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Medical and non-medical cannabis

​​​​​​​​​​​​Cannabis may be used for medical and non-medical reasons.

Medical cannabis

Medical cannabis is cannabis used for medical reasons. Medical use of cannabis has been legal in Canada since 2001. To use cannabis for medical reasons, you must:

  • have a document from your doctor that gives you permission to use it (Go to Health Canada to learn more.)
  • buy your cannabis from a company that has a licence to sell it in Canada for medical reasons (called a licensed producer) or have approval from Health Canada to grow your own cannabis plants

If you use medical cannabis, it’s important that you only use your own supply. Do not share your cannabis with others or use someone else’s cannabis. Your doctor has given you permission to use medical cannabis for your condition. If you use someone else’s cannabis, it could cause unwanted effects.

What is medical cannabis used for?

Medical cannabis is sometimes used to:

  • manage nausea and pain
  • increase appetite
  • relax muscles
  • help you sleep
  • prevent seizures, muscle spasms, and anxiety
  • lessen inflammation

Even though medical cannabis may be used for many health conditions, research shows it may only help manage a small number of health conditions.

Are there medicines with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD)?

Your doctor may also prescribe medicines with THC and CBD that you get from a pharmacy. You don’t need the same type of permission from your doctor to use these medicines as you do for medical cannabis.

  • Sativex is a medicine that can relieve pain and muscle stiffness. It has both THC and CBD. It is sometimes given to people with advanced cancer or multiple sclerosis. This drug is made with natural THC.
  • Nabilone (Cesamet) is a medicine that helps manage nausea and vomiting in people taking chemotherapy to treat cancer. It may also improve appetite in people who have AIDS. Nabilone has synthetic THC.

Learn more about THC and CBD​.

More information about medical cannabis

If you’re thinking about using cannabis for medical reasons, talk to your doctor. You can also visit the Health Canada medical use of cannabis​ website for more information.

Non-medical cannabis

Non-medical cannabis is the legal, non-prescribed use of cannabis by people over the age of possession (in Alberta, this is 18 or older). Non-medical cannabis has been legal in Canada since October 2018. In Alberta, you can buy non-medical cannabis from a licensed store or online from a legal source.

Current as of: July 25, 2023

Author: Addiction and Mental Health, Alberta Health Services