New Study: Doctors Don’t See Cause For Alarm In Cannabis Use
There’s no need to worry about opening up to your doctor about your cannabis use anymore.
According to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), doctors aren’t really worried about their patients’ cannabis use. The researchers analyzed the feedback from 20,000 primary-care physicians who were presented with 9 patient behaviors including cannabis use, obesity, alcohol use, and tobacco use among others. The physicians were asked to rate how problematic these behaviors are using a scale of 1-10. The objective of the study was to weed out differences in doctors attitudes depending on which the political party they root for.
Out of the 9 behaviors presented to them, doctors considered cannabis use as the least cause for concern while tobacco and alcohol use as well as obesity were more worrisome for them. The results of the study is consistent with an essay written in the Scientific American, which attempted to analyze the reasons why the DEA still classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug. The article, written by physician Nathaniel Morris, echoed the sentiment of the medical community that there is no reason to worry about weed. “We don't see cannabis overdoses,” says Morris in the paper. ““We don't order scans for cannabis-related brain abscesses. We don't treat cannabis-induced heart attacks.”
“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 life-threatening,” Morris adds.
There’s more evidence now, thanks to research, that marijuana isn’t the dangerous substance that the feds deem it to be. In fact, a New Zealand study that was released earlier this year showed that the only possible side effect of consuming too much pot was periodontal disease, which could be prevented.
Surveys show that most doctors won’t have a problem approving the use of medical marijuana, and some have even taken actions to support it. Just this year the Doctors for Cannabis Reform was launched to help in the battle for legalization. The California Doctors Association is also supportive of legalizing recreational cannabis in the upcoming elections. However, it’s the medical organizations that are still hazy when it comes to cannabis reform. The American Medical Association has always opposed legalizing the drug.
What’s interesting though is how doctors’ political affiliations affected their view on cannabis. They found that Republican doctors thought that marijuana was a much more pressing issue compared to Democratic doctors. The study says, ““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 differences were also observed in other behaviors: Republican doctors were much more concerned about abortions compared to Democrats, while Democratic doctors thought that guns at home are more serious compared to the opinions of their Republican counterparts.
According to an interview with Vox, Eitan Hersh, the study’s lead researcher, suggested that because a doctor’s political affiliations will affect the kind of care people get, patients should easily be able to find out what a doctor’s political affiliation is with the same transparency that they can easily find out what school their doctor attended. "Right now when you try to look up a doctor, it tells you where they went to medical school, because there is a belief that you’re going to get different quality [of] care depending on where someone went to school," Hersh says. “If what we’ve found is right, Democrats and Republicans treat patients differently and patients should absolutely be able to figure that out."
If you know that your doctor is less likely to support cannabis as a medicine, clearly this would affect the way you choose your healthcare provider. This problem has pushed advocacy groups to develop tools that enable patients to find doctors who share the same beliefs. One of these includes the online database created by the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The National Abortion Federation also has an online service so that patients can find doctors in the group.
Hersh had a difficult time getting funding for this study, so he funded it himself. But now that the results are out, he hopes that more people begin discussing the impacts of political biases on how doctors make medical decisions, or just to let physicians be aware that their own personal beliefs can affect the quality of care their patients are getting.