The Difference between Recreational and Medical Cannabis in Canada

The emergence of legal cannabis has some Canadians wondering what the difference is between medical and recreational cannabis. In many ways, cannabis consumption only recently came into the picture and is still in the process of being normalized. Licensed producers, who supply dried flower and other products, can provide their stock to both recreational and medical markets, adding to the confusion on if there truly is a difference between the two.

Prior to the Cannabis Act, Health Canada regulated medical consumption under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR).In wake of legal adult-use cannabis, the Government of Canada has stated it is committed to keeping a distinct system for medical patients with quality-controlled product. Many individuals don’t realize that even though recreational consumption was legalized last year, the medical cannabis system has been in place since 2001, and that there is a difference between the two.

Recreational Cannabis

Intended Use: Those who consume cannabis recreationally are generally pursuing the psychoactive, or intoxicating effects. This type of use is commonly compared to alcohol consumption and is used socially as well as individually. Recreational consumers may also experience some of the benefits of medical cannabis concurrently. It is possible to self-medicate with recreational cannabis, using the product for therapeutic effect, however it is better to seek medical guidance and a prescription as a more effective approach.

How to (legally) get it: Any person who is the legal age of purchase can access recreational cannabis. In Ontario, there are licensed storefronts and the online Ontario Cannabis Store; other provinces have their own regulatory systems. As the purpose of recreational cannabis is not to address health issues, it is prohibited for retail stores or brands to make claims about potential therapeutic effects. For example, if you were looking for a strain that helped with stress or sleep issues, only healthcare professionals can make such recommendations.

Medical Cannabis

Intended Use: While clinical study-based evidence is still needed to fully understand the benefits of medical cannabis, it has been shown to have positive effects on certain symptoms and illnesses. Studies have shown that the potential benefits include pain relief, reduced inflammation, relief from insomnia , and anti-seizure properties. It is theorized that consuming cannabis medicinally on a regular basis can provide continuous benefit, by working with the body’s endocannabinoid system.

How to (legally) get it: In order to access a medical cannabis authorization you first need to visit a physician or talk to a Healthcare practitioner . Once you have an authorization, which usually includes methods and dosing recommendations, you can register with a licensed producer. Currently all medical cannabis sales are done online and delivered through the postal system. Since they have to register with a provider, unlike recreational users, some patients chose to split their prescription among a few producers for variety and reliable access to cannabis.

Key Differences

Medical cannabis has been found to be consistently cheaper than recreational cannabis. In addition, the medical framework allows for discounts based on income and purchases are tax deductible. Recreational and medical cannabis are both subject to provincial and federal taxes, though there are licensed producers who will absorb the federal tax for their medical patients.

Licensed Producers operate under strict regulations and their products go through rigorous testing to ensure consistency and accuracy in labeling. All cannabis goes through this quality assurance and testing process but a wider selection of products is available to medical patients. This might change with the legalization of topicals, concentrates, and edibles come Oct. 2019, however at this time the recreational market lacks the same variety as medical cannabis.

A person using cannabis for recreational purposes is allowed no more than 30 grams of dried flower or cannabis-derived products on their person. There is some math required for medical cannabis patients, who are permitted a 30-day supply of cannabis at any given time. If a patient is authorized with 2 grams per day, that is 60 grams, the maximum any patient can possess is 150 grams. Individuals are allowed to grow up to 4 plants per household for personal use, a medical patient can grow more plants by applying for a personal production license.

Human Rights
Medical patients are awarded certain human rights protections that are not extended to recreational users. Recreational consumers are only permitted to use cannabis in designated areas where tobacco use is also allowed. In addition to designated areas, medical patients are extended protections pertaining to medicating at home and at work.

The difference between medical cannabis and recreational consumption lies primarily intent and access, meaning why people consume cannabis and where they obtain it. Other key indicators like human rights protections, possession regulations, age requirements, and price also play a prominent role in whether cannabis is considered recreational or medical in nature.

To know more about medical cannabis and if it can help with your health condition and symptoms, talk to a Healthcare practitioner in a face-to-face online video call using this link. From the privacy of your own home or office, ask all of your cannabis questions and be sure you’re getting sound medical advice to help you feel happy and healthy.


Personalized advice on using medical cannabis for your health conditions.


Massage Addict is proud to partner with Shoppers Drug Mart.


Can medical cannabis help treat chronic pain?