Medicinal vs recreational cannabis…what’s the difference?
While both medicinal and recreational cannabis come from the same plant, there are a number of factors
that create a clear divide between the two. The use of cannabis to treat pain and illness has become
increasingly common, but what makes this different to the cannabis more commonly known for its
The legal issues surrounding both medicinal and recreational cannabis is the biggest factor that sets the
two apart. Despite cannabis being used to treat medical conditions in Ancient times dating back to 2900
BC, today, cannabis is classified as an illegal substance across most of the globe for non-medical use
and there are still very limited countries where medicinal cannabis is allowed. In the UK, recreational
cannabis has remained illegal since 1928. It is forbidden to grow, possess or supply and if caught, one will
face a hefty fine, jail time or both. These legal restrictions result in people consuming it in secret,
creating a taboo around the cannabis plant as a whole. Despite a growing push for the legalisation of
recreational cannabis in the UK, there is still a way to go before prohibition is lifted.
In more recent years, there has been increased conversation about medicinal cannabis and people are
becoming more aware of the beneficial properties. This has led to the legalisation of cannabis for
medical use in over 24 countries in the last decade.
CBD and THC content
Medicinal cannabis usually contains a higher CBD content than cannabis consumed for recreational use,
which typically has higher THC levels.
What does this mean?
THC is the psychoactive property found in cannabis, giving the user a ‘high’. While THC is sometimes
found at increased levels for some medicinal purposes, as the combination of THC
(tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol ) together can have a more beneficial effect, those taking
cannabis for medicinal benefits often do not get this feeling of euphoria.
Due to the legal stance within the UK, there is no regulation of recreational cannabis. Users are often
unknowing of the conditions in which the cannabis is grown, where and how it is has produced.
Contrastingly, it is important that the growing conditions of medicinal cannabis are closely monitored as it
is intended to be consumed by patients. The cannabis is strictly controlled for pesticides as it is critical
that it is safe to be consumed, making the cannabis purer and arguably safer.
Surprisingly, in some cases, it is easier to access recreational cannabis than it is medicinal cannabis. In
some countries where recreational cannabis is legal, for example, some states in the USA, anyone over
the age of 21 can buy it from a dispensary with a valid photo ID, making it easy to access.
Since 2018, medicinal cannabis has been legal in the UK with a prescription from a doctor. However,
despite it being lawful for the NHS to prescribe medicinal cannabis under certain circumstances, many
patients are disappointed and outraged at the lack of prescriptions being made to those who need
them. The people who have benefited most from the change in the law are those who have private
healthcare, however, this is financially unsustainable for most people. There is a reluctance from doctors
to write prescriptions for their patients to receive medical cannabis treatment due to a lack of education
to further understand the drug.