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What’s the Difference Between Medical & Recreational Marijuana?

Regular vs Medical Marijuana

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!

What is “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.

What is medical marijuana?

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.

How is recreational marijuana different?

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.

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.

Ready to try medical marijuana?

If you have any questions regarding the difference between medical and recreational marijuana or would like to find out if you qualify, CannaMD is here to help!

To find out if you qualify for free, simply call (855) 420-9170 or fill out a quick application online!

Find Out If You Qualify

You may be eligible for medical marijuana!

To stay up-to-date with the latest studies and legal regulations surrounding medical marijuana treatment, be sure to follow CannaMD on Facebook and sign up for our newsletter, below!

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  1. It’s great that you mentioned here that one must obtain a professional recommendation from a certified medical marijuana doctor in order to be able to purchase medical marijuana. It’s not new to everyone that medical marijuana is practiced as an alternative treatment for autism. My sister has a son who has autism and she’s eager to have him undergo the process of medical marijuana treatment. I will tell her to look for a doctor and ask for a recommendation. This way, it will be easier for her to have her son undergo this medication.

    1. Hi Sam! If your sister and nephew are in Florida, we’d be happy to help! Please have them give us a call at 1 (855) 420-9170 🙂



    1. I just want to understand what ur suggesting. That they hit on the nose? Or they got it backwards or what?

  3. Do you have to take the medical marijuana drops under tongue daily for it to be effective OR can it be taken just when you’re having a severe brain tumor pain event that may only occur twice a month? Also, can I legally drive when not taking the drops?

    1. Hi Heather! While we can’t advise on legal issues, our doctors would be happy to address your medical questions! Please feel free to give us a call at (855) 420-9170. We look forward to helping!

    1. Hi Brain! We definitely wouldn’t say that’s the case. There’s a wide variety of products available for both recreational and medicinal sale that produce a range of effects (including high-THC medical products). It all depends on what you’re looking for 🙂

    1. Yes. A patient’s medical card may only be used to purchase their own products; however, caregivers (who also receive a card) may make purchases for the individual they’re caring for.

  4. If you have a medical card do you pay the tax where in states medical isn’t taxed when you go to a rec dispensary?

    1. Medical and recreational options can both assist with sleep – it’s really going to depend on the cannabinoid ratio. Generally speaking, you’ll want to go with an Indica 🙂 Please feel free to give our physicians a call at (855) 420-9170 to discuss in more detail!

  5. Does the smoke from both types of marijuana discussed on this site smell strongly like a road-killed skunk? Or is the recreational marijuana smoke the stinky one?

    1. The smell of marijuana largely depends on the concentration of terpenes. Different strains (of both medical and recreational marijuana) vary greatly. We recommend visiting a medical dispensary and finding a product that you’re comfortable with 🙂

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