A lot of people nowadays are wondering, ‘Is medical cannabis different from recreational cannabis? I’d like to answer that with a simple and definitive ‘no.’ All cannabis has medicinal value. Even if you are using it ‘recreationally,’ you are still getting the benefits of consuming non-psychoactive cannabinoids like CBD. However, this question is a bit messier than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Here are three issues that make medical marijuana distinct from cannabis grown for the current ‘recreational’ market.
Even though cannabis doesn’t know whether or not it is being used for medical or recreational purposes, the law says that there is a distinction between the two. In some ways, this makes sense. After all, isn’t a person using cannabis to alleviate the symptoms and effects of cancer or epilepsy different from a person using cannabis purely for the psychoactive effects?
While there’s some merit to this argument, I would like to refer you to the argument in the introduction of this post: all cannabis consumption has some medicinal value. Moreover, I feel that splitting the market in this way is arbitrary, and will only lead to both messy policy and messy taxes. Saying one cannabinoid is more medical than another overlooks the ‘Entourage Effect’ — that cannabinoids work in tandem with one another to do their job more effectively.
A two-tier tax system for cannabis can also create a sort of perverse incentive for people to get a medical marijuana card, which weakens the case for those who are in genuine need for medical marijuana, thereby playing into Big Pharma’s hands.
The two-tier system also makes scientific research a bit more difficult as labelling one set of strains ‘medical’ and another set ‘recreational’ means that certain gene pools are neglected and even prevented from being studied properly. Should the government start saying “Charlotte’s Web is medicine, but Master Kush is recreational,” researchers and breeders will take note and focus mostly on one group of genetics, even if they understand that the actual difference between the two is arbitrary.
Medical marijuana is often grown in more controlled conditions, as a more consistent product is necessary. There will also likely be more oversight concerning the pesticides, feeds, hormones and conditions used to grow cannabis. Environments will have to be spotless in order to decrease the risk of mould, bacteria and other pathogens.
Whether similar regulations will be applied to ‘recreational’ marijuana remains to be seen.
You could argue that both ‘recreational’ and ‘medical’ marijuana should go through stringent tests in order to ensure public safety. Nobody should have to take bad quality produce, whether they are sick or not. But there are major problems with this approach. Calling something “medicine” requires lab testing and other restrictions that aren’t required for ‘recreational’ cannabis. That makes the production of non-medical marijuana cheaper. Meanwhile, medical cannabis research could become cost-prohibitive for anyone other than the biggest of multinational corporations.
And there’s one other issue when it comes to growing conditions. Anecdotally, many people report that naturally-grown cannabis (i.e. plants grown outdoors, in the sun and as organically as possible) is the best cannabis. Ironically, this means that medical marijuana patients might not have access to some of the best medicine as outdoor grows are generally far more susceptible to the elements and the pathogens that come with them.
So until we can replicate nature in a lab, medical marijuana may start to lag behind recreational cannabis in terms of quality — assuming that most of the cannabis produced for the ‘recreational’ market is grown to a high standard, not just to maximize profit. ‘Recreational’ consumers will have to vote with their wallets and avoid any companies using detrimental growing methods. If they don’t, we should expect mass-produced cannabis that is full of nasty chemicals. Ideally, cannabis should not go through McDonaldization.
Could ‘recreational’ users be using cannabis medically without even realizing it? Admitting pain and depression can feel like admitting defeat to some people. We all know someone who never goes to the doctor, even when something is seriously wrong with them. There could even be good reasons for this. Staying home sick today could mean being homeless tomorrow, especially if you’re living from paycheck to paycheck.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, people in pressure-cooker environments tend to self-medicate, often with all sorts of substances as well as behaviors: pills, alcohol, gambling, overworking. So are we getting the symptoms mixed up with the disease? Could cannabis be a potential cure for some people? And even if cannabis is a ‘crutch’, is it perhaps a safer and healthier crutch than alcohol and opioids, which leads to thousands of unnecessary deaths every year?
These pertinent questions are ignored all too often.
Conclusion: All Cannabis Is Medicinal
Once again, I’d like to reiterate my belief that all cannabis use is medicinal to some extent. Cannabis is a unique plant containing hundreds of cannabinoids and terpenoids that are beneficial to human health. You don’t have to be sick to take advantage of the medical properties of a substance. Saying, “I use CBD but not cannabis” is a bit like saying “I eat myrcene but not mangoes” after gobbling a whole box of mangoes!
Don’t be fooled into thinking one cannabinoid (THC) is recreational while another (CBD) is medical (CBD). Some people may actually need the THC for medical reasons (e.g. for pain), and some THC is needed for CBD to work properly. Trying to split marijuana and its cannabinoids into illogical ‘medical’ or ‘recreational’ categories based upon its psychoactive effects alone does not do this special plant the justice it deserves.