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Doctors Not Worried About Patients’ Marijuana Use, Study Finds

American physicians are not particularly concerned with their patients using marijuana, a new study has found.

The results of a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) indicate that doctors in the United States are not worried about their patients’ marijuana use.

In the study, conducted by Yale University researchers Eitan D. Hersh and Matthew N. Goldenberg, 233 primary-care physicians in 29 states were presented with nine hypothetical patient behaviors and asked to rank each on their danger level using a 10-point scale.

Out of the nine hypothetical behaviors, marijuana use was rated as the least threatening, tied with having previous abortions. Both received an average score of 5.7. The doctors ranked not wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle and having intercourse with sex workers several times a year as the most worrisome behaviors with average scores of 8.4.

Tobacco use (8.2), depression (8.2), alcohol use (7.8), and having firearms in the house (7.4) were other hypothetical circumstances that the doctors ranked as more hazardous and pressing than marijuana use.

The lack of concern physicians were found to have for marijuana use is not surprising, considering that today a majority of doctors recognize the therapeutic effects of medicinal cannabis. A 2014 WedMD/Medscape poll found that nearly 80 percent of doctors believe medical cannabis has tangible benefits and should be legalized. Just earlier this year, a group of physicians came together to officially form the not-for-profit organization Doctors for Cannabis Regulation to help guide the nation’s expansion of recreational marijuana legalization.

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Marijuana use has surged nationwide over recent years. With 25 states passing medical marijuana laws and four legalizing recreational cannabis, today more than 86 percent of Americans live in states that allow some degree of legal marijuana use. A recent Gallup poll found that nearly 33 million American adults currently use marijuana.

The overall objective of the PNAS study was to determine whether the political affiliation of physicians influences what behaviors they consider worrisome. Unbeknownst to the participating physicians, the researchers collected the public records of physicians’ political party affiliation and controlled for geography, patient population, and demographic variables like age, gender, and religiosity.

The study found that a doctor’s political attitudes did affect their level of concern for particular behaviors and that partisan bias could lead to variation in the treatment of a patient.

“On the politicized health issues—and only on such issues—Democratic and Republican physicians differed substantially in their expressed concern and their recommended treatment plan,” the study concluded.

The three politicized health issues – marijuana use, previous abortions, and home firearm storage – did elicit different levels of concern depending on political affiliation.

“Republican [physicians] are more likely to discuss health risks of marijuana [with their patients], urge the patient to cut down, and discuss legal risks,” the study added.

Republican doctors were also found to be more concerned with having had previous abortions than Democratic doctors, while Democratic physicians were more likely to be concerned about guns in the home than Republican physicians.

Learn about the medical research breakthroughs on cannabis’s therapeutic capabilities by visiting our education page.

Post by Eve Ripley

Eve is a writer specializing in cannabis education and editorials related to cannabis industry news.

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