Pubdate: Mon, 10 Oct 2016
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)
Copyright: 2016 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Christopher Ingraham


Doctors in the United States are not terribly concerned about your
marijuana use, according to a study published recently in the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Researchers presented a representative sample of 233 primary-care
physicians with nine hypothetical patient behaviors -- tobacco use,
alcohol use, obesity, etc. -- and asked them how much of a problem
they thought these behaviors were on a 10-point scale. Their goal was
to suss out differences in doctors' attitudes and treatment behaviors
based on their political affiliation.

Among the nine behaviors, doctors rated marijuana use as the
least-worrisome behavior, tied with abortion as an area of concern. By
contrast, doctors rated not wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle
and having intercourse with sex workers several times a year as the
most problematic behaviors on the list.

The doctors rated alcohol use, tobacco use and obesity as
significantly more pressing issues, health-wise, than marijuana use.

The findings add some empirical heft to a Scientific American essay
written by physician Nathaniel Morris, in which he argued that "for
most health care providers, marijuana is an afterthought. ... In
medicine, marijuana use is often seen on par with tobacco or caffeine
consumption -- something we counsel patients about stopping or
limiting, but nothing urgent to treat or immediately

Although polls show that significant majorities of doctors approve of
medical marijuana use, most mainstream medical organizations have been
cautious when it comes to changes in marijuana policy. The American
Medical Association opposes marijuana legalization, for instance.

But as more states liberalize their marijuana policies, some doctors'
groups are adopting an official pro-legalization stance. The
California Medical Association supports the ballot measure that would
legalize the recreational use of marijuana there. Earlier this year, a
group of physicians calling themselves Doctors for Cannabis Regulation
formed with the explicit goal of supporting marijuana legalization on
public health grounds.

As for the political distinction that was the reason these questions
were posed in the first place, the PNAS study found that marijuana use
was one of the more polarizing topics among the doctors they surveyed.
Republican doctors were, on average, much more concerned about
marijuana use than their Democratic colleagues.

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

The doctors were also polarized over the relative seriousness of
previous abortions (Republican doctors more concerned) and of the
presence of guns in the home (Democratic doctors more concerned).

Overall, doctors' mild concern about marijuana use is not terribly
surprising, given what the research shows about the health risks of
marijuana use relative to the use of other common drugs, such as
alcohol and tobacco.

Public health-wise, most researchers aren't worried about marijuana
use per se, but rather heavy marijuana use -- the people who use
marijuana daily, or multiple times a day. Those people are at a
greatest risk for dependency and various health problems associated
with heavy use -- even if those problems don't appear to be as severe
as the debilitating conditions associated with long-term heavy tobacco
or alcohol use.
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MAP posted-by: Matt