Recent research into medical cannabis led me to a website operated by a nonprofit known as Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM). The nonprofit claims to be dedicated to the idea of preventing a repeat of Big Tobacco with commercialized cannabis.

The group is somewhat of an enigma. On the one hand, they seem to be in favor of responsible medical use. On the other hand, they are very much against Big Cannabis and the influence corporate money has had on the cannabis question.

On their website’s Science page, SAM lists what they consider a number of medical cannabis myths. They go on to dispel those myths with scientific fact and references to research backing up said facts. One of the myths they dispel is the idea that cannabis is a medicine. It is not. That being the case, what is medical cannabis then?

A Plant Recommended for Medicinal Use

Medical cannabis is a plant. It is a plant recommended for medicinal use. The only thing that makes it different from recreational marijuana is the term applied. At least that is the case for most instances of medical cannabis. There are some caveats.

Cannabis is a plant with numerous varieties. Marijuana is one such variety while hemp is another. The only difference between marijuana and hemp is the amount of THC a plant contains. By law, a cannabis plant with more than 0.3% THC is classified is marijuana. Anything with lesser amounts is hemp.

Whether a person references medical cannabis or recreational marijuana, both are referring to marijuana most of the time. There is one exception: hemp from which CBD is derived.

It’s the Cannabinoids

I mention CBD because it is a cannabinoid believed to have limited medical benefits. When it comes to medical cannabis, it is really not the plant people are after. It’s the cannabinoids and terpenes the plant contains. Let us talk about medical cannabis patients in Utah as an example.

The operators of Brigham City’s Beehive Farmacy say patients purchasing medical cannabis to treat pain are mostly after THC. But in the Beehive State, patients are not allowed to smoke marijuana. Instead, they get their THC from vapes, edibles, pills and capsules, and tinctures.

This is the point that SAM is trying to make on its website. The organization likens medical cannabis to opium. We derive morphine from opium. Morphine is a prescription medication and a controlled substance. Therefore, if THC really does help relieve persistent pain, it ought to be made available as a prescription medication just like morphine.

Rescheduling Should Help

SAM makes a particularly good point with the morphine comparison. To date, however, drugmakers have been up against federal law. Because cannabis is considered a Schedule I controlled substance, they have been unable to create effective THC drugs for pain relief. The lack of prescription THC has paved the way for the current medical cannabis phenomenon.

Things are likely to change thanks to the federal government’s recent decision to reschedule cannabis. It should be moved to Schedule III before the end of the year. That should open the door to legitimate prescription medications relying on THC as the main active ingredient.

Meanwhile, it really is important to the discussion to acknowledge that medical cannabis is not a medicine. It is a plant with medicinal benefits rooted in its cannabinoids and terpenes. If the medical benefits the plant offers are truly what we desire, then we need to treat compounds like THC and CBD like other legitimate drugs. Then we can start talking about recreational marijuana for what it really is.