The 3 Main Differences between Medical Marijuana and Recreational Marijuana

The 3 Main Differences between Medical Marijuana and Recreational Marijuana

Regardless of the marijuana classification – recreational or medical – whenever talking about, hearing about, or reading about marijuana, people seem to only hear the word “marijuana”. And their thoughts settle around the more conventional assumptions that have stigmatized its use for many decades.

However, in 2008, when Michigan joined 12 other states in legalizing marijuana for specific  medical purposes, a slow but steady paradigm shift amongst Michigan residents was set in motion. This continued as other states (currently 33 and the District of Columbia) legalized medical marijuana. Throughout the U.S., as more and more diverse people openly discussed how medical marijuana helped them or a loved one, marijuana’s reputation as an illegal, psychoactive “drug” began to wane.

But, an entirely different conversation was ignited when states began legalizing recreational marijuana; most recently, in November 2018 when Michigan voters passed Proposal 1 making Michigan the 10th state to legalize recreational marijuana. Since then, many new questions are being asked. The most common of which is:



What’s the difference between Recreational marijuana and Medical marijuana?

While the most immediate answer would be, “One is to get high and the other is to treat a litany of conditions and ailments”, the accurate answer is a bit more technical.

Essentially, there are 3 primary differences – nationwide – between Medical marijuana and Recreational marijuana:

  • CBD vs THC – ratios, levels, and effects of the two primary chemicals in marijuana plants 


  • Indica vs Sativa – the characteristics and effects of the two distinctive types of marijuana plants   


  • Legislation and Regulations – While each of the 10 states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use have their own regulations, they are all quite similar. For this purpose, Michigan’s regulations will be cited. 




There are over 100 chemicals, i.e., “cannabinoids”, in the marijuana plant; each of these have differing effects.

However, when it comes to medicinal applications, the two primary chemicals used are THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol). And this is where the distinction between recreational and medicinal marijuana is most profoundly revealed.

THC is the component of marijuana that prompts the “psychoactive”, euphoric effect. CBD, on the other hand, doesn’t produce those effects. While medical marijuana contains THC, it has a much higher CBD content that counteracts the “high” effects of THC.   In simple terms, it is commonly accepted that the greater the ratio of CBD to THC, the more suitable that particular strain is for medical use.

Furthermore, CBD has also been attributed with having an anti-psychotic effect that can enable it to be used in treating mental illness, including anxiety.   This characteristic has been explained by noting CBD’s ability to “manage” the way THC interacts with the brain. In a sense, THC is the rambunctious child and CBD is the nurturing parent.

All of this helps show how the ratio and dosage of CBD to THC is the primary differentiating  aspect of medicinal vs recreational marijuana.

If you didn’t know that, don’t be alarmed.  Surveying has revealed that many allied health professionals and health care providers are also unaware that CBD doesn’t produce – and can actually mitigate – the psychoactive effects of THC.

Currently, several of the other marijuana plant chemicals are being researched, studied, and investigated in efforts to resolve additional best practices questions. But much progress has been made in the study of THC and CBD and best practices for medicinal applications, which is largely responsible for the continuous validation of marijuana as an option for the treatment of many medical conditions. 



Indica vs Sativa

Indica and Sativa are the two main types of marijuana plants. Aside from their physical characteristics, the differences between these two plant types mostly evolve around their levels of CBD and THC.

Sativa is generally described as a tall, skinny plant. Containing more THC than Indica, Sativa mainly affects your mind, and makes you feel euphoric. This is the plant associated with recreational use.

Indica, on the other hand, is a short, dense plant that contains a higher amount of CBD. It affects your body more than your mind, which combined with the CBD characteristics mentioned above, naturally makes it most suitable for medicinal applications. 



Legislation and Regulations

When it comes to legislation and regulations, there are as many similarities as there are differences between medical and recreational marijuana. Basically, both medical and recreational marijuana users and providers are bound by state laws and regulations; the differences are in the nuances of those regulations.

Again, the following regulations are based upon the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act passed in  2008 and the passing of Proposal 1, for recreational use. While those listed below are exclusive to the state of Michigan, upon legalizing marijuana, other states are relying on those states that went before them when crafting and passing their marijuana legislation.


Legal age requirement

In Michigan, anyone 18 or older is able to apply for and receive a medical marijuana card. But a person must be 21 for recreational use.

However, a parent or guardian of a minor child (under 18) can apply for the child to qualify for using medical marijuana to treat a qualifying condition. In that case, 2 recommendations from 2 different physicians are required. (see Recommendation Requirement below)


Recommendation Requirement

Recent reports state that there are currently 22 conditions in Michigan that qualify for using medical marijuana for treatment. The key point being that to legally use marijuana for medicinal purposes, a person, i.e., patient, must go through the recommendation process and get a Michigan medical marijuana card.

This involves getting a physician’s approval via a signed form certifying that the patient has a type of medical condition that medical cannabis could treat and alleviate.

Recreational marijuana doesn’t require a recommendation from a physician; no medical card is required for people 21 or older in states that have legalized recreational marijuana.



Purchasing marijuana for medical purposes from a medical marijuana provisioning center (“dispensary”) in Michigan is fairly straight forward. However, it’s important to note that in order for the medical marijuana to treat a patient’s specific medical condition(s), the marijuana product should be purchased from a professional, reputable Medical Marijuana Provisioning Center. This is because, as suggested above, the ratio of CBD to THC and the particular strain of marijuana is the essential aspect of its effectiveness in treating qualifying conditions.

Currently, as of this writing, there are no recreational sales outlets in Michigan. This is expected to change in 2020 as recreational marijuana facility applications are processed and approved. As to whether recreational marijuana will be able to be purchased from medical provisioning centers in Michigan, it appears that something similar to Colorado’s approach will likely be enacted.

In Colorado, medical marijuana facilities are allowed to sell to recreational clients but the two “divisions” or “departments” must be clearly separated within the facility. This is due to the differing levels of THC content in medical and recreational marijuana.



The most recently posted amounts and forms of marijuana a person can possess in Michigan – per classification – is listed below. Most states that have legalized medical and recreational marijuana have similar limits on possession.

Before reading further, please note, Michigan’s specific laws and regulations regarding both medical and recreational marijuana are posted for public viewing through the state of Michigan’s websites and you’re advised to verify what you read or hear from other sources regarding Michigan’s regulations.

In Michigan, under Proposal 1, people 21 or older can legally possess:

  • Up to 2.5 ounces of useable marijuana (the plant’s dried leaves and flowers) outside of their home and up to 10 ounces in their home
  • Up to 15 grams of cannabis concentrates
  • Up to 12 cannabis plants

Under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, qualifying medical marijuana patients (those whose conditions are state-approved for marijuana treatment) can possess:

  • Up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and equivalents (equivalents are defined as 6 ounces of solid form, marijuana-infused products); 16 ounces of solid form marijuana-infused products; 7 grams of “gaseous form” marijuana-infused product; 36 fluid ounces of liquid form marijuana-infused product

Qualifying medical patients and adults 21 or older can have up to 12 marijuana plants in their home as long as the plants are kept in a secure, enclosed, locked location. 



But remember. . . 

Even though marijuana has been legalized in Michigan, using it where it is not allowed is not legal. In the workplace, in public establishments, and on the road, being under the influence of marijuana is treated like alcohol or any other controlled substance.

You can be fired by employers for testing positive for marijuana, you can be arrested for driving under its influence, and you can be evicted for smoking it in non-smoking establishments.

Furthermore, even though states are modeling their medical and recreational marijuana regulations based upon precedents set by other states, it is imperative that you check each state that has legalized medical and/or recreational marijuana for its specific laws and regulations before assuming Michigan’s apply in the state you may be travelling or relocating to.

Simply put, don’t leave Michigan and cross into another state with 2.5 ounces of marijuana in your possession until you know the state’s marijuana regulations and possession limitations.

In addition to our commitment to providing Medical marijuana patients with the utmost professional care, service, and products, Allied Wellness Center is fully knowledgeable about and compliant with Michigan’s Medical and Recreational marijuana regulations. And we will remain current if/as new regulations are enacted and previous ones are adjusted.

Rebecca J. Ensign

Community Relations Coordinator