What’s the Difference Between Medical Marijuana and Street Marijuana?
Article written by
Shanti RyleContent Writer
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Today, more than 46 states have legalized some form of marijuana, either cannabis for medical purposes or recreational marijuana. This has enabled millions of patients to access its many benefits for medical conditions. However, before legalization, many didn’t have the luxury of purchasing lab-tested medical cannabis from a licensed dispensary, which forced those who needed it to procure so-called “street” marijuana from underground sellers.
The main difference between medical marijuana and street marijuana is the legality of the product’s cultivation, processing, and distribution, which can impact the quality, costs, and legal protections surrounding patient cannabis possession.
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What Is Medical Marijuana?
Legal medical marijuana consists of marijuana plants and products cultivated, formulated, and distributed within a legalized state medical cannabis program. At least forty-six states in the U.S. legalized some form of medical marijuana use. However, the regulations surrounding various factors such as product type and allowable purchase amounts vary by region.
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How It Works
Medical marijuana works for patients like all cannabis plants do: interacting with the user’s endocannabinoid system and influencing various processes involved in maintaining homeostasis. This interplay makes cannabis helpful in treating many qualifying conditions.
Medical marijuana has been shown to be an effective remedy for a variety of health conditions, such as:
- Cachexia/Wasting Syndrome
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Medical marijuana from a legal dispensary has been intentionally cultivated and produced with a medical user in mind. This means that the grower was legally allowed to grow the plant and abided by all state-required lab testing and quality assurance requirements. Plants are consistently clean and reliably safe for human consumption.
Lab test results are included with each medical marijuana batch, which means the end-user has complete visibility into each product’s cannabinoid levels — including CBD, terpenes, and THC content — and knows exactly what to expect in their medicine. Purchasing medical marijuana is also entirely legal within states with functioning medical programs and affords patients all the protections therein.
Risks and Drawbacks
Regulated marijuana can sometimes be more expensive than street marijuana due to taxes. In some states, too, there are a limited number of dispensaries and product purchasing limits, making it inconvenient or even near-impossible to acquire medical marijuana for some individuals managing a severe condition. States also have different testing requirements, with some being laxer than others.
If you don’t have a qualifying condition as listed in your state’s medical program, too, you may not be able to receive a medical marijuana recommendation. Some state application processes for a card may be cost-prohibitive for some, though a few states have cost reduction grants for low-income patients.
What Is Street Marijuana?
Street marijuana – as its name suggests – is cannabis sold by dealers or growers on the illicit market (also called the black market). Typically, it’s associated with states where cannabis for medicinal purposes is illegal. Still, black markets also thrive in places like California or Colorado with legal adult-use programs, where taxes are high, and access to medical marijuana dispensaries is limited.
How It Works
Street marijuana works the same as medical marijuana in the body, operating on the endocannabinoid system to interact with various physical and psychological processes.
However, due to its illegality, street weed isn’t necessarily held to the same standards as medical marijuana. It may have much lower cannabinoid content and overall quality than legal cannabis. It may have been grown with pesticides, heavy metals, or otherwise contain harmful components that aren’t allowed in legally grown marijuana.
People often turn to street marijuana when there’s no legal or affordable path to legalized cannabis. In states without a medical program or where cannabis costs too much to sustain medicinal use, individuals use street marijuana to help with the following conditions, among others:
- Cachexia (Wasting Syndrome)
- Chronic Pain
- Multiple sclerosis
They also use street marijuana for the general feeling they get when using it.
Occasionally, one can get lucky with street marijuana. High-quality growers who can’t afford to start legal operations can still produce cannabis with high cannabinoid and terpene content in clean conditions. You can purchase street marijuana without a medical marijuana card, which makes it easier to access if you live in a state without a program. And due to the lack of taxes, street weed is significantly cheaper than medical marijuana in many places.
Risks and Drawbacks
There is no guarantee of quality when it comes to street cannabis, with even its cannabinoid content ending up a hit or miss. Street marijuana is hardly ever tested, so users don’t know if their weed contains pesticides, heavy metals, or other contaminants.
Further, street cannabis is illegal. If you’re not a medical marijuana patient – with all the protections that status affords – you can go to jail and face severe fines depending on where you live. Street marijuana may even be expensive, depending on where you live, eliminating the potential benefits of affordability.
Similarities and Differences
Both medical marijuana and street weed are cannabis. They both operate within the body by affecting the endocannabinoid system and provide many of the same health benefits. They are available in many of the same consumption methods, with flowers, edibles, concentrates, topicals and tinctures all able to be purchased on the legal and black market.
The most significant differences are quality assurance, cost, and legality. Medical marijuana may be more expensive than street marijuana, but that’s partly because of the strict lab testing requirements and quality control procedures they must follow, per their state’s laws.
With medical marijuana, you don’t risk running afoul of the law for illegal possession of cannabis. Marijuana is still federally illegal, and products purchased, possessed, or consumed outside of a state’s regulations can be prosecuted as unlawful at both the state and federal levels.
The Bottom Line
It’s strongly advised to stick to medical marijuana when sourcing your weed. You can rest assured that the cannabis comes from fully licensed and compliant sources, and lab testing means you know what’s in it. While medical cannabis can be more expensive, you don’t have to worry about consuming anything dangerous – saving a few bucks with street marijuana isn’t worth risking your health.
If you’re ready to start your journey, sign up to get a medical marijuana card online with Leafwell.
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