What’s the Difference Between Medical Cannabis and Weed?

Joe Evans
Joe Evans - Content Writer

Dec 24 2020 - 5 min read

One of the key factors in the normalized, destigmatized, and wide legalization of cannabis over the past decade or so has been thanks to the rise in recognition of cannabis as medicine. While cannabis has been used to ease ailments for civilizations all over the world throughout history, California started the modern-day “Green Rush” all the way back in 1996. Since then 34 other states, the nation’s capital, and four U.S. territories have allowed for some kind of legal medical cannabis programs, and 15 states have fully legalized cannabis for recreational use.

Despite the wealth of information, research, and knowledge we’ve gained from being allowed to legally cultivate, study, and use cannabis legally, however, many still have some questions about medical cannabis.

One of those questions is what exactly is the difference between medical and recreational cannabis? Well, this article is here to answer that question and give you a comprehensive understanding of what the differences between medical and recreational cannabis are, bust some myths about THC levels, purity, and ease of access, and the benefits of getting a medical card for yourself.

Let’s get right into it, shall we?

The THC Myth

First and foremost, let’s get one thing out of the way up top. For the most part, you’re getting the same cannabis whether you’re buying recreational or medical. Many have claimed that if you’re looking for ultra-high tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels in your cannabis, you’re out of luck if you’re on the medical program. While that might have been true back in the early days of legal cannabis in the U.S., it doesn’t hold true anymore.

In fact, a recent study found that more than 90 percent of cannabis available in medical dispensaries has more than enough THC to effectively treat chronic pain symptoms. Those products, on average, clocked in at somewhere around 19.3 percent THC concentration for medical products and 21.5 percent for recreational products, which makes the difference basically none. When it comes to medical and recreational cannabis in terms of THC, you’re getting a very similar product for the most part.

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Medical cannabis sets itself apart when it comes to cannabidiol (CBD) levels, however. Medical cannabis is grown for the specific purpose of being medicine, which means growers work hard to optimize the amount of CBD and other healing cannabinoids in their plants instead of THC levels. In most places, if you’re looking for a high-CBD strain, your best bet is the medical program. If someone is looking to, for example, ease anxiety and stress levels or reduce harmful inflammation, they would be more likely to find that relief from a CBD-heavy strain than a strain with high THC alone.

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It’s more about how the cannabis is being used, what form it’s being used in, what strain it is, and what ailment you’re trying to treat. Just like any other medicine, cannabis as medicine is very personalized. That’s why talking with a doctor, like one of Leafwell’s licensed cannabis doctors, is the barrier to entry for medical cannabis programs everywhere.

Another factor to consider is the entourage effect. While high-THC, low-CBD strains certainly will benefit some patients, study after study has shown that pairing cannabinoids together makes them much more effective.

So medical patients, who have access to that CBD-rich cannabis, might be getting more benefits from their more balanced strains than those opting for ultra-high THC plants. Also, as an aside, it is arguable that medical marijuana patients actually have access to products higher in THC, as they are more likely to actually need it!

Lower Taxes

In the midst of a global pandemic, mass unemployment all over the world, and a recession as a result of the two, people might not have as much disposable income for their cannabis as in previous years. For those with finances in mind, making the switch to medical cannabis might be the smart way to go if you want to save money..

In most states, medical cannabis is taxed at a much lower rate than recreational sales. In Michigan, for example, while both medical and recreational sales are subject to a 6 percent sales tax, recreational sales have an additional 10 percent excise tax as well. Washington state taxes an astounding 37 percent on recreational sales. Colorado medical patients pay only a 2.9 percent sales tax, while recreational users are expected to shell out 15 percent sales tax on every purchase.

As a general rule medical patients don’t pay more than a 10 percent sales tax on their cannabis, which can save them thousands of dollars a year – money that patients can spend on other necessities like food, rent, and leisure activities.

Especially during a pandemic that has devastated the American economy and people’s savings in the process, being able to save a little bit of money here and there is more important than ever.

Ease of Access

In states where cannabis is legal for both recreational and medical use, it was easy for consumers to just scoff at the idea of getting a medical card. That was before the pandemic brought about the idea of “essential services,” however.

Many cannabis users watched in horror as their local recreational dispensary was forced to close amid the COVID lockdowns, however. States like Massachusetts saw their elected officials close recreational shops while leaving medical dispensaries open for patients. Colorado only allowed for recreational shops to do curbside pickup, while the state’s medical dispensaries remained fully open as normal. Some states, like Nevada, only allowed for home deliveries of recreational cannabis.

The common link in all of those states, however, was that the best way to ensure consistent, reliable access to cannabis was to have a medical card. The bottom line here is that, especially in states without legal recreational cannabis programs, having a medical card is the only way to access safe, well-tested, quality grown cannabis without the worries of legal trouble.

Medical cannabis dispensaries are also more likely to be able to operate in jurisdictions that prevent recreational dispensaries from setting up, whether there’s a pandemic or not.

Legal Protections

The legality of cannabis is an often-discussed issue here at Leafwell. We’ve written comprehensive guides on knowing your rights as a medical cannabis patient in the workplace, knowing how to safely travel with cannabis this holiday season, and exactly how much cannabis you can legally possess at once.

Due to the outdated and incorrect designation of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, the fact is that in some places in the U.S. having a medical card is the only way to legally grow, purchase, and possess cannabis without facing serious legal penalties, regardless of how plant-based medicine could better your life.

While the complete legalization of both recreational and legal cannabis is something that polling shows as a “when” and not an “if”, the fact remains that we’re just not there yet. While there are bills on the table that would legalize cannabis nationwide, the best way to ensure you have the most legal protections possible while enjoying the benefits of cannabis as medicine is having a physician’s MMJ certificate and medical marijuana card. Even though cannabis legalization has bi-partisan support, it may be some time before we see full-on federal legalization.

And, of course, the best way to get a card of your own is via our telehealth services here at Leafwell. We’ll get you connected with a certified cannabis doctor in only a few minutes, putting you well on your way to a supply of your own cannabis medicine.

Written by
Joe Evans
Joe Evans - Content Writer

Joe Evans is a journalist, writer, editor and contributor for Leafwell. He has, to date, more than 5,000 articles published online under his byline on topics like cannabis, local and National news, politics, automotive news, sports, pop culture and even a cult.

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