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.

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.”

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.

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



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.

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.