Marijuana has existed for a long time, and for many years in the United States, it was only seen as a popular recreational drug.

As more research reveals the medicinal benefits of marijuana, the drug is quickly becoming a viable option for treating a variety of illnesses.

36 states in the United States have legalized medical marijuana while just 18 states have legalized recreational marijuana. Even today, recreational marijuana is seen as an illicit drug by many people and because of this, its use is heavily controlled.

Medical marijuana is only used for medical reasons, to treat both physical and mental health conditions. Today, there are approximately 3.6 million legal medical marijuana users in the US.

While both medical and recreational marijuana come from the cannabis plant, they are quite different from each other, not just in terms of composition but quality and purpose too.

Let’s take a look at the many differences between medical and recreational marijuana.

CBD and THC content

The two main substances in marijuana are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Of these two, THC is the psychoactive component of marijuana that makes people experience a ‘high’.

The biggest difference between medical and recreational marijuana lies in the amount of CBD and THC they contain.

Recreational marijuana is mainly used by people who want to experience a feeling of euphoria; because of this, recreational marijuana has a higher THC content than medical marijuana.

The psychoactive effects are not suitable for medical marijuana users, especially if they suffer from mental health conditions or neural illnesses like epilepsy.

Medical marijuana, on the other hand, is made with medical purposes in mind, so it’s produced having a higher CBD content and a low THC content. Even without a significant amount of medical marijuana, users can experience its therapeutic effects without any mind-altering experiences.

Some strains of medical marijuana will have a small amount of THC in them and this may affect people who are sensitive to THC. Medical marijuana users should always ask a physician to recommend them a strain with no THC if this is the case.

Differences in quality

Typically, both kinds of marijuana are made with quality in mind but medical marijuana producers take additional steps to produce marijuana that is safe for its users and compliant with state regulations.

Different medical marijuana strains have to be tested to see if they give the desired medical or therapeutic effect while minimizing any side effects. During the growing phase, medical marijuana may be exposed to heavy metals and fertilizers, so extensive quality control is needed to ensure that these chemicals are removed and it’s perfectly safe for consumers.

That is not to say that recreational marijuana is of low quality. Recreational marijuana producers are also very quality-conscious for the sake of sales and in recent years have greatly improved the quality of their marijuana products.

Despite this, most recreational marijuana producers don’t have access to the advanced quality control tools that medical marijuana producers will have and due to this, their products will not have the same level of high quality as medical marijuana.


Medical marijuana is more versatile than recreational marijuana; it is used for treating a variety of medical problems, and because of this, it can be prescribed to people of any age group.

Thanks to its low THC content, in many states medical marijuana can be prescribed legally to children and the elderly as a form of medical treatment.

Additionally, medical marijuana products are more diverse, ranging from CBD oils to topical creams for treating joint pains.

Recreational marijuana is only used for its psychoactive effect and personal satisfaction and is restricted to a particular age group. Usually, recreational marijuana isn’t as diverse as its medical counterpart, existing in a form that can only be smoked or eaten.

Medical and recreational marijuana—same origin, different paths

Medical marijuana has come a long way since its initial legalization in the US. Its use, however, is still somewhat controversial and many misconceptions about medical marijuana exist so it’s important to understand the fundamental differences between medical marijuana and its recreational counterpart.

If you’re thinking about trying medical marijuana to treat a health condition, speak to a licensed physician.

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