Difference Between Medical And Recreational Marijuana


Due to the fact that federal law is still in conflict with regulations of some states, the question about the difference between medical and recreational weed is becoming more popular every year. Some say that there is no difference at all, and the issue isn’t worth a penny. Their point of view is based on the thesis that a simple joint can be used for both purposes. However, they talk from the position of those who use cannabis legally. It’s easy to say when you live in a state where both regular pot and medicinal products containing cannabinoids are allowed for use.

What if it is not the case? There are states where therapeutic use of cannabis is legalized, but no one is allowed to smoke weed for fun. And the rules on how to prescribe and use marijuana also vary from a state to a state. Thus, we already can see the difference, and it does not pertain only to law issues. There are special places where you can get either of the two, special papers you may need to get it, different forms of both products, etc. Let’s first of all work on the terms “medical marijuana” and “recreational weed.”

What Is Medical Cannabis?

The term “medical marijuana” can be referred to:

  • the whole unprocessed plant;
  • any part of the plant, e.g. seeds, resign, leaves, etc.;
  • any pharmaceutical product that contains cannabinoids.

Obviously, medical weed is used for health-related purposes, this is the first and the main difference. Usually, it is prescribed by a doctor to mitigate certain symptoms and conditions, however, you will not find cannabis in the list of the FDA-approved medicinal drugs. Only local laws of some states approve pot for legal medical use. In the rest of the states, where it is not legalized, people still use weed to feel better without a doctor’s prescription.

What Is Recreational Weed

In a similar fashion, any marijuana used for non-medical purposes can be referred to as recreational, or, as it is sometimes called, “regular weed.” In most cases, it is a whole plant or its parts used in cigarettes or edibles, but there are many kinds of concentrates, extracts, oils, shatter, wax, etc., taken for fun.

What Is Recreational Weed

Purchasing regular pot does not require any prescription or MMC (medical marijuana card). Depending on the state laws, you can grow it yourself or buy it at some special places or bars, or even off the street. The amounts allowed also differ from a state to a state, and you won’t be able to get any weed legally if you are under 21 years old. Obviously, all this works only in the states where recreational marijuana is legalized.

Medical VS Recreational

As we can already see, to answer the question “What is the difference between medical and regular pot?” we have to look at this issue from different point of views:

  • legal status:
  • ways to buy it:
  • uses and benefits;
  • chemical composition;
  • forms administered for both purposes;
  • side effects;
  • and even the history of medical and recreational pot.

In the table below you’ll see the main information on how they differ.

Now let’s go deeper into these questions.

History of Medical vs Recreational Weed

Let’s start from the history of cannabis. It is not a surprise that the hemp with all its healing effects was used long before the modern age. All major ancient civilizations used it to cure various conditions:

  • Chinese doctors treated rheumatic disease, constipation, uric arthritis, and forgetfulness with marijuana more than 4 thousands years ago;
  • ancient Egyptians knew that weed alleviates symptoms of cancer;
  • Indian medical tradition uses marijuana as a pain reliever;
  • in Roman medical books cannabis is described as an anti-inflammatory drug and a herb that suppresses libido. Arabic doctors used it for the same reason;
  • in the 17th century, pot was known as a popular antidepressant;
  • in the middle of the 19th century, it was listed in the USP (the US Pharmacopeia);
  • however, starting from the beginning of the 20th century, marijuana was step-by-step prohibited in the states;
  • it did not stop the scientific research of therapeutic effects of weed, though, and in the 1978 New Mexico became the first state to recognize medical weed.

Now, medical weed is again a widely-recognized drug for many health conditions.

As for the recreational marijuana, it has been also known for many centuries. In the United States, people used weed for fun and relax even during the times when it was banned by the government. However, the situation changes lately, mostly due to the legalization of medical cannabis and European trends to allow adult use of weed. Since 2012, American people can smoke joints, grow marijuana, purchase and sell it without a risk to be arrested, in a limited number of states. The first two ones to legalize it were Washington and Colorado.

Legal Status

Marijuana is outlawed by the federal government, this is the first thing you have to know. Always remember about it when crossing state borders. You can be arrested for having pot with you even if you purchased it legally in another state. By the beginning of the 2020, there are 33 states that allow using weed for medical purposes. To prove that your marijuana is medical, you’ll need to have a recommendation or a prescription from your doctor with you. In most cases, you have to be 18 years old and more to buy marijuana drugs. There are health conditions, though, that may allow people under 18 to get a medical marijuana card and buy cannabis from a special dispensary.

Pot is allowed for recreational use in 11 states and in Washington, DC. You do not need any medical cards or recommendations from a physician to buy and possess weed in these states. However, you have to be over 21, and the amount allowed varies. Be very careful and always pay attention to the state laws when buying weed. Moreover, Washington accepts smoking weed, but forbids its growing at home.

Shopping for Medical vs Recreational Pot

In the states where weed is legal for healthcare issues, medical cannabis is sold in special marijuana dispensaries or clinics. Be prepared to meet a security guy at the entrance and wait in the lobby if there is another buyer in the store. This is for your security and anonymity. For the first time, you’ll have to bring a handwritten recommendation from your doctor, and make sure it is uploaded to the system.

Shopping for Medical vs Recreational Pot

When it is your turn, you’ll choose the product you like and buy it. Not a piece of cake, as you see, you need to have a health condition diagnosed by a medical professional, papers and MMC, and not only when going to a dispensary, but all the time when you have your pot with you.

As it was already said, buying recreational weed is much easier in the states where it is legalized. There are bars, lounges, clubs, and other businesses that sell recreational cannabis in various forms, e.g. joints, edibles, pills, etc. In the states where cannabis is still outlawed, you can buy it off the street, but it is forbidden by the law, and the consequences are very serious — you can get into jail.

Chemical Difference

As the main goal of using recreational marijuana is to get high, the products people choose for this purpose contain more tetrahydrocannabinol (THC for short) and less cannabidiol (commonly known as CBD). The former is a psychoactive ingredient of weed, while the latter is more used for therapeutic needs. There are pharmaceutical drugs with CBD only, they are used for seizures, pain, anxiety, etc.

Positive Effects of Medical and Recreational Marijuana

The difference between uses and benefits of medical and recreational weed is obvious from the terms we use. Recreational marijuana is taken to relax, have fun, socialize, get high, improve mood, or feel euphoria. Medical hemp is used to treat various conditions, which include:

  • epilepsy and seizures;
  • nausea, bad appetite, eating disorders;
  • pain;
  • cancer;
  • glaucoma;
  • depression and anxiety;
  • multiple sclerosis;
  • insomnia, etc.

As you see, medical weed can be not only enjoyable, but also very useful for your health, if administered correctly.

Forms of Regular and Medical Weed

Forms of Regular and Medical Weed

As for the methods of consuming regular and medical pot, they mostly coincide:

  • cigarettes can be used for both purposes;
  • as well as edibles;
  • and also extracts;
  • vapes;
  • oils;
  • patches;
  • tinctures;
  • sprays, etc.

The only form of cannabis that is used almost exclusively for medical purposes are topicals — balms, ointments, and creams.

Side Effects

Because they differ in chemical structure, medical and recreational cannabis cause different side effects. The latter produces a strong psychoactive action, thus the adverse reactions to the weed with high content of THC are:

  • altered perception and thinking;
  • depression, anxiety, and paranoia;
  • dry mouth and eye;
  • hunger, binge eating;
  • excessive sleepiness.

Side Effects Marijuana

All of these unwanted symptoms are temporary and none of them are fatal. As for CBD, this compound does not cause any severe side effects even in high doses.


As you can see, there is a difference between medical and recreational weed, but in most cases the same marijuana can be used for both purposes. Choose the products wisely, as some of them are much stronger, and others have more healing properties. Buy and use weed legally, no matter if you take it for fun or for health.


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