Marijuana can be both a medicine and a recreational drug, but separating one from the other isn’t simple.
According to the World Health Organization, marijuana is the most popular recreational drug worldwide. However, unlike many other recreational drugs, marijuana is widely used as a medicine as well.
This fact, along with marijuana’s legal status, has led to much confusion over the differences between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana.
If you’re feeling a bit puzzled yourself, here are a few things to consider.
1. The earliest use of marijuana was in medicine.
Critics often argue that marijuana’s medical benefits are exaggerated by people who just want to use it for fun. But this is far from the truth.
In fact, the earliest records of marijuana come from ancient Chinese and Indian medical texts, in which the plant was described as a medicine with many uses. Some of these uses, such as arthritis and pain management, represent the most common conditions that marijuana is prescribed for today.
Likewise, recent surveys show that a majority of doctors believe cannabis still has a place in modern medicine.
2. Some types of marijuana can get you high.
It’s true that marijuana is often used to get high, which is why it is labeled a recreational drug. The high is caused by a single chemical in marijuana known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
THC acts on different parts of the brain to create a feeling of euphoria or pleasure. THC also stimulates appetite and sleep, and is known to enhance certain sensations such as smell, taste and temperature.
Over the past few decades, THC levels in marijuana have skyrocketed due to demand from recreational users.
But while ingesting THC may be fun for some users, experts believe the high can have medical benefit as well. For instance, euphoria may be a desirable effect for patients undergoing palliative care or for those who suffer from chronic pain.
3. Other types of marijuana cannot.
Contrary to popular belief, not all types of marijuana are psychoactive. In other words, some types of cannabis simply won’t get you high, no matter how much of it you ingest.
These varieties of cannabis contain small amounts of THC. But they are usually rich in a different chemical called cannabidiol (CBD).
Due to its inability to get users high, CBD has received a lot of attention as a medicine. For example, CBD-rich cannabis is thought to be more useful in certain situations, such as when being administered to children.
4. Recreational use may be a sign of something else.
Recreational drug use continues to be a subject of debate among health professionals and policymakers alike. To this day, many can’t agree whether drug use should be treated as a crime or a health problem.
But when it comes to an individual’s use of drugs — whether legal or illicit — it’s important to be aware of something called self-medication. Self-medication happens when someone uses a drug for therapeutic purposes without professional supervision.
People who self-medicate are often unaware that their substance use is linked to an underlying medical condition. In the case of marijuana, this could be anything among a long list of disorders, including less obvious conditions like insomnia or depression. These individuals may view their drug use as recreational rather than medical.
Since marijuana remains prohibited in many countries around the world, marijuana is often used without the consent or knowledge of a doctor. This only raises the chance that someone may be self-medicating with marijuana.
Overall, without wider acceptance of marijuana, separating medical use from recreational will likely remain a difficult task.