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Legalize Medical Marijuana, Doctors Say in Survey

By R. Scott Rappold
WebMD Health News

April 2, 2014 -- A majority of doctors say that medical marijuana should be legalized nationally and that it can deliver real benefits to patients, a new survey by WebMD/Medscape finds.

WebMD’s web site for health professionals surveyed 1,544 doctors as more than 10 states consider bills to legalize medical marijuana. It is already legal in 21 states and Washington, DC. 

The survey found solid support for those legalization efforts, with most doctors saying medical marijuana should be legal in their states. They agreed that medical marijuana should be an option for patients. The survey included doctors from more than 12 specialties and 48 states.

Marijuana's Perceived Health Benefits

Solid data on marijuana’s health benefits are lacking. Research has been limited because the federal government has designated marijuana as a “Schedule I” substance, a designation used for the most dangerous drugs having “no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse.”

But as state after state legalizes marijuana, doctors have gained nearly 2 decades of anecdotal evidence about its effects. Dramatic stories about families moving to Colorado for a special strain of marijuana to treat their children’s seizure disorders have led to stronger calls for research.

The Epilepsy Foundation recently called on the Drug Enforcement Administration to relax its restrictions on marijuana so that it can be properly studied, as did two prominent epilepsy researchers in a recent New York Times op-ed.

 “The medical community is clearly saying they support using marijuana as a potential treatment option for any number of medical problems.  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 restrictions on research so that additional studies can be done to conclusively show where medical marijuana can help and where it might not,” says WebMD Chief Medical Editor Michael W. Smith, MD.

In addition to seizure disorders, medical marijuana is often used to treat chronic pain from injuries or medical conditions such as cancer, nausea from medication, and multiple sclerosis.

Doctors' Responses

Here’s a look at the survey numbers for doctors asked about medical marijuana:

  • 69% say it can help with certain treatments and conditions.
  • 67% say it should be a medical option for patients.
  • 56% support making it legal nationwide.
  • 50% of doctors in states where it is not legal say it should be legal in their states.
  • 52% of doctors in states considering new laws say it should be legal in their states.

The difference in support between doctors who say it should be a medical option for patients vs. those who support legalization could stem from their views toward national or local control. Also, doctors may prefer that medical marijuana use be driven by FDA guidelines.

Marijuana Poll

Do you think marijuana is safer than alcohol?

View Results