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Are Most Adult Cannabis Consumers Actually Medical Users?

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Are Most Adult Cannabis Consumers Actually Medical Users?
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A major distinction has arisen within the ever-expanding community of cannabis producers, retailers, consumers and patients: are you a recreational user or a medical user?

The adult use versus medical dilemma is seemingly the most basic question: “Why do I want to use this drug?”

Market trends and state regulations have trained consumers to think of their answer in binary terms.

The Rec. Vs Medical Conundrum

Medical consumption is simple to define. A person feels ill, and that pain or discomfort prompts him or her to buy medication for relief.

Medication can affect our symptoms, making us feel better, or it can act on the problem’s root cause.

Adult use can be trickier to understand. The “adult use” term is often interchangeable with the term Mrecreational," and — as is the case with most regulatory literature— it's often referred to as “nonmedical consumption."

See Also: Cannabis Experts: Smoking Lounges Sit At Intersection Of Market Demand, Legality

Many professionals and physicians in the cannabis community have reason to believe that a lot of consumption being labeled as “recreational” is in fact medical.

“I believe that a lot of adult-use of cannabis is self-medication," Dr. Sandra Carrillo, a clinician and specialist in cannabis medicine, told Benzinga. "Most adults, in my view, are self-medicating to treat underlying conditions such as anxiety, phobias, stress, chronic pain [and] sleep disorders."

Carrillo said she sees a trend of adults using cannabis to treat sleep disorder and anxiety in lieu of drugs such as Xanax, Valium, Ambien and Wellbutrin.

"I see female patients using cannabis to treat fibromyalgia, migraines and PMS instead of using painkillers.”

What Does 'Recreational' Mean?

Mara Gordon,the co-founder of Aunt Zelda’s and Zelda Therapeutics, said the concept of recreational use shouldn't be dismissed altogether.

Alhough most adult-use purchases are actually used for medical reasons, there is a clear split between medical and recreational use, in Gordon's view: it has to do with the user’s intention and the dose consumed.

“The way in which I differentiate between adult use and medical is the intention behind the use and the effect. Adult use, generally, is to create or enhance an experience.”

The idea is that medical cannabis is a tool to achieve an average sense of health and well-being. If a user is already at that average state and continues to use cannabis, the experience ceases to be medical and becomes recreational.

Medical and recreational uses can coexist for the same consumer, and the fact that the cannabis was bought for recreational purposes does not impede the user from taking advantage of the plant’s medical properties, she said.

“Many people who use cannabis recreationally are actually fulfilling a medical purpose. For example, someone with ADHD who uses cannabis to focus may not consult a medical professional for a specific condition," Gordon said.

"However, they are still self-medicating, just [like] the individual taking an aspirin for a headache without consulting a physician."

The line is determined by when users put the vape down, she said.

"Vaporize for focus, and as soon as it is achieved, stop vaping — [that's] medical. Vaporize for focus and continue until feeling psychoactivity — [that's] recreational.”

Cannabis As A Wellness Product

Longtime cannabis activist and entrepreneur Steve DeAngelo said “recreational cannabis” is a misleading term.

“I don’t believe there’s really any such thing as recreational cannabis. To categorize cannabis as a collective leisure time pursuit is to misunderstand basic human biology," DeAngelo said in a phone interview.

The endocannabinoid system is evidence that people are "hard-wired to consume cannabis," he said.

DeAngelo's proposal: forget the recreational versus medical argument and categorize cannabis as a wellness product.

"That wellness exists across a large spectrum: everything from cancer all the way to acid reflux. But it also includes things that people typically think of as 'just getting high': extending your patience, sparking your creativity, waking up your sense of play, heightening appreciation of nature, encouraging self-examination [and] teaching non-violent ways of resolving conflict."

Cannabis 'Is Safe And Frequently Effective' 

Laws and regulations — such as those requiring adult use or medical designations for retailers — can result in misinformation about cannabis consumption, said Aunt Zelda's Gordon. 

"This has made the data analytics problematic because intention is not being recorded at the time of purchase," she said.

A healthy mix of recreational and medical use exists in the recreational market, said Akerna Corp (NASDAQ: KERN) CEO Jessica Billingsley.

"A sizable number of people purchasing in the recreational market are finding benefits for medical conditions. Unfortunately, the growth of the medical market has been hampered by poor legislation and a limited list of recognized medical conditions by each state.”

As regulation catches up with actual market trends, consumer education is the best tool responsible brands can use to drive informed decisions.

Benzinga's Cannabis Capital Conference heads to Detroit on Aug. 15 — click here to learn more!

Carrillo said consumers should always obtain a doctor's recommendation before self-medicating.

To do so, consumers first need to recognize what need they're meeting with cannabis use.

"The biggest challenges that we face are teaching the patients to use standardized products and reach out to MD’s to obtain proper prescriptions of cannabinoids," she said. "We need to get adult patients into the doctor’s office to calibrate proper dosing [and] to more effectively help patients to manage their conditions while avoiding misuse."

Gordon views self-medication as acceptable as long it's done responsibly.

“Each time a person has a headache, they do not make a doctor’s appointment. Instead, they seek out well-known options for care — aspirin, NSAID, ibuprofen, etc.," she said. 

"Cannabis fits in beautifully, at lower doses, into the over-the-counter model of health care. It is safe and frequently effective, so why not try it first?  Because the experience can be controlled through education and proper labeling, individuals are empowered to seek care without adding to the expensive burdens of the health care system."

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