By Emily Ledger
The cannabis plant has been used for a huge number of purposes for thousands of years. From clothing and weapons to food and recreation, the plant is incredibly diverse. Yet, it is the plant’s recreational and medical uses which breed the most interest in society today – But what is the difference between medical and recreational cannabis?
The History of Cannabis Use
Cannabis Sativa is thought to have been used for recreational purposes for at least 2,500 years. However, the history of the plant goes back much further. Current estimates suggest that the plant originated in China over 10,000 years ago, with humans utilising it thereafter.
The origins of the medical use of the plant are less certain. However, the plant is mentioned as a treatment for a variety of conditions in ancient texts. This includes treatment for Epilepsy and ear conditions in Ancient Egypt, and menstrual pain, rheumatism, and gout in Ancient China.
Medical and Recreational Cannabis Use Today
Recreational cannabis use appears to be at the highest level in history, despite there being an almost global prohibition of the drug. There has even been a slow, yet meaningful, increase in jurisdictions choosing to legalise recreational use of the drug. In 2018, Canada became the first G7 country to legalise the drug and many states in the US have developed similar frameworks.
Medical cannabis has also become increasingly available, with an even larger number of countries making medical cannabis products available. However, as access to medical cannabis remains uncertain in countries such as the UK, many potential patients have turned to using illegal recreational cannabis as a substitute. But, what is the difference?
Can Cannabis Flower be Used Medicinally?
In countries with more developed medical cannabis sectors, cannabis flower may be available as a medicinal option. As the flower does contain the cannabinoids that are thought to have medical potential, this is a viable method of application. However, cannabis flower is most often used by burning the plant and inhaling the smoke.
Other jurisdictions, including the UK, maintain that smoking cannabis is never medically recommended for medical purposes. Despite this, a recent study in association with the Centre for Medical Cannabis found that an estimated 1.4 million people in the UK were using illegal cannabis flower medicinally.
Although cannabis flowers can have a medicinal effect, experts maintain that illegal sources can also be harmful. As the illicit cannabis industry does not adhere to any industry standards, there can be some harmful additives. Further, illicit strains are often higher in THC, which can have further side effects.
Although cannabis flowers can be vaporised, they are most commonly smoked – a route of administration that can cause further harm to our lungs and other parts of the body.
Cannabis-Based Medical Products
Pharmaceutical preparations of cannabis isolate the cannabinoids which are shown to have medicinal properties. The most common of these compounds are the cannabinoids known as THC and CBD. There are a number of medical cannabinoid products available around the world including Epidyolex (Epidiolex in the USA) which has been prescribed for certain forms of Epilepsy.
So, the difference between medical and recreational cannabis differs from country to country. In some countries, the difference may loosely be determined through legal status – using illicit cannabis products for medicinal purposes often doesn’t grant the user any immunity from criminal charges, though some countries have introduced these kinds of assurances. In others, like the UK, the difference will be determined by the preparation and licensing.