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Medicinal vs. Recreational Cannabis

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By: Cameron Rosin, Cannabis Nurse Educator

Over the years, cannabis has become one of the most commonly used substances in Australia. While many people use cannabis for recreational purposes (also referred to as 'adult use'), the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes is growing substantially. In Australia, recreational cannabis is illegal in all states except Canberra. On the other hand, medicinal cannabis is legal nationwide.

 

So is there a difference between the two, apart from legality? Here's all you need to know.  

How does medicinal cannabis differ from recreational cannabis?

There are numerous ways that the two differ. Why is medicinal cannabis is legal? Medicinal properties. The medicinal benefits of cannabis cannot be ignored, and as such, it's slowly becoming accepted as a valuable asset within doctor toolkits. 

 

Medicinal cannabis must be prescribed by a doctor for specific conditions that are treatable by the drug. On the other hand, recreational or adult-use cannabis is mostly consumed for personal or social enjoyment (which isn't to say that adult-use itself is not medicinal). 

Additionally, there tends to be a significant difference in the concentration of the two major cannabinoids in cannabis; THC and CBD. Recreational cannabis chemovars have been bred to contain high concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC; the psychoactive substance that produces a "high"). Generally, this THC content is higher than in typical medicinal cannabis varieties.

 

As a cannabis nurse, this makes sense; for patients that are new to cannabis medicines, the last thing we want to do is send granny blazing into an existential crisis after a few puffs on her vape. Whilst the psychoactive effects of cannabis can be powerfully therapeutic in their own right, our purpose in the medicinal space is to provide relief from symptoms. Cannabis can be an entirely functional medicine when utilised correctly.

Moreover, the cannabidiol (CBD) content in medicinal cannabis is often higher than in your standard adult-use cannabis. This compound is highly beneficial for someone seeking a remedial benefits from their cannabis products. Some of CBD's benefits include:

  • Pain-relieving properties

  • Anti-inflammatory properties

  • Anti-psychotic properties

  • Antioxidant properties

  • Anti-anxiety properties

  • Anti-carcinogenic properties

Furthermore, although THC has massive therapeutic potential, it's associated with most cannabis side effects. As such, high THC plants are not ideal for those just starting out.

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Pros of medicinal cannabis

 

The benefits of medicinal cannabis go beyond being able to stay on the right side of the law. With medicinal cannabis, you can be sure of the quality, safety and consistency of the cannabis product you are taking. All these products are usually tested and approved before you are allowed to consume them. When it comes to quality, medical-grade cannabis goes through a much stricter and more controlled cultivation and production process. 

In the majority of instances, medicinal cannabis is grown in a controlled indoor or outdoor GMP certified facilities (as opposed to anywhere, as is the case with adult-use cannabis). Even the pesticides used are controlled to ensure it's safe for any patient. Medicinal cannabis the safer, purer product of the two.
 
Moreover, medical marijuana is a more versatile product as opposed to its counterpart, which is mainly used for social enjoyment. For the most part, the elderly and children cannot use recreational cannabis as the psychoactive effects can be distressing to them. Medical-grade cannabis on the other hand can be finally tuned to the individual's needs - relieving symptoms, upregulating the endocannabinoid system and enhancing health outcomes without experiencing distressing effects.

Additionally, medical marijuana is readily available on the market due to its legal status. Laws regulating medicinal cannabis are more lax. On the other hand, recreational cannabis is still criminalised in Australia under stringent legality. If you are found in its possession in areas where it's illegal, you can face a hefty fine and potential jail time. Since this translates to the major parts of the country, you cannot access it as readily as medical marijuana. 

Cons of illicit cannabis

 

In most cases, recreational cannabis is illegal, and there are several cons you should be aware of. The first is unknown origins. Recreational cannabis is often grown illicitly, and you can never be sure that the correct methods were used for cultivation and production. In some cases, people who grow adult-use cannabis at home may use various unsafe and underhanded methods for production, and as such, it can be quite unsafe.

Additionally, there's also the danger of plant growth retardants (PGRs). These are hormone-like chemicals that play a significant role in the cultivation of illicit cannabis. In most cases, cultivators use chemically derived PGRs to increase their cannabis yield. While this has its benefits, it's often not controlled and can come at a huge cost for you, the consumer. PGRs are environmental pollutants. More importantly, studies show that PGRs can cause poisoning of the liver, infertility, and cancer. 

But that's not all. You can be a victim of consuming toxins found in modern recreational and illicit marijuana.  From fungus to unhealthy pesticides and heavy metals, various toxins may be found in illicit cannabis, which is often untested by the authorities. In other instances, growers do not use natural cultivation methods and may grow cannabis inorganically. The result is an abundance of highly potent strains of cannabis that contain THC concentrations far above what is practical for medical use. 

The last disadvantage is the danger of shopping on the black market. Black market cannabis is any cannabis obtained through illegal channels - unregulated and illicit. Black market cannabis may contain contaminants including fungal infections and mould. Of course, you'll have no way of knowing this, and the results can be considerable uncomfortable. 

Additionally, you may fall prey to scams. Not everyone is a genuine seller and the risk of transacting with the wrong person is high. Most people fail to report the scammers to the authorities for fear of legal consequences as willing participants in illegal activity.

 

Lastly, black market cannabis may be mislabelled or contain misleading labels. Although the packaging can state that there's low THC and high CBD in it, the information may be far from the truth. It's always better to be safe than sorry and obtain your medicinal cannabis from legal channels.

If you choose to disregard this article completely (you do you) and decide to purchase a cannabis product on the internet, make sure you ask for a COA (certificate of analysis). A trustworthy COA will detail the exact constituents within a given product.

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Final thoughts

 

The Australian medicinal cannabis industry may still be young, but you can be sure of the quality of the products you get. Medicinal cannabis is safe, high quality, and consistent. Through a proper prescription, you will be able to access medicinal cannabis and enjoy its perks.

Questions about medicinal cannabis? Reach out today for personalised guidance.

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