Medical vs Recreational Cultivation

4 Crucial Differences Between Recreational and Medical Cannabis Cultivation

By Katharine Hargreaves, AROYA Contributor

As the cannabis industry garners further mainstream acceptance and evolves into a more consistently regulated market, many commercial growers are moving towards modern horticultural practices and quality control in order to produce safe, consistent, and high-quality cannabis.

Medical-grade cannabis must meet, in general, more stringent standards for quality, content, and consistency. In this sector, cultivating a reliable product is essential. While small-scale and recreational growers can get away with some variation between yields, medical cannabis must consistently comply with regulations and standards to stay on shelves.

Cannabis meant for medical use is closely monitored to ensure that the end product is safe for use by patients. Strict testing of soils, plants, and growing practices is the baseline minimum when it comes to managing medical-grade product. Below you’ll find some of the main considerations for cultivating for medicinal and pharmaceutical applications.


Determining the best strains for medical usage ensures that your product will meet the needs of this particular market. All cannabis contains Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content, yet strains promoting high levels of THC content can occasionally be less effective at remedying specific symptoms (e.g. pain and anxiety) than those with a higher CBD content. Not all strains pack the same punch when it comes to alleviating symptoms and conditions.

Generally, CBD-dominant strains with at least a 10:1 ratio are recommended for these applications, as they have little-to-no intoxicating effects, and are ideal for patients who are working or driving during the day.


While both recreational and medical cannabis undergo the same growing process, there are key distinctions to note when it comes to the cultivation and production of medical grade product. Given that medical cannabis is carefully monitored, strictly regulated, and ultimately must be safe for patients, many industrial pesticides are legally prohibited, and failure to comply can keep your product off shelves. Exposure to pesticides, especially through inhalation, can result in adverse health outcomes in patients.

At this time, there are no federal regulations in place regarding the standardization of cannabis as a pharmaceutical. Because there’s limited data on determined residue limits for inhalable products, many states have imposed limits on pesticide residue rather than outright bans, although this is not always well monitored.

In certain conditions a medical-grade grower might still be able to use some form of pesticide. Because no pesticides have been registered for use on cannabis, the general rule of thumb is that a pesticide product can be legally applied to cannabis under state law if the active ingredient is exempt from residue tolerance requirements and registered for a use broad enough to include cannabis. Pesticides that meet this criteria include sulfur and neem, which are commonly used in organic agricultural practices.

Standardized Operations

Many variables impact the quality and consistency of medical grade product. Just like corn or wheat, cannabis benefits from controlled growing conditions in order to ensure high, consistent yields. Medical growers are much more likely to guarantee quality product when they can control the environment, monitor all variables, and standardize their operations.

Thanks to decades of modern agricultural techniques and soil science, commercial growers can translate existing practices and expertise into more efficient production conditions. Maintaining complete control of the environment keeps crops free from germs, fungi, parasites, and other microscopic organisms that might cause illnesses or side-effects in medical consumers. Indoor operations where variables such as light, air, temperature, and soil can be closely monitored and rigorously controlled is just the starting point.

Learn Your Laws

Becoming a profitable medical marijuana operation isn’t just about growing and processing the highest-quality plant product. As the regulatory environment evolves and the market opens up, it’s essential that medical growers stay on top of the laws guarding every point along the path to distribution. Obtaining and maintaining permits are obvious steps, and just the beginning.

Compliance also requires plant testing, tagging, tracking, and activity logging. We recommend integrated compliance with a cannabis production platform. Be sure to check your state and local laws straight from the source. Doing your homework before you get started will help you succeed in the long term.

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