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Medical VS Recreational Cannabis: What’s the Difference?

By July 23, 2019 August 26th, 2020 No Comments

Medical vs. Recreational Cannabis in Canada

Under The Cannabis Act, both medical and recreational cannabis is now legal in Canada and millions of Canadians are taking advantage of this new freedom within the country. This new emergence of legal cannabis has some Canadians wondering what the difference is between medical and recreational cannabis, making it a popular topic of conversation within and external to the cannabis community.

Worth noting, when examining the question of the differences between medical and recreational cannabis, it is important to acknowledge that consumption, and the intended effects of use, comes down to the intent and choices of the cannabis consumer.

The Cannabis Act

The Cannabis Act is the set of federal laws that govern the use of recreational cannabis, coming to effect across the nation on October 17, 2018. Local and municipal laws also apply to recreational cannabis, in many cases adding restrictive municipal laws such as opting out of recreational cannabis retail stores or raising the legal age for consumption for their individual areas as in the case in Quebec.

The federal law under The Cannabis Act states that the legal age of consumption in Canada is 19 years, with Alberta and Quebec having 18 as the minimum legal age for purchase and consumption.


The Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) was the set of laws that governed medical cannabis use in Canada prior to October 17, 2018. After cannabis legalization took effect, the ACMPR was absorbed into The Cannabis Act, although there have been no changes to the previous medical cannabis laws. Health Canada has committed to continuing to run the ACMPR program under The Cannabis Act, with plans to review it in 5 years.

The Intent of the Individual

While in some people’s eyes it may be difficult to draw a line between medical and recreational cannabis use, the differentiation truly comes down to the intent of the individual.

Medicinally, cannabis offers so many positive benefits including pain relief, reducing inflammation, helping insomnia, among other benefits, and is being highly researched and regarded for its anti-seizure and anti-cancer properties. Those who choose to consume cannabis medicinally on a regular basis will experience a continuous benefit of cannabis as it works with their body’s endocannabinoid system.

Those who chose to use recreationally are generally pursuing the psychoactive, or intoxicating effect of cannabis, and THC in particular. If one chooses to use cannabis recreationally, they may also experience some of the benefits of medical cannabis concurrently.

The cannabis community has also emerged to talk about cannabis for its therapeutic uses, including reducing anxiety and stress, and in many cases of depression. In these contexts, the user may not see their consumption as either medicinal or recreational, but rather may intently consume to get a particular therapeutic effect.

It is strongly believed that if an individual is self-medicating with recreational cannabis, for a medical or therapeutic intent, it is best to seek guidance from a qualified Healthcare Practitioner and a prescription to do so. This is because cannabis is very personalized medicine. In order to find the most benefit from using cannabis, specific dosing, strain and consumption recommendations are recommended.

Buying Cannabis

Recreational Cannabis can be purchased from online cannabis retail stores, such as the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) in Ontario or the BC Cannabis Store in British Columbia, or in person at province-sanctioned cannabis retail stores. Cannabis retail stores are required to be licensed by the province, and municipalities have the option of opting out of cannabis retail stores within their city limits.

Each province has taken an individual approach to whether it will allow private cannabis stores to open within the province. BC, for instance, has no cap for private stores. Ontario just announced there will be only 25 private cannabis stores across the province, with licenses being awarded via a lottery system. Saskatchewan has also taken the lottery system approach.

As a result of some of the gaps in accessing legal cannabis, recreational cannabis continues to be purchased through the grey market from non-licensed cannabis retail stores or growers. The risk with this type of cannabis is that there is no regulated testing or quality assurance and consumers may not be getting exactly what is advertised in terms of strains or terpenoid profiles. Provincially licensed cannabis retail stores are required to meet testing standards for all cannabis sold, and there are rigorous quality assurance and labeling processes in place to ensure consumers are receiving the highest quality cannabis. Recreational cannabis sold through regulated government stores is purchased from Health Canada approved Licensed Producers.

It is important to note that retail stores are unable to give advice in terms of therapeutic effects. As such, if you are looking to purchase recreational cannabis for a medical symptom (example: stress, anxiety or sleep issues), it is recommended to consider getting a prescription for medical cannabis from a qualified medical doctor.

Medical cannabis can only be purchased through Licensed Producers, licensed by the Federal Government of Canada via Health Canada. Medical cannabis is often less expensive than recreational cannabis, and as a patient, you will be provided with a personalized treatment plan for strain selection and dosing.  Medical cannabis is tax deductible and may also be covered by insurance.

In order to register with a Licensed Producer, a patient must have a valid recommendation from a doctor to consume medical cannabis. Once registered with the LP, a patient may buy cannabis and will receive their orders through the mail. Some LPs offer compassionate pricing to ensure access for all Canadians who have been recommended medical cannabis.

Many strains of medical cannabis are high in CBD, a non-intoxicating cannabinoid, that will not make the user feel “high”. The most popular medical strains tend to have a 2:1 or 1:1 ratio of CBD to THC, whereas recreational cannabis focuses more on high THC levels, which produce a psychoactive effect. Medical patients have better access to products that are meant to be healing: reducing inflammation, decreasing pain, and elevating mood, being just a few common effects of cannabis in medical contexts.

In the end, medical cannabis and legally sourced recreational cannabis come from the same place, a Licensed Producer (LP). Licensed Producers operate under strict regulations and their products go through rigorous testing to ensure consistency and accuracy in labeling.

Minimum Age Requirements for Consumption

Under The Cannabis Act, the legal age for consumption of recreational cannabis is 19, however, Quebec and Alberta have chosen to lower the legal age for consumption to 18.

Unlike recreational cannabis use, there is no minimum age for medical consumption. Due to the fact that medical cannabis use requires a medical recommendation and ongoing treatment by a medical doctor, there are no age restrictions on medical use and it is accessible to all patients who require it. Apollo is one of the few medical cannabis clinics who have physicians on staff who will consult with pediatric patients.

Growing Cannabis in Canada

There are two legal ways that cannabis users can grow their own cannabis. One way is through the ACMPR where people are granted the privilege to produce their own cannabis for medical purposes. Under the review and approval of Health Canada, ACMPR patients can calculate how much cannabis they can legally grow and store based on the requirements under their medical recommendation.

Under The Cannabis Act, it’s legal to recreationally grow 4 cannabis plants per household, with the exception of Manitoba and Quebec. It should be noted that this privilege cannot be shared between users and households (i.e. someone cannot grow your plants for you), and that there are different provincial restrictions that govern your plant growth.

If you are looking to grow more than 4 medicinal cannabis plants, or live in Quebec or Manitoba, you may consider applying for a personal production license.

Where May I Consume Cannabis?

Recreational cannabis consumption laws can be extremely confusing. The Cannabis Act states that recreational cannabis may be consumed wherever tobacco can be consumed, however many provinces have tightened these restrictions. In Yukon TerritorySaskatchewanPrince Edward IslandNorthwest TerritoryNewfoundland, and New Brunswick, new laws have limited cannabis consumption to private residences.

As a medical cannabis patient, you may consume ( vaporize/ smoke ) anywhere tobacco use is permitted, such as parks, outside of buildings, on the sidewalk, and in designated smoking areas. Medical patients are allowed far more leeway when it comes to where you can use cannabis, but it is always recommended you have your medical cannabis documentation on you.

Can I Cross the Border with Cannabis?

Recreational and medical cannabis are strictly not allowed across international borders. This causes a bit of strife for individuals who rely on medical cannabis, as such, many will choose to vacation in cannabis-friendly destinations and U.S. states that have legalized medical cannabis.

It is important to repeat: It is illegal to cross a federal border with medical or recreational cannabis.

Driving Restrictions

It does not matter whether you have a medical cannabis recommendation or are a recreational cannabis user, driving under the influence is illegal under The Cannabis Act and its subsequent Bill C-46.

Police Officers have the ability to perform a roadside saliva test should they feel that the driver is impaired.

The Roles and Responsibilities of the Individual

Both medical and recreational users have a duty to use cannabis safely, and ensure the safety of those around them by storing it away from the reach of children and pets, and being sure to abide by the law in terms of possession limits, and refraining from driving while under the influence.

When trying to distinguish between medical and recreational cannabis, the processes for use are certainly different, but again all comes down to the intent of the user. The Cannabis Act opened up the privilege of choice for cannabis use for all Canadians with its passing, and it’s a privilege to be enjoyed by all of the legal age who wish to consume.

If you are interested in pursuing a medical cannabis recommendation, Apollo can help you navigate the legal medical cannabis system. As Canada’s premiere cannabis clinic, we are able to help cannabis users access medical cannabis by connecting them to a qualified practitioner for a medical recommendation. We are here to support all Canadians within their legal right to consume cannabis and pursue their own health and well-being through this incredible plant.

Dr. Singh

Dr. Singh

Dr. Mandeep Singh is a well established psychiatrist currently employed at Apollo Applied Research and holds the position of Director of wellness programs at Be Well Health Clinic in Toronto. His extensive and broad experience includes E.R/urgent care and outpatient psychiatric care at Trillium Health Partners as well as working with Veterans in Canada and the United States.

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