Recreational vs. Medical Use

In Canada, there are two legal cannabis systems: medical and recreational. How cannabis is accessed depends on the reason for use.

Recreational Use

Getting high is the primary reason for recreational cannabis use, not for the purpose of treating a physical or mental health problem/concern. Adults legally purchase cannabis through licensed on-line and storefront vendors - where adults can access depends on the province or territory. Unlicensed vendors and dealers (black market)  are prohibited by law and should be avoided for legal and safety reasons.


Medical Use

Medical cannabis is used to reduce symptoms associated with a health-related issue. There is evidence cannabinoids are beneficial for: 

  • Certain types of chronic pain relief
  • Nausea associated with chemotherapy
  • Multiple sclerosis-related spasticity, and 
  • Two rare forms of childhood epilepsy

More research is needed to better understand these and other potential medical benefits for which there is insufficient evidence at this time (e.g., CBD for anxiety, schizophrenia, and more). 

In Canada, to obtain legal medical cannabis: 

  • First step is for a patient to meet with their doctor/nurse practitioner to discuss diagnosis and treatment options
  • The second step, if medically authorized by their health care provider, is to have the patient register with a licensed seller to obtain their medical cannabis directly, or apply to Health Canada to grow their own
  • Learn more about how accessing cannabis for medical reasons works

Healthcare providers familiar with cannabis for medical use are best equipped to recommend the right product and dosage to address specific symptoms and minimize risks for impairment if THC is involved.


Anyone using recreational cannabis to manage physical or mental health issues should consult with a medical doctor. Self-medicating is not advised.


Cautions about self-medicating: 

  • Self-diagnosis and self-medication can do more harm than good
  • A proper, professional diagnosis is required prior to treatment
  • There may be other, more effective options your healthcare provider can recommend to help treat or prevent a problem, including drug-free strategies, or other proven effective and safe drugs 
  • Individuals are likely unaware which form, cannabinoid profile, and dose are best to balance effectiveness and safety
  • Cannabis is a drug that could interact with other medicines taken 


If you are self-medicating with cannabis, talk to a health care professional to discuss your reasons and work together to establish the best possible care plan.