Medically Reviewed by
Jason Crawford

Article Last Updated on January 18, 2023

As a result of the increasing legalization laws in the US, the use of cannabis has increased as new cannabis products and cannabis strains flood the marijuana market. The popularity of cannabis has increased even more with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill which enabled the commercial sale of industrial hemp-derived CBD with less than 0.3% THC.

If you’re planning on hopping on the cannabis bandwagon, you might be asking yourself what the difference between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana is, and we’re here for you. In this article, we’ll go over the use of cannabis both medicinally and recreationally, so read on.

The 411 on Recreational Marijuana

Recreational weed is the weed that people who don’t have a qualifying medical condition use. Recreational cannabis has been used since the time of ancient civilizations, and its popularity has significantly grown in recent years.

If you’d like to purchase it, you only need to go to the nearest recreational dispensary where you can find a wide variety of cannabis strains that are bound to suit your particular needs.

Unlike medical cannabis users, recreational cannabis users don’t need to prove that they suffer from a medical condition that qualifies for treatment with medical marijuana. 

Another important difference is that, generally, recreational weed has a higher THC content. The strains that are commonly used for recreational purposes are developed with the focus on the psychoactive effects that they produce, which is why it often has a higher price compared to medical marijuana.

That being said, recreational marijuana is poorly regulated, so the products’ purity may vary from producer to producer. Even though the law requires producers to provide third-party lab tests for their products, the focus is mainly on medical marijuana. Although, as weed is becoming more popular, states are moving toward testing recreational pot in the same labs as weed for medical purposes.

Where Is Recreational Marijuana Legal in the US?

Recreational marijuana can be legally smoked in US states that have already legalized it if users are over the age of 21. The following US states have decriminalized the possession and use of recreational weed:

  • Alaska;
  • Arizona;
  • California;
  • Colorado;
  • District of Columbia;
  • Illinois;
  • Maine;
  • Massachusetts;
  • Michigan;
  • Nevada;
  • New Jersey;
  • New York;
  • Oregon;
  • Vermont;
  • Washington.

Recreational weed strains have high tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content which is the main appeal for recreational users, as opposed to medical marijuana patients who seek products high in other therapeutic cannabinoids that can also be found in the cannabis plant.

The 411 on Medical Marijuana

Using marijuana for medical purposes in some US states is very common since studies have shown that it has some medical benefits, hence the increase of cannabis medical products used by medical marijuana patients under the supervision of a medical professional.

Medical cannabis strains focus on therapeutic potency, hence the higher CBD content and lower THC content of the strains. Because it’s used to treat a variety of conditions, it’s subject to greater regulation and testing in order to ensure that the medical marijuana users are getting a high-quality and consistent product.

To be eligible for a medical marijuana prescription, a person needs to be over 18 years of age, have a qualifying condition, and have a valid medical marijuana card. In some circumstances, such as the treatment of epilepsy in young children, medical marijuana or medical marijuana extracts may be administered by parents who will get permission to use it. Compared to recreational marijuana, medical marijuana is less expensive since it’s not subject to as many taxes.

Where Is Medical Marijuana Legal in the US?

Medical marijuana is legal in more states than recreational marijuana, and the following US states have decriminalized the possession and use of medical marijuana:

  • Alaska;
  • Arizona;
  • Arkansas;
  • California;
  • Colorado;
  • Connecticut;
  • Delaware;
  • District of Columbia;
  • Florida;
  • Hawaii;
  • Illinois;
  • Louisiana;
  • Maine;
  • Maryland;
  • Massachusetts;
  • Michigan;
  • Minnesota;
  • Mississippi;
  • Missouri;
  • Montana;
  • Nevada;
  • New Hampshire;
  • New Jersey;
  • New Mexico;
  • New York;
  • North Dakota;
  • Ohio;
  • Oklahoma;
  • Oregon;
  • Pennsylvania;
  • Rhode Island;
  • Utah;
  • Vermont;
  • Washington;
  • West Virginia.

Medical marijuana is considered “medical” if it’s prescribed to a state qualified patient from a medical marijuana treatment center (medical marijuana dispensary). These dispensaries are authorised to dispense medical marijuana to qualifying patients and caregivers in the form of: 

  • Oils;
  • Creams;
  • Sprays;
  • Suppositories;
  • Patches;
  • Tinctures;
  • Vaping;
  • Smoking;
  • Edibles.

Different states allow different medical marijuana products, so research the laws in the state where you’re intending to buy medical marijuana to see which types of products are available.

Medical Marijuana Uses

The active ingredients in cannabis have been used to treat a variety of medical conditions. Therefore, cannabis users can take medical cannabis as a treatment option for the following:

  • ALS;
  • Cancer;
  • Crohn’s Disease;
  • Epilepsy;
  • Glaucoma;
  • Multiple Sclerosis;
  • Parkinson’s Disease;
  • PTSD;
  • Chronic pain;
  • Anxiety;
  • Depression;
  • Migraine;
  • To ease the pain in terminal patients.

To qualify for a medical marijuana card, patients need to get a recommendation from a licensed doctor and have a qualifying medical condition. After qualifying, the medical marijuana card is issued and patients can purchase medical marijuana products from state-licensed dispensaries.

Recreational Cannabis Uses

As a result of the increased popularity of cannabis as well as the legalization laws across the US, recreational cannabis has become the most widely used drug around the world. Users consume it in social situations, for example, a group of friends on a chill movie night, or as a way to relax after a hard day at work.

Recreational cannabis has different regulations compared to medical cannabis and can only be bought from a legal dispensary by people over 21 with a valid photo ID in states where recreational cannabis is legal. 

Cannabidiol (CBD) Vs Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and the Different Effects Between Medical and Recreational Marijuana

The main differences between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana are the different effects they produce in users on account of their cannabinoid content, and you can do your research in order to find your preferred Sativa, Indica, or hybrid strain.

Medical marijuana patients often search for the therapeutic and sedative effects that CBD provides. Because medical marijuana contains more CBD compared to recreational weed, it doesn’t produce such intense psychoactive effects, so it’s a good treatment option for a number of medical conditions. 

Recreational marijuana is generally THC-dominant and produces intense psychoactive effects. However, high THC strains can also be used for the treatment of chronic pain.

Conclusion on Medical vs Recreational Marijuana

The main difference between medical use of cannabis and recreational use of cannabis is the percentage of cannabinoids in weed. Medical cannabis tends to be higher in CBD while recreational cannabis is higher in THC. 

The former is used to treat medical conditions while the latter is used as a way to relax after a hard day at work. One produces therapeutic effects and the other produces intense psychoactive effects. No matter which one you use, knowing how medical and recreational weeds differ is always a good idea.

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.