Is There a Difference Between Medical and Recreational Marijuana?

One of the most intriguing things about marijuana is its vast range of effects. There aren’t many substances out there can can make you feel both energetic and euphoric (sativas), and relaxed and sleepy (indicas). There are even strains of marijuana that can make you feel “up” and euphoric for a little while, then relaxed afterwards (usually indica/sativa hybrids).

Before we get into some of the main uses of indicas, sativas and hybrids, we ought to ask, “What makes a particular type/strain of marijuana suitable for medical as opposed to recreational use?” It could be argued that all marijuana is medical. This is because there is significant evidence for a broad range of uses, and allowing people to grow their own marijuana is effectively allowing people to grow their own medicine, without the need for much more harmful substances.

The difference between “recreational” and “medical” marijuana is not necessarily in the marijuana itself.

It’s in:

  1. The tax, licensing and legal surrounding it
  2. The main market being targeted by growers themselves
  3. The way breeders market their seeds. Those using cannabis for medical reasons will use any number of strains for different reasons and different purposes.

There are some, however, who would say that those who seek to use cannabis for medical purposes are looking for cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is the cannabinoid most often associated with medical usage, as it has no psychoactive effect (and in fact could be an antipsychotic), and is the compound that has many anti-anxiety and therapeutic properties.

However, this is a simplistic view at best, and highly inaccurate to boot. THC, CBD and other cannabinoids and terpenes all work together to make them more effective (the “Entourage Effect“). Focusing too much on one cannabinoid will likely reduce its effectiveness.

To make this simpler, here’s a table to give you the lowdown as to the potential uses of various types of cannabis. For a list of conditions and links to evidence marijuana can help with, see here.

Marijuana, Cannabis, Weed

THC CBD Predominantly Indica or Sativa? Effects Used For Conditions Treated Strain Examples
High High Indica The “body buzz”. Relaxed, sleepy, calming. The main reason for this effect is because of the cannabinoid “Myrcene” as opposed to THC or CBD. Sleep aid; migraine relief; muscle spasms; pain relief; nausea reduction MS; Fibromyalgia; Lupus; Cancer. Northern Lights; Blueberry; Hindu/Master Kush; Afghani; Hashplant.
High Low Sativa Energetic; uplifting; increased focus, creativity and imagination. Focus; stimulation; daytime pain relief. Cancer; ADHD; Depression; PTSD; PMS. Super Silver Haze; Mango Haze; Jack Herer; Kali Mist; Chocolate Thai; C99.
Low High Can be either indica or sativa. Strains of this type usually have a 1:1 THC:CBD ratio or lower THC amount (e.g. 6% THC: 6% CBD or 2% THC: 5% CBD). This means little psychoactive effect, but a powerful anti-anxiety one. Anticonvulsant; anti-inflammatory; stress relief; pain relief Depression; anxiety; epilepsy; Neurological conditions (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s); Cancer; PTSD; nausea. Harlequin; Cannatonic; Dark Star; Charlotte’s Web; Critical Mass.

Ruderalis strains are used to create “auto-flowering” strains, and are also high in CBD.

Low Low Sativa No major effect. However, hemp plants can sometimes be high in CBD. Usually used for commercial purposes. N/A – an excellent source of vitamins, essential oils and protein, though. Some hemp strains are high in CBD, too. Hemp.

Grow Marijuana, Types of Marijuana, Effects of Cannabis

Of course, the table above offers an overview rather than an in-depth guide. There are sativas that have indica-like effects (i.e. they are high in both THC and CBD), and there are some strains that have an indica-like structure but produce sativa-like effects. There are several reasons for this.

One is the fact that many strains are hybrids, and therefore the phenotypes produced can include indica-dominant, sativa-dominant or hybrid plants. This means that, in growing Mango Haze for example (50% Haze, 25% Skunk, 25% Northern Lights), you will likely get a majority of sativa/sativa-dominant plants, with some growing on the more indica side of things. Blueberry (80% indica, 20%), meanwhile, will produce mostly indica/indica-dominant phenotypes, with a few potential sativa phenotypes in there.

Breeders usually hybridize in order to preserve certain rare & unusual landrace strains, hybrid vigor (easier to grow; can at times increase strength and/or yield) and to give users a wider range of flavours and effects to choose from.
Other reasons why sativas can be indica-like and vice-versa are: the medium and conditions of growth (e.g. a strain usually grown in warmer climates grown in cooler conditions); when the plants were harvested (harvesting certain strains earlier can produce more “head” effects than “body”); and because that’s what the breeder of the seed intended (e.g. “Smile” by Underground Originals or Sweet Malawi by Afropips/Holy Smoke)!

Nepali strains are an excellent example of this as, although it is a sativa strain, it produces indica-like effects in higher altitudes and cooler climates, but sativa-like effects in warmer climates and lower altitudes.

The best way to find the strain(s) that produce the precise effects you need is by research, a little experimentation and of course asking us here at Leafwell! Indeed, it is likely you might just well need a few different strains for different purposes, and you may just well find that there is no such thing as a “Holy Grail Plant”! Get in touch today if you’re looking to get a medical marijuana card.


Written by
Dipak Hemraj
Dipak Hemraj - Chief Research Officer

Dipak Hemraj is a published author, grower, product maker, and Leafwell’s resident cannabis expert. From botany & horticulture to culture & economics, he wishes to help educate the public on why cannabis is medicine (or a “pharmacy in a plant”) and how it can be used to treat a plethora of health problems. Dipak wants to unlock the power of the plant, and see if there are specific cannabinoid-terpene-flavonoid profiles suitable for different conditions.

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