What’s the Difference Between Medical & Recreational Marijuana?

Regular vs Medical Marijuana
Medical and recreational marijuana differ primarily in their intended use, legal status, and the types of products sold. Medical marijuana is typically used for symptom alleviation and requires a prescription from a certified doctor for a qualifying condition, while recreational marijuana is used without medical justification and is often associated with strains high in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive constituent of cannabis. In Florida, only medical marijuana is legal, and it can only be dispensed to state-qualified patients from a medical marijuana treatment center. The strains of marijuana sold in medical dispensaries are usually richer in cannabidiol (CBD), which doesn't elicit the psychoactive effects associated with THC, while recreational marijuana strains are typically more THC-dominant.
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While conflicts between federal and state law may lead you to think otherwise, figuring out cannabis (and the difference between medical and recreational marijuana) isn’t that complicated at all.

Today, CannaMD‘s board certified doctors will walk you through everything you need to know!

Medical Marijuana Vs. Regular Recreational Marijuana Or “Weed”

So what is the difference between medical marijuana and regular marijuana? Is medical marijuana the same as regular marijuana –

For legal purposes, non-medical (or “regular”) marijuana is referred to as recreational marijuana. Unlike medical cannabis, residents in states with legalized recreational marijuana do not need to prove they suffer from a qualifying medical condition – or any medical condition at all! But more on that in a minute…

For now, let’s take a look at some of the major differences between the two types of products.

As certified medical marijuana doctorsCannaMD physicians are often asked:

What is the difference between medical and recreational marijuana?

The short answer comes down to what the product is used for and the laws of the state in which the plant is used.

In Florida, Senate Bill 8A defines marijuana as:

All parts of any plant of the genus Cannabis, whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of the plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the plant or its seeds or resin, including low-THC cannabis.

However, marijuana is only considered “medical” if it’s dispensed to a state qualified patient from a medical marijuana treatment center (MMTC), also known as a medical marijuana dispensary. MMTCs are the only businesses in Florida authorized to dispense medical marijuana to patients and caregivers.

(For a full list of MMTCs, please see: Florida Dispensaries.)

Importantly, Florida only allows medical marijuana to be used via certain modalities, including:

  • Oils
  • Creams
  • Sprays
  • Suppositories
  • Patches
  • Tinctures
  • Vaping
  • Smoking
  • Edibles *

* NOTE: While Florida law states that edibles are allowed, no rules have been developed for their use. At this time, they remain unavailable to patients.

Smoking Medical Marijuana Vs. Recreational “Regular Weed”

Recreational marijuana is defined as any form of marijuana used without medical justification. This type of product is traditionally associated with strains containing a high tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content.

As Harvard researchers explain:

Although products used by recreational marijuana consumers and medical marijuana patients are derived from the same plant species, they are generally utilized for different purposes (i.e., to get high/alter one’s current state of being vs. symptom alleviation).

Accordingly, recreational and medical users often seek different marijuana products with various constituent compositions based on the desired effect. Recreational marijuana users often seek products high in THC, the main psychoactive constituent of the cannabis plant. And, while medical patients may also choose products with high THC levels, they often seek products high in other potentially therapeutic cannabinoids.

In sum: While smoking medical marijuana can produce the same psychoactive effects as recreational cannabis (or “regular weed”), it typically exerts a more subtle influence as its THC content – generally speaking – is usually lower.

Florida Laws On Medical & Recreational Marijuana

Now that we know how they’re defined, let’s take a closer look at the major differences between purchasing medical and recreational marijuana in the state of Florida.

Medical Marijuana: Recommendation Required

In Florida, patients need to get an official recommendation for medical marijuana from a certified doctor – and that’s where CannaMD comes in!

CannaMD‘s state-licensed, board certified physicians specialize in providing eligible Florida patients with medical cannabis recommendations.

To receive a recommendation, patients must have a qualifying medical condition. According to Florida state law, the following conditions may qualify for medical marijuana treatment:

Senate Bill 8A also allows for treatment of other “diagnosable, debilitating conditions of like, kind, or class” (such as anxiety, depression, and migraines), as well as terminal conditions (diagnosed by a physician other than the physician issuing certification) and chronic nonmalignant pain (defined as pain caused by a qualifying medical condition that persists beyond the usual course of that condition).

To find out for FREE if your condition qualifies, complete a quick online application or call CannaMD today at (855) 420-9170!

After qualifying, patients are issued a medical marijuana card. This ID card can then be presented at any state-licensed dispensary to purchase medical marijuana products.

For more on Florida’s qualifying process, see: What Type of Doctor Prescribes Medical Marijuana?.

Recreational Marijuana: No Recommendation Required

In states like Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal, anyone over 21 can buy recreational marijuana from a dispensary with a valid photo ID. However, at this time, recreational marijuana is not legal in Florida. Purchasing, using, and or administering marijuana without a valid Medical Marijuana Use Registry card is illegal throughout the entire state.

For easy reference, recreational and medical marijuana state laws are outlined on the map below:

legal marijuana states 2019

Different Effects of Medical and Recreational Marijuana

While derived from the same plant and fundamentally the same, medical marijuana and recreational marijuana often elicit different effects due to the type of products that are manufactured and sold to the two consumer bases.

Medical Marijuana Typically Contains More CBD

Though there is no consistent difference between the marijuana sold by recreational and medical dispensaries, the strains of marijuana sold in medical dispensaries are typically richer in cannabidiol (CBD). CBD-dominant strains do not elicit the psychoactive effects associated with THC and are more common among medical marijuana patients.

To learn more about cannabinoids and CBD-dominant strains, check out: Sativa vs. Indica: What’s the Difference?.

Recreational Marijuana Typically Contains More THC

Recreational marijuana strains are typically more THC-dominant. THC produces psychoactive effects and the “high” associated with marijuana.

Although THC-dominant strains are often used for the treatment of chronic pain, these strains are also common among recreational users.

Updated: May 29, 2024

Article Written By: ,

Marc H.

Marc is a professional writer specializing in medical cannabis and alternative health reporting.


Questions about medical marijuana? Ready to get your card and purchase legal cannabis products? CannaMD‘s state-certified network of medical marijuana doctors are here to help! Contact CannaMD‘s experienced team at (855) 420-9170 today. You can also find out if you qualify for medical marijuana treatment with our quick online application!

Find Out If You Qualify

You may be eligible for medical marijuana!

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