Most American doctors want to see weed legalized for medical use, according to a new poll released in early April.
The WebMD/Medscape survey found a majority of U.S. physicians support nationwide adoption of MMJ and believe pot can provide real medical benefits to patients. The poll queried 1,544 doctors across 12 specialties in 48 states.
Most of the doctors polled said they believe medical weed should be legal in their states, saying it should be a choice for patients.
Twenty-one states currently allow medical marijuana; two of those have legalized recreational weed as well. Another 10 states are considering MMJ legislation, though success is more likely in some states than others.
Gauging the opinion of the medical community on medical pot can be tricky. Little empirical evidence exists to support its use as medicine because the federal government blocks research into the drug’s medicinal benefits.
Cannabis is listed as a Schedule 1 drug under federal law, and scientists must win three separate approvals to study it: one from the DEA, another from the FDA, and a third from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Researchers have been able to win a green light from the FDA and the DEA, but NIDA exists largely to block marijuana studies. That agency controls access to the only weed that can be used in government-approved studies, and it has rejected almost every study into pot’s benefits.
Without statistics to demonstrate weed’s medical qualities, doctors and other scientists have had to rely on anecdotal evidence from across the country: stories of lives improved, even saved, by medical cannabis.
Those stories have been powerful and numerous. Many physicians, even those who practice in states where MMJ isn’t legal, have seen first hand the ways marijuana can help some of their patients. And general attitudes toward pot use are changing in the medical community just as they’re changing in society as a whole.
Support for medical pot was strong among the doctors polled. Nearly 70 percent said MMJ could help with certain treatments and conditions. Sixty-seven percent said it should be a medical option.
Asked whether medical marijuana should be legal nationwide, 56 percent said yes, while 50 percent of those who practice in states where it isn’t legal said it should be. The result was 52 percent for those who practice in states currently considering MMJ.
“The medical community is clearly saying they support using marijuana as a potential treatment option for any number of medical problems,” said Dr. Michael W. Smith, chief medical editor at WebMD. “In fact, many doctors already prescribe it. But health professionals are still unclear as to what the long-term effects may be. The findings would indicate a strong desire to have the DEA ease the restriction on research so that additional studies can be done to conclusively show where medical marijuana can help and where it might not.”
Oncologists and hematologists were the doctors most likely to support medical pot in the poll. These doctors treat cancer and blood diseases, which can lead to some of the symptoms weed is most often used to treat. Eight-two percent of these specialists said cannabis delivers real benefits, while the same percentage said it should be an option for patients.
Rheumatologists came in last in terms of their support: 54 percent said the drug delivers benefits. Weed is sometimes used to treat arthritis pain and inflammation.
Neurologists said they see the largest number of patients asking for MMJ; oncologists and hematologists came in second and ophthalmologists third. Neurologists see many patients with multiple sclerosis and seizure disorders that can be treated with marijuana, while ophthalmologists treat patients suffering from glaucoma, also a condition treated with cannabis.
Doctors may be supportive of medicinal weed, but that’s as far as most of them will go, at least on the national level. Asked whether they favored nationwide legalization, most said no.