Pharmaceutical, Medical and Recreational Cannabis: What’s the Difference?

With Europe experiencing a rapid wave of change in regulation and legislation around cannabis use, it’s important to understand the jargon involved in the different laws being introduced and what this actually means for the citizens of each country affected.

In 2018 alone, The UK, Malta and Portugal all legalised medical cannabis products while Germany, Denmark and The Netherlands issued cultivation licenses and/or planned to introduce tenders for cannabis producers. In the same time period, Ireland and France, despite being more conservative, proposed new cannabis bills or set up committees for the review of the legal status of medical cannabis.

Naturally, with all this change in the political landscape of Europe, media coverage and public discourse on the topic of cannabis and cannabis-based medicine is growing. Just as naturally, misconceptions arising from false news coverage and antiquated stigma around cannabis can seem more prevalent too. This makes trying to learn about cannabis without getting involved in heated debate around the topic much harder than it should be.

In this article we’ll be breaking down the fundamental differences between pharmaceutical, medical and recreational cannabis so you can separate the true facts and consequences from the headlines.

Pharmaceutical cannabis

What is it?

Pharmaceutical cannabis strictly refers to products that have: been formulated only with pure cannabinoids (which can be either synthetic or extracted from plants), have been licensed as medicine and been through full clinical trials. These kinds of cannabis products are only accessible through a medical prescription from a licensed doctor.

The landscape

Due to an increased demand for cannabis-based medicines, many EU countries have allowed for medical cannabis treatment programmes to be started using pharmaceutical cannabis products. These pharmaceutical products are favoured by countries such as the UK, Sweden and France based on conventional medical opinion although multiple patient advocacy groups in these countries and elsewhere in Europe have been campaigning for the legalisation of cannabis flowers for medical purposes also. In other EU countries however, like Germany, The Netherlands and Italy, medical cannabis treatments mainly involve the use of cannabis flowers.

The pricing of pharmaceutical cannabis products is an area of concern that should be noted. While pharmaceutical products like Epidiolex and Sativex seem poised to enter the European market, concerns over their high prices at present mean that the pharmaceutical cannabis market could lose its share as medical cannabis flowers may become favoured due to their lower prices.

Regardless of what method is eventually adopted in Europe, licensing for the prescription and production of pharmaceutical cannabis will likely be strict.

Medical cannabis

What is it?

Medical cannabis is the term used for plant derived or based cannabis products that are prescribed by medical practitioners. Medical cannabis products can come in many forms, for example as tinctures, oils, edibles or capsules. Medical cannabis is already legal in many countries across Europe and it is hoped this wave of legalisation will continue.

The landscape

One of the most notable events that has recently occurred in regard to medical cannabis was the UK’s approval of physician prescription writing in November of 2018. This occurred following Germany’s lead as the first legal and regulated medical cannabis market in Europe.

Recreational cannabis:

What is it?

Recreational cannabis is defined as any cannabis used for non-medical purposes. Throughout Europe, recreational cannabis is mostly illegal.

The landscape

Despite it being mostly illegal across Europe, there seems to be promise that recreational cannabis could be legalised in many areas in upcoming years. While Portugal decriminalised cannabis back in 2001, Germany, Greece, Croatia, Switzerland and Spain have all made gradual steps towards decriminalisation by reducing punishments for cannabis possession from more severe penalties like prison sentences to fines or rehabilitation treatments.

Further investigation and research into medicinal cannabis and alternative medical options is thoroughly encouraged by The Academy, particularly through the use of our own online coursesevidence base and whitepapers.

The rest of our resources are available on our website. We urge anyone considering use of medical cannabis products to consult with a trained medical professional prior to beginning use.

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