.
What Is a Cannabinoid?
Marijuana contains more than 500 natural compounds, with cannabinoids arguably being the most significant. It’s these substances that produce pot’s effects on your body. THC produces the “high” associated with recreational weed, and CBD is the therapeutic ingredient, and the relationship between these cannabinoids and our bodies is multifaceted.
Some cannabinoids are psychoactive, but not all of them are. Interestingly, as the THC is giving you a high, the CBD is calming this effect and is producing the many medicinal benefits it offers.
How Do Cannabinoids Work?
Your brain produces its own cannabinoids that are similar to the ones found in marijuana. It does this via its endocannabinoid system, which is important in terms of functions like emotion, sleep, appetite and movement.
Cannabinoids interact with specific receptors within your body, activating CB1 receptors within your nerve endings, nervous system, brain and CB2 receptors that are found in your immune system. When you ingest pot, the THC attaches to your cannabinoid receptors to activate the endocannabinoid system. This in turn slows your reaction times, impairs your judgment and affects your memory. As CB1 receptors are found within your brain, you feel high.
Although getting a rush isn’t the reason you’ll be considering taking medical cannabis, it’s true that THC does seem to provide pain relief and enhance your appetite. On the other hand, the non-psychoactive CBD seems to be an anti-psychotic that calms your nervous system, in addition to alleviating pain and improving your mood.
Differences Between THC and CBD
Now you know about cannabinoids and the main notable distinction between the two active ingredients, THC and CBD, let’s examine the differences between the two compounds in more detail to see why medical cannabis places its main emphasis on CBD.
- The high. We know THC gives you a high and CBD doesn’t have that effect. When taking the drug medicinally, you want a better quality of life rather than feeling that you’re “on” something. This is why CBD is so appealing from a medical standpoint, as it has far fewer side effects than pot that’s high in THC. Remember, however, that just because medical weed is high in CBD, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s low in THC.
- Anti-psychotic. As well as being non-psychoactive, CBD seems to reduce the mind-bending effects of THC. Also, when CBD is used on its own, it seems to retain its anti-psychotic effects and can be used in the treatment of mental illnesses.
- Anxiety. Often, people who smoke a lot of recreational pot can begin to feel paranoid or anxious. Studies have shown that CBD can cancel out the anxiety often caused by ingesting THC. It’s also been suggested that CBD has the potential to reduce general anxiety.
- Sleep. Many people swear by using cannabis to help them get a good night’s sleep. It’s thought to be the THC content that creates this effect. CBD is thought to have a wake-inducing agent that helps you stay awake, so it’s not a good choice in terms of a sleep medicine. This is interesting, as some strains of cannabis are known for their sleep-inducing qualities, while others are known to give you an energy boost.
Differences in the profiles of cannabinoids vary from strain to strain, with those that are high in CBD being mostly used for their medical benefits, whereas ones abundant in THC are used recreationally. People suffering from chronic conditions, like cancer and epilepsy, tend to prefer CBD medication as this provides more of a medicinal effect, and pure CBD won’t get you high.
Indica and Sativa – The Differences
There are two main types of cannabis plant, the indica and the sativa. Let’s look at how they compare and contrast.
Indica has the following effects:
- Makes you feel heavy
- Mainly affects your body
- Contains more CBD
- Has a dense and short plant structure
Sativa, on the other hand, impacts you in these ways:
- Makes you feel euphoric
- Mainly affects your mind
- Contains more THC
- Has a skinny and tall plant structure
Typically, medical pot users will prefer the indica, which is effective for anxiety, migraines and overall pain relief, whereas recreational users go for the sativa.
What Is Medical Marijuana Used For?
There are various ways that medical pot can be used, and it’s often used to treat the following conditions:
- Appetite loss
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Eating disorders
- Mental health conditions
- Muscle spasms
- Multiple sclerosis
Although it’s currently not yet proven to help some of these conditions, marijuana is known to reduce chronic pain, vomiting and nausea as a result of chemotherapy.
Let’s take a look at some hard facts and figures that show medical marijuana that’s grown correctly and administered in measured doses — as opposed to buying recreational pot that can have varying levels of active ingredients — can help a variety of medical conditions.
Nausea relief. Synthetic versions of THC have been proven to alleviate nausea in AIDS patients, a study at St. John’s Hospital in Tulsa found. 38 percent of patients taking five mg of Marinol, a drug containing marijuana, per day for a six-week period found their nausea was lessened and their appetite increased compared to eight percent of people who were given a placebo.
In terms of treating nausea associated with cancer, a review in Switzerland found that marijuana-based medications worked better than regularly used anti-nausea drugs during chemotherapy.
Nerve pain relief. Often, patients with conditions like spinal cord injuries, AIDS and diabetes suffer from burning pain in their feet and hands. A review of several studies by the University of California San Francisco found that smoking pot may provide such patients with pain relief.
Multiple sclerosis relief. You may have heard of Sativex, an oral spray that contains THC and CBD. A U.K. study of 66 people with MS found that 42 percent of the individuals studied experienced pain relief from taking the medication, which is in its last stages of U.S. clinical trials. It’s also considered an effective treatment for stiff and tight muscles, which is a symptom of MS.
CBD-rich marijuana is also considered to be more useful in situations such as treating children, and has also been studied as an epilepsy and schizophrenia treatment. For instance, a cannabis-based drug trial in a group of 27 young people produced a 50 percent reduction in treatment-resistant epilepsy seizures.
The above are just some of the medicinal uses for marijuana, and its applications in the medical field are growing every day.
How Do You Get Medical Marijuana?
To obtain medical marijuana, you have to be in a state where it’s legal and you must be given a recommendation from an approved physician. You also need to be suffering from a condition or illness that qualifies you to use the drug, with each state having its own list of qualifying conditions. You may also need to get a medical pot ID card or be added to a medical marijuana database so you can purchase the drug at a dispensary.
What to Expect at a Licensed Medical Weed Dispensary
After you get your recommendation, you’ll then want to visit the medical cannabis dispensary. If you’re reading this for information and help, it’s likely you’ll be a little apprehensive with regards to actually entering a place like this, as it’ll probably be out of the ordinary for you. Let’s look at what you can expect from your first visit to a licensed medical weed dispensary:
- Entering the dispensary. There is usually a security guard at the door of a regulated and licensed dispensary. Don’t be put off if you need to walk through heavy, locked doors. Licensed dispensaries are targets for thieves and criminals and tend to handle vast amounts of cash, so security is paramount.
- Producing your recommendation. On your initial visit to the dispensary, you’ll need to have your handwritten recommendation, a copy of which is made and entered along with your paperwork into the system.
- Signing in. You’ll be required to sign in and relax in the waiting room until your name is called. This is where you can have a look at the menu of products offered if you haven’t had a chance already.
- Buying your medical weed. Simply decide on the weed you want and how much you need. Then the staff at the dispensary will help you complete your transaction.
As with any new experience, once you’ve been into the dispensary a few times, it becomes second nature to you. Remember when you’re carrying your medical pot, you should always keep a copy of your recommendation or card from your doctor with you at all times for legal purposes.
How Do You Get Recreational Marijuana?
As we covered earlier, in states where it’s legal, as long you’re over 21, you can legally buy recreational weed from any cannabis business or dispensary. In states where it’s illegal, the drug is illicitly purchased on the street.
What to Expect at a Recreational Marijuana Dispensary
When you’re visiting a recreational pot dispensary, it’s not too different from going to a medical one. There are some differences though. These include:
- Proving you’re over 21. To verify you’re over 21, you need to show a government-issued ID.
- Being aware of potency. THC-infused products such as edibles and concentrates can be very potent in terms of their psychoactive effects. For this reason, you need to ask the budtender at the dispensary for advice.
If you were in the dark about the differences between medical and recreational marijuana, this article has hopefully shed some light for you. When you’re managing chronic pain, you should now know that when considering medical cannabis vs. recreational marijuana, the medical type is your best bet in your journey to better health and well-being. The field of medical marijuana study looks very promising, and with more research, many people believe this could be one of the biggest medical stories of our times.