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medical marijuana vs street marijuana

Medical Marijuana vs Street Marijuana: What’s the Difference?

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Richard E. Greer, BS, PharmD, RPh

As medical marijuana continues to gain acceptance in Pennsylvania and across the nation, more information on medical marijuana vs street marijuana continues to arise. With more information and widespread acceptance, there are also more studies and even some potential risks arising, such as the vaping health risks that were announced this past fall. Understanding the differences in medical marijuana vs street marijuana will help you make safe choices when it comes to treating your PA medical marijuana approved conditions.

There is great insight gained from industry pioneers and professionals. In fact, we got a lot of our research from Michael Backes, author of Cannabis Pharmacy: The Practical Guide to Medical Marijuana and founder of the first evidence-based dispensary in the United States in 2007. You can watch our video to hear directly from Backes on the differences between medical marijuana vs street marijuana.

3 Important Differences in Medical Marijuana vs Street Marijuana


When buying street marijuana, there is no guarantee that what you’re buying is pure. In fact, you might not know anything at all about the product including what is in it, where it came from, and more. On the other hand, medical marijuana is highly regulated by the state. These regulations are in effect from when the medical marijuana is first planted and throughout the entire growing process, to when it is available to patients in dispensaries.

In each state’s medical marijuana program, the state sets medical marijuana testing standards that growers/processors have to follow. Independent lab testing throughout the growing/processing phase ensures that the medical marijuana provided to dispensaries has gone through rigorous quality testing.

Medical marijuana growers are required to only use pesticides that are approved by the Department of Agriculture and maintain records of any fertilizer and growth additives used. They are also required to perform consistent inspections throughout the growing process to check for mold, mildew, and pests that deem the plant unusable. Regulations require growers to have practices and equipment in place that monitor and regulate the temperature, lighting, humidity, water supply, and ventilation of the plants. To make sure that the regulations have been followed and the product is pure, medical marijuana is lab tested multiple times before it is approved for patients.


When we say characterization, we mean the cannabinoid content present in medical marijuana vs street marijuana. The two most commonly known cannabinoids that are tested for are THC and CBD.  Being able to identify the amount of THC and CBD present in medical marijuana allows your PA medical marijuana pharmacists and Patient Care Consultants (PCC) to work with you to create an individualized treatment plan. The THC and CBD content are monitored and logged to guarantee the right dosage for your approved condition. Understanding the THC and CBD content can also help you reap the benefits of medical marijuana that are best suited to treat your condition.

Why are cannabinoids important? Cannabinoids work with the endocannabinoid system by mirroring compounds naturally produced by our bodies. While this is a complex system, simply put, endocannabinoids mediate communication between cells. So, if there is a deficiency or problem with the system, complications and inconvenient symptoms can crop up. Cannabinoids like THC and CBD can help our bodies maintain stability and health and alleviate physical and mental symptoms.

On the other hand, you may not know how much CBD, THC, or other cannabinoids are in street marijuana. In fact, street marijuana has no guarantee that its components are even beneficial to your specific condition or treatment levels and preferences.


One of the most obvious differences in medical marijuana vs street marijuana is that medical marijuana is legal in PA for those who have a valid PA medical marijuana ID card. Medical marijuana was approved in Pennsylvania in April of 2016. The list of approved conditions in PA has grown from 17 to 23 since legalization. The list now includes anxiety disorders, PTSD, and autism, to name a few. While there will continue to be discussion on making recreational marijuana legal, there are currently no laws in the state of Pennsylvania that allow you to buy and/or use cannabis legally without a valid PA medical marijuana ID card.

Understanding the laws regulating the use of medical marijuana vs street marijuana is important not just to avoid charges, but also to protect patients. Stories regarding the dangers of street marijuana are becoming more common in the news. A major concern recently is with products on the black market and the vaping health risks previously mentioned.

Risks are not just present in black market products, but in all street marijuana. There are no regulations and guidelines being enforced to maintain the clarity and characterization of product. With medical marijuana, you will receive products that are grown and processed responsibly and according to state regulations.

As part of the medical marijuana program, you are also given access to trained and licensed professionals at your local PA medical marijuana dispensaries. These professionals understand how medical marijuana, in its different forms, can help your symptoms associated with your approved condition. The licensed pharmacists and PCCs will help you create an individualized treatment plan that evolves with you as you begin to manage your symptoms.

The more feedback patients provide to their dispensaries, physicians, etc. the better your medical marijuana will get. As Michael Backes points out, “It’s really getting this feedback loop going between the patients and their dispensary and their doctor, that will allow us to be more precise in how we use marijuana as a medicine.”

If you have been diagnosed with one of the approved conditions in PA and would like to learn more about medical marijuana, get in touch with us today. If you are a current PA medical marijuana patient, you can visit us at any of our locations or check out our Pennsylvania medical marijuana menus or locate one of our three Pittsburgh dispensary locations in Squirrel Hill, our Cranberry Township dispensary, or our Washington dispensary. If you have additional questions for Solevo Wellness, please check out our FAQ page or follow us on Facebook and direct message our team anytime. We’d love to hear from you!