Medically Reviewed by
Jason Crawford

Article Last Updated on January 2, 2023

Marijuana or weed, derived from variants of the Cannabis plant (usually Cannabis sativa), consists of over 400 chemical compounds that produce different effects on the individual. The most potent compounds are Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD).

People have reported using marijuana for both recreational purposes (temporary feelings of relaxation, euphoria, perceptual alteration, heightened awareness, stress-relief, etc.) and medicinal purposes (weed’s anti-inflammatory and chronic pain-relief properties). 

According to a study from the Journal of Pain Research, 46% of the participants said they are using marijuana as a substitute for high doses of prescribed narcotics/opioids, benzodiazepines, and antidepressants.

While some have used weed for its beneficial properties, others have swapped their alcohol use for cannabis use. Moreover, kids start using marijuana at an even younger age, and the younger they start, the more negative side effects they’re likely to experience.

While this explains the plant’s increased consumption around the world, the use of marijuana remains illegal or restricted in many places. Because of that, people are looking for legal marijuana substitutes that’ll allow them to enjoy the same benefits. 

Let’s take a look at the most popular options.

Using Weed Recreationally

Recreational use of weed nowadays is almost as common as alcohol use. This is why we need to know how weed affects public health in order to be able to reduce the harm it can do.

Substance use is known to affect educational performance and employment status in teens who start using drugs at an early age, as a recent study has shown. Evidence in this study shows that about 12% of kids that were 12 or older have tried marijuana.

And if a young person has started using weed as early as 12, who’s to say that they won’t try psychedelics at 15, or even more addictive drugs in the future. Substance abuse is not a thing that can be taken lightly, especially when it concerns children.

College students are often one of the most common cannabis users. Most of them get introduced to weed in middle school and high school, firstly through smoking from a joint, later vaping (using a vaporizer), and even consuming edibles.

A report done by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), states that abusing weed can often result in adverse side effects like mental health problems, anxiety, depression, and other health-related problems.

What Are Legal Weed Alternatives?

We can say that what makes weed illegal in some places is THC, i.e. the psychoactive power of this chemical compound that creates the “high”-induced state that marijuana is known for. On the other hand, CBD (which is another ingredient in weed) is a non-intoxicating compound that primarily helps with pain management.

The Food and Drugs Association (FDA) in the States has recognized the growing interest in marijuana and the exploration of its utility in treating certain medical conditions. In fact, the FDA has already approved three cannabis-derived products and is working on researching the plant’s beneficial and adverse effects a lot more. 

Types of Legal Weed Alternatives

When you google cannabis substitutes, you find that the first cannabis-derived product to receive a green light from the FDA was Epidiolex. This is the first prescription medication that contains a purified form of CBD and is used to treat seizures associated with two severe childhood-onset types of epilepsy, the Lennox-Gastaut and the Dravet syndrome.

The FDA has also approved the use of Marinol and Syndros to alleviate nausea caused by chemotherapy and treat anorexia and weight loss in patients suffering from AIDS. These medications are synthetic cannabis-related products that contain Dronabinol, a synthetic form of THC. 

Being approved by the FDA means that these medications are not only safe but highly effective, and can be used as legal weed alternatives with the right prescription. 

However, even though both THC and CBD are associated with producing numerous health benefits, and there are studies showing that combining the two results in greater clinical efficacy and reduced adverse effects, these two compounds are still treated differently by the law.

CBD Products as Marijuana Substitutes

Even though the legalization of marijuana is on the rise, there are many countries in the world that haven’t even legalized the use of medical marijuana. So, if you’re looking for the benefits that cannabis use can give you, you might look at other alternatives.

Cannabis substitution is often done using other prescription drugs that can have similar effects to using this drug.

As we already pointed out, unlike THC, CBD is completely non-intoxicating which is why it has become such a popular natural alternative in treating chronic pain, epilepsy, PTSD, multiple sclerosis, etc. Typically, CBD is used in the form of oil tinctures or topicals.

However, CBD enjoys different legal treatment based on whether it was derived from marijuana or hemp, two varieties of the Cannabis plant. The main distinction between marijuana and hemp is that marijuana has a high THC concentration of up to 30%, while the industrial hemp plant has 0.3% the most.

In most countries in the world, CBD products derived from hemp are legal with or without medical prescription, but CBD derived from medical marijuana can be illegal without a prescription. Again, these medical marijuana laws vary from country to country.

Getting CBD in Australia

In Australia, if you want to use CBD or cannabis oil derived from medicinal marijuana, you need to apply to the medical cannabis program, wait to be approved and get a prescription, and then buy the oil from one of the approved vendors. However, your medical condition has to be on the list of approved ones in the first place.

On the other hand, hemp-derived CBD as a marijuana substitute can be bought legally as a diet supplement under the name hemp oil.

Getting CBD in New Zealand 

In April 2020, the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme was launched and adopted in New Zealand. Although you still need a medical prescription to consume CBD-infused products, the new scheme makes it easier for medical practitioners to prescribe these products to medical cannabis patients. In the past, they had to file a request for every case and get approval from the ministry.

Substitution for Weed

Throughout the ages, people have been using all kinds of natural herbs and plants to aid their health and treat illnesses. The Cannabis plant is not the only one that has natural cannabinoids found in its chemical composition.

Here’s a list of some plants that have been helpful in treating some of the symptoms and conditions that marijuana is used for and could work as weed alternatives:

Valerian root

This plant has been used as a supplement to improve sleep quality and treat insomnia as well as anxiety. Studies have also shown that Valerian root can alleviate some psychological and physical premenstrual symptoms. However, side effects might include headaches and dizziness. 


Multiple studies have shown that ginger is a natural remedy for both pregnancy-induced nausea and vomiting and chemotherapy-induced nausea. You can include ginger in your diet by making tea, eating raw ginger, or taking prescribed ginger capsules. 


Kava-kava has been found helpful in alleviating restlessness and nervous tension. Consumed in controlled dosages, it helps treat anxiety and even has positive effects on cognition and reaction time. However, kava-kava has been linked with liver toxicity in some cases, though this might be due to its interaction with alcohol or other medications. 


Some studies have also shown that coneflowers can ameliorate arthritis, migraines, respiratory infections, and inflammation. It’s also great for the immune system, but research has yet to prove the extent of its effectiveness. 


For centuries, turmeric has been used as a supplement to treat inflammations, arthritis, stomach, and liver pain. Moreover, studies have shown that turmeric extract combined with an ointment of curcumin (the plant’s active ingredient) can be used to treat external cancerous lesions by alleviating the pain and reducing the smell and itching. 


Marijuana is consumed around the globe both as a recreational substance and for its medical use, as a substitute to painkillers. However, due to the psychoactive power induced by one of its main compounds THC, the use of marijuana is illegal or restricted in some places. 

At the moment, there are only three legal weed alternatives approved by the FDA in the United States – Epidiolex for treating epilepsy and Marinol and Syndros for nausea and weight loss caused by chemotherapy and AIDS respectively.

Depending on where you live in the world, if you have a medical prescription, you can also use medical cannabis, i.e. products that have a high percentage of the non-intoxicating compound CBD and no more than 0.3% THC.

Finally, there are a number of plants that people can use as a substitution for weed such as Valerian root, ginger, kava-kava, turmeric, coneflower, etc. These herbs can help with some of the symptoms and conditions that marijuana is otherwise used for. 

Make sure you’re well-informed of both the benefits and side effects of these alternatives before including them in your diet.

A passionate advocate for the benefits of cannabis. Fraser Horton, who has a background in botany and a strong love of nature, has spent years researching how cannabis affects the body and mind. He established Leaf Nation in 2020, where he has devoted himself to educating people about the legalisation of marijuana and its safe and responsible use. Fraser is committed to highlighting cannabis’ potential for improving wellness and working to dispel the stigma associated with its use.


The information presented on this page is provided as a public service to aid in education and is derived from sources believed to be reliable. Readers are responsible for making their own assessment of the topics discussed here. In no event shall Leaf Nation be held reliable for any injury, loss or damage that could happen if using or abusing drugs.