Though they’ve been reluctant to admit it, a survey finds that a majority of doctors in the U.S. do, in fact, support medical marijuana legalization.

Katie Rucke, MintPress News

A new survey by WebMD/Medscape found that about 70 percent of physicians in the United States believe that medical marijuana should be legalized and that marijuana has therapeutic qualities.

For this survey, WebMD’s website for those who work in the health industry surveyed 1,544 doctors at a time when medical marijuana is legal in more than 20 states and Washington, D.C., and there is proposed medicinal legalization legislation in about 10 other states.

The doctors surveyed included physicians from 12 different specialties who lived in 48 different states — some with medical marijuana legalization bills in effect or being discussed, some with none at all — yet the majority opinion — 69 percent — was that marijuana can help with certain treatments and conditions.

About 67 percent said medical marijuana should be an option for patients, and 56 percent of the doctors surveyed supported legalizing medical marijuana at a federal level or nationwide.

Though support for medical marijuana’s legalization continues to grow among health care professionals, support for the personal use of marijuana is not quite as high yet, as doctors are not exactly sure how marijuana use can affect an individual in the long term.

A lot of the unknowns about marijuana use are a direct result of marijuana’s federal designation as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. This particular classification doesn’t recognize medicinal benefits, which is why the feds have largely blocked researchers from studying the substance.

“The medical community is clearly saying they support using marijuana as a potential treatment option for any number of medical problems,” said WebMD Chief Medical Editor Michael W. Smith, M.D. “In fact, many doctors already prescribe it. But health professionals are still unclear as to what the long-term effects may be.”

Smith said the findings of the survey appear to indicate that American health professionals have a “strong desire” for the Drug Enforcement Administration to “ease the restrictions on research so that additional studies can be done to conclusively show where medical marijuana can help and where it might not.”

Of those doctors who supported medical marijuana legalization, the majority — 82 percent —  were oncologists and hematologists, or health care professionals who believe medical marijuana can be used to ease cancer pain and nausea related to chemotherapy and to stimulate an appetite.

The medical specialists showing the least support for medical marijuana legalization were rheumatologists, but even a majority of those doctors supported medical marijuana legalization, with about 54 percent recognizing marijuana’s therapeutic benefits. It is believed that marijuana may be able to help those with arthritis pain and inflammation, but this use is one of the lesser-discussed and lesser-known medicinal benefits of the drug.

“One of the most documented uses of medical marijuana is in the treatment of pain,” Smith said. “Medical marijuana may be a better painkiller than narcotic painkillers, like oxycodone, with less potential for addiction. More research will help us better understand how best to use medical marijuana in the treatment of many conditions that cause chronic pain.”

Though not all doctors agree that medical marijuana is a safe option for patients, the doctors’ overwhelming support for legalizing medical marijuana is a positive sign for medical marijuana advocates who have long argued that fear of retaliation has kept more medical professionals from openly endorsing the drug.

Talking to MintPress News last November, Kris Hermes, media liaison for the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, explained that many doctors fear retaliation from the federal government if they recommend marijuana because the DEA is the agency responsible for determining whether a doctor can be licensed to prescribe medicine.

“Whether it’s a misperception or not, which we think it is,” Hermes said, many doctors are reluctant to recommend medical marijuana out of concern that it could jeopardize their medical license. But doctors are legally protected under the First Amendment to recommend — not prescribe — marijuana to patients, so Hermes said the DEA can’t technically revoke a doctor’s license for recommending that a patient use medical marijuana.

Although fear of losing one’s license hasn’t kept all doctors from speaking out in favor of medical marijuana use, Hermes said those who have recommended the substance were negatively branded by the feds as “pot docs” in an attempt to discredit these “specialized” doctors among the greater medical community.

Since a survey in the New England Journal of Medicine last June found that about 76 percent of doctors around the world support medical marijuana use, and 75 percent of North America-based physicians would describe the drug, it seems like the war on drugs is failing in the medical world.

As Dr. J. Michael Bostwick, a professor of psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., explained on his survey response, even if there isn’t a guarantee that marijuana will cure a patient, a doctor should be able to prescribe medical marijuana if he or she thinks it could help a patient.

“There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that this is something we should study more. Forgive the pun, but there’s probably some fire where there’s smoke, and we should investigate the medicinal use of marijuana or its components,” Bostwick said.