What is the difference, or differences between recreational use of cannabis and the medical use of cannabis? This is probably one of the main issues discussed by those in government that are debating the outcome and ramifications in the topic of legalisation.

Who is, by definition, a medical user? One simplistic definition of a medical user is "Someone that uses cannabis to treat or relieve a medically recognised condition." In this age of the modern scientific approach, the devil is in the defining of something so concisely that the definition excludes further interpretation. The attitude then becomes "Accept this definition for all time", and in the instance of cannabis, this compliance has been difficult for even the governments to accept, let alone the layman.

In Britain, cannabis was medically available until 1971 when the British government did an about-face by deciding to re-define it. Since that time substantial evidence has arisen to indicate that cannabis successfully, and in a positive way effects treatment of many medical conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis, nausea, chronic pain, and asthma. The body of evidence supporting this claim exists and is growing.

If cannabis was unknown recreationally in the western world and discovered in a rain-forest possessing the medical attributes that it is now seen to have, then there would be little question that the world should incorporate it into the pharmacopoeia. The most common administration of cannabis is through smoking it. The main body of scientific evidence against cannabis is commonly related to this form of use. Study upon study has shown that tobacco smoke can cause harm and tobacco has been linked with many medical conditions such as cancer, and high blood pressure. Tobacco has been shown to cause medical conditions, not relieve them, yet tobacco is currently available to anyone 16-years or older in Britain for purchase and use to any degree. But cannabis is not tobacco. Still, the probability exists that inhaling smoke from anything might cause someone harm. However, the use of cannabis vaporisers and inhalers has degraded the position that cannabis use is inherently linked to smoking.

The most commonly reported result of cannabis use is intoxication, or "getting high". In some reports and studies this intoxication has been cited as an undesirable side-effect, yet studies have never been able to determine that this intoxicated feeling is not, in fact, a contribution to the medical value of cannabis. Alcohol use is globally the number one intoxicant. Alcohol addiction is the number one debilitating disease throughout the world, causing more medical conditions, traffic accidents and accidental deaths than all other intoxicating consumables combined. Regardless of this fact, alcohol is available almost universally to any adult and drinking alcohol is considered acceptable as a social and recreational choice, barring religious constraints. But cannabis is certainly not alcoholic.

There has never been a single instance of reported death that was directly caused by cannabis. Psychologists and addiction experts report self-medication to be universal. Animals self-medicate through the digestion of plants and other matter. Human beings are thought to intuitively self-medicate in much the same way as animals. This intuition is believed to be present in the use of cannabis.

The jury is still out on the implications of self-medication through the use of cannabis, but some researchers believe that many, if not most, cannabis users are intuitively medicating themselves for stress and/or depression. This indicates that the line between recreational use and medical use of cannabis is blurred and possibly non-existent. The fact that cannabis is also indicated in the successful treatment of other medical conditions should be recognised as a medical breakthrough.

What is the difference between a medical user of cannabis and a recreational user of cannabis? Scientific and psychological evidence exists to indicate that it is possible that all cannabis users may actually be medical users. In conclusion, perhaps the greatest difference between the medical and recreational user is the awareness of why they are using cannabis in the first place.

Kyle Valleverde

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