Medical marijuana may be a controversial issue among politicians, but doctors overwhelmingly agree that it can be beneficial for patients, according to a new survey in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The survey finds that 76 percent of doctors in the U.S. and 78 percent of doctors internationally would personally prescribe medical marijuana to a fictional 68-year-old woman with deteriorating cancer.
In commentary published along with the survey, researchers explained the reasoning that most respondents provided for their support of medicinal cannabis. “Many [respondents] pointed out the known dangers of prescription narcotics, supported patient choice, or described personal experience with patients who benefited from the use of marijuana,” wrote the authors. Studies have shown that medical marijuana can relieve pain, ease nausea, and promote appetite, making it a promising treatment option for Americans with painful or chronic medical conditions such as cancer.
Not all surveyed physicians agreed with that assessment. Doctors opposed to prescribing medical marijuana cited “the lack of evidence [of effectiveness], the lack of provenance, inconsistency of dosage, and concern about side effects, including psychosis.” Many were also concerned that they didn’t know where the supply would be coming from, and therefore couldn’t assess its safety.
Doctors’ concerns over supply safety could be more easily addressed if the federal government didn’t make it so difficult for legal dispensaries to produce and distribute their product, thus encouraging underground practices. Although medical marijuana is legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia, dispensary owners and users alike face a hazy legal landscape. Federal officials bar dispensary owners from writing off business-related expenses to the IRS, opening business-related bank accounts, and often blacklist them from even using credit cards.
Patients are also negatively affected by medical marijuana’s patchwork legality and the federal government’s generally anti-marijuana posture. Research into marijuana’s effectiveness in treating PTSD — which 30 percent of American veterans suffer from — has been blocked in the U.S., despite Israeli research suggesting that it might be an effective course of treatment.
Patient advocacy organizations and doctors’ groups such as the American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians have called on the government to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I controlled substance in order to facilitate more research into the drug’s effectiveness. Even government organizations such as the National Cancer Institute, which is under the National Institutes of Health, have found that using cannabis may have health benefits, including the potential to fight breast and colorectal cancer.
Taking the drug is expensive for patients, too, because legal medical marijuana users are forced to dole out hundreds of dollars out-of-pocket for their medication since insurance companies don’t cover it. In California, where medical cannabis has been legal for over 15 years, organ transplant patients have been kicked off the waiting list due to their medical marijuana use.
Support for medical marijuana use — and legalized marijuana in general — isn’t limited to the doctors in the New England Journal of Medicine survey. Several new polls have found that a majority of Americans support outright legalization. A Fox News poll from May found that support for prescribing medical marijuana is even higher at 85 percent of American voters — including 91 percent of Democrats, 87 percent of Independents, and 80 percent of Republicans.