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What’s The Difference Between Medical Marijuana & Recreational Weed?

Looking to relax or have some fun? Any dab of recreational cannabis will do ya. Do you have a serious medical need for weed? Then medical marijuana is what the doctor ordered. Let's discuss what differentiates medical-grade weed vs recreational marijuana.
March 31, 2023
Est. Reading: 8 minutes
Table of Contents

Cannabis is a plant with quite the following, especially here in Canada. Whether you light one up for fun, puff-puff-pass to ease your pain & inflammation, or drop some edibles to help you sleep at night, there are a ton of reasons why Canadians partake of pot. These days, if you’re not ripping huge hits on a dab rig then you’re probably vaping some low-key CBD-high strain. Cannabis habits have evolved alongside the technological advancements in devices like vaporizers, dab rigs and the ever-expanding number of extraction techniques used today.

Beyond the ways in which we consume cannabis products today, peoples’ reasonings for smoking weed, consuming edibles and self-medicating with various cannabis concentrates have changed for the better as well. Many stoners toke up to have fun after a tough work week, and many more rely on cannabis to help them melt into the couch and get some proper shuteye.

Beyond the usual entertainment enhancing properties of cannabis or “chillaxing” effects, the majority of new cannabis users today are turning to weed for its medical benefits. These might include anything innocuous like skin health, productivity, focus to many more serious ailments like anxiety, depression, chronic pain and gastrointestinal conditions.

In this review of medical marijuana vs recreational marijuana, we’re going to go over the reasons why Canadians use weed in ever-expanding ways. We will discuss the merits of medical edibles vs recreational ones, analyze rising THC levels in medical vs recreational cannabis - and similar CBD values - and help you to determine what is a medical dispensary and if their products are right for you.

What Is A Medical Dispensary?

Before we talk about the differences between medical marijuana vs recreational marijuana, we need to define what is a medical dispensary for those who never visited one in the old days. Today, medical marijuana dispensaries aren’t a common thing - with cannabis legalization enacted in 2018, Canada doesn’t have to rely on medical licenses to grow, possess and consume weed at your leisure.

In years past, since 2001 when Canadian courts ruled that it would be unconstitutional to prevent citizens from accessing something like cannabis that might improve their quality of life, medically legal marijuana became a reality in Canada. Medical licenses began with the first institution of the MMAR - Marijuana Medical Access Regulations, continuing just over a decade later with the MMPR - Marijuana for Medical Purposes Act. Finally, just before weed was made legal in Canada, the ACMPR - Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations - took over and continues to be the current standard for marijuana medical licenses today.

All of these “green cards” had their pros & cons, but they all aimed to provide medical grade cannabis products to anyone who had the need, verified by medical practitioners and renewed every year. With these licenses in hand, Canadians could grow their own weed and possess variable amounts & potencies of cannabis, as determined by the terms of their personal medical license.

This system certainly had its flaws, so a large number of Canadians refrained from going through the motions with cannabis licenses and turned to medical marijuana dispensaries. What is a medical dispensary? There were many recreational pot shops that sold bongs, grinders and cannabis swag galore, and some of them even dabbled in cannabis flowers, edibles or the odd concentrate. Medical marijuana dispensaries, however, were designed to provide the best quality, highest potency and most effective cannabis products at the time to people who were suffering from a medical condition.

This might mean anyone dealing with chronic pain, insomnia, skin disorders, poor mental health, muscle tears, gastrointestinal disorders and more. Cannabis became very popular in the medical scenes of places like Vancouver, the Kootenays, central Alberta, and throughout Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. Medical marijuana dispensaries started cropping up in every major city and town, leading to a powerful movement of Canadians taking control of their health with pot, weed or marijuana in their toolbelt.

Sadly, many of the medical marijuana dispensaries have dissipated since cannabis legalization. Now that anyone can get their hands on some high-quality Mary J, the need for medical dispensaries has dwindled. That being said, more people are using cannabis to heal and support good health than ever before. Additionally, there are still doctors, health practitioners and clinics that offer medical-grade marijuana for certain patients.

There are also outcries from thousands - if not millions - of Canadians for more access to higher potency cannabis products for treating serious ailments like cancer, MS, arthritis, epilepsy, GI disorders and more. Although many Canadians know what a medical dispensary is, they’ve yet to visit one. As the numbers of these kinds of clinics have decreased, at least the popularity of cannabis and peoples’ willingness to self-medicate with weed has continued to rise each year.

Medical Marijuana vs Recreational Marijuana

If you’ve never been to a medical dispensary - or don’t even know what a medical dispensary is - then understanding the differences between medical marijuana vs recreational marijuana can be confusing at best. For most people who are new to cannabis, all weed seems to be the same shape, color, size, smell and taste. Until you’ve experimented with all sorts of cannabis for specific reasons/treatments, then you’re not likely to appreciate the subtle differences between medical edibles vs recreational ones.

On top of all the myriad choices for THC levels in medical vs recreational weed, you need to consider how frequent your dosing is, how long the effects of the cannabis might last, how intense they’ll be, so on and so forth. In short, understanding the differences between medical marijuana vs recreational marijuana has to do with the product specifications, but it also has to do with your reasons for consuming cannabis in the first place.

Here are a few factors that differentiate between medical marijuana vs recreational marijuana:


When it comes to affordability, the THC levels in medical vs recreational cannabis make it a better bang-for-your-buds. Recreational cannabis is often on sale and can be had for a lot cheaper prices with fairly decent potency values, but generally speaking medical marijuana can reach concentrations beyond that of most retail buds (more on this in the “POTENCY” section coming up).

Another factor that distinguishes medical grade cannabis from recreational weed is the fact that medical marijuana can be covered by health insurance. Some lucky Canadians have their weed covered under medical insurance - such as anyone suffering from a debilitating condition, someone who is recovering from a serious injury, or anyone with an ACMPR license. Medical-grade cannabis can be accessed outside the usual channels of doctor’s offices or medical suppliers, but it can be harder to get the guaranteed lower pricing that licensees can obtain.

The final factor in the differences in pricing between medical edibles vs recreational ones has to do with cannabis quantities. Quality always reigns supreme in the eyes of most stoners, but some of the better prices on large volumes or sizes of weed can make recreational dope more affordable. Medical marijuana can be very potent, but it almost always comes in smaller quantities - whereas recreational dope can be purchased wholesale, making it easy to match the strength of medical-grade weed just by doubling up your order.


Quality is the factor everyone is most concerned about when it comes to their weed. No matter what kinds they’re buying, if it’s high quality cannabis then the price or potency might be a secondary consideration. But what determines quality in cannabis? How can you tell the difference between medical edibles vs recreational edibles? Are there clear distinctions between the THC levels in medical vs recreational weed?

The main characteristics of any high quality bud usually break down to the following: color, texture, shape, density, flavor, aroma and experience. Experience can mean anything from how it burns, what color ash, the after effects, how high you get, and many more extraneous, experiential factors. Cannabis coloration, shape and density focus on how big & bodacious your buds are vs how sparse, crackly or muted in colors they are. Flavor and aromas are largely dependent on the phytocompounds in the flowers - i.e. cannabinoids and terpenes - so these can be controlled a lot easier through genetics than the other elements of quality.

So, what are the differences in quality between medical marijuana vs recreational cannabis? Generally speaking, there shouldn’t be much of a divide between medical vs recreational weed when it comes to textures, coloration, tastes, smells and experiences. Some people suggest medical marijuana lacks the same level of quality in their products, but they make up for it in terms of potency (more on that shortly).

There are many examples of quality differences between medical vs recreational pot, but the best one is the stark differences between medical edibles vs recreational edibles. Recreational comes in all types, flavors and price ranges, whereas medical edibles are typically more bland, less creative or aesthetically pleasing and are meant to simply help provide relief from ailments.


When you get down to it, the real differentiation between medical marijuana and recreational cannabis surrounds potency. Whether you’re after THC, CBD, CBN, CBG or a combination of the lot of phytocompounds found in cannabis, medical grade cannabis usually has greater access to the top-shelf stuff - i.e. anything in the 70%+ or 1000’s of milligrams. This isn’t to say that recreational cannabis can’t be extremely potent, because much of it is. Nevertheless, medical marijuana products that are made for medical patients - whether they’re from regulated medical suppliers or an independent cultivator - can reach some pretty ridiculous levels.

For example, the THC levels of medical vs recreational cannabis oils is just one instance where medical cannabis products can deliver some intense THC or CBD numbers - capsules or tinctures in the 1000 - 5000 mg range. Products like Phoenix Tears are a great example of a medical-grade product that is sold in stores and supplied by medical professionals. This ultra-potent cannabis concentrate can deliver high THC levels in both medical and recreational vials, averaging between 500 mg and 1000+ mg.

The thing about medical cannabis potency levels is that they’re almost always on the higher end because people rely on them for their health, recovery or wellbeing. Recreational cannabis isn’t weaker, per say, but you don’t need as much THC or CBD to have a fun time compared to the urgent health needs of someone suffering from cancer, MS, epilepsy or clinical depression. Medical marijuana is also customized in potency to match the dose of the patient in question, so this means it’s less “open to the public” and more “personalized to fit your exact weed needs”.


The final consideration for what separates medical weed vs recreational cannabis has to do with how each makes you feel. Some medical cannabis is meant to deal with the problem - your injury, illness or symptoms of a long-term condition - whereas recreational buds can be taken for any reason - or none needed at all. Both medical vs recreational products can deliver what you need, it simply depends if you’ve got a condition or disorder you’re dealing with or not.

How cannabis makes you feel has a lot to do with how potent it is or what kinds of active compounds it is offering. On the flip side, your experience with cannabis almost has nothing to do with what kind of weed you’re taking - it’s up to your personal biology, your tolerance to cannabis, your diet, your fitness level, and a multitude of other influencing factors.

Medical marijuana does have a bit more legs to stand on when it comes to treating specific conditions or symptoms. Medical-grade weed is usually formulated a certain way to maximize the medical benefits you can experience, such as fighting pain & inflammation for arthritis patients or easing anxiety in manic-depressive people. In this way, medical marijuana seems to have an edge on recreational weed because it is grown/processed for a specific purpose. Nonetheless, recreational cannabis is multifaceted and can help people in a number of ways - some expected, some surprising.

No matter what kinds of cannabis products you buy, make sure you satisfy all your weed needs by shopping at Haute Health offers all the latest products - both medical-grade weed and all the fun edibles, concentrates and top-tier buds your cannabis-loving heart desires. We hope this review of medical marijuana vs recreational marijuana was insightful, and we hope you have a weedful day.


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