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Medical Vs. Medicinal

October 17, 2018

In many countries, the legalization of marijuana has been a hot topic for quite some time. The legalization comes into effect today in Canada (Oct 17, 2018). You can read all about it in our Mini‑Debates lesson on Legalizing Marijuana. This lesson presents the issues from both sides, and it should make for some interesting discussions and debates among your students.

an overview of the pages of our Legalizing Marijuana lesson

Two terms that keep coming up with this subject are medical and medicinal. It is common to hear both medical marijuana and medicinal marijuana. Are these two terms interchangeable? Is there a difference in meaning? Since your students are bound to ask about these terms if you’re discussing or debating this issue in class, we decided to focus on this timely topic today.


The term medical is used when something has to do with medicine or the field of medicine. Medical can often be heard when discussing locations, drugs, or practices involving hospitals, doctors, and pharmacies.

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines medical as:

1 : of, relating to, or concerned with physicians or the practice of medicine (e.g., a medical journal)

2 : requiring or devoted to medical treatment (e.g., a medical problem)

When discussing cannabis, medical marijuana is commonly heard because many countries permit its use for medical purposes (e.g., as a pain reliever). In Canada, the regulation on access to cannabis for medical purposes was established by Health Canada in July 2001. As of October 17, 2018, the Cannabis Act makes marijuana legal for recreational as well as medical use.


The term medicinal is mainly used to describe the beneficial effects or a drug or herb. For example, the peppermint plant has well‑known medicinal properties that may help relieve nausea and muscle spasms.

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines medicinal as:

1 : tending or used to cure disease or relieve pain (e.g., the plant's medicinal properties)

The term medicinal is heard when discussing cannabis mainly when people are describing how it beneficially affects people’s health. For example, the medicinal properties of the THC compound in marijuana include relieving nausea, decreasing pain, and increasing the appetite. (For some people, though, the medicinal properties of marijuana do not outweigh the health risks, and thus the debate continues in many countries.)


The best term to use when discussing marijuana use is medical, not medicinal. However, there is some overlap. For example, there might be a discussion of the medicinal properties of the marijuana plant (i.e., the health benefits of cannabis). When referring to how it’s used by people, though, it’s best to stick to the term medical marijuana (i.e., medical vs. recreational use).


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