- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2016

With marijuana legislation on ballots in a record number of states next month, a new study suggests doctors are less concerned with pot’s effect on their patients’ health than obesity, alcohol or depression.

Researchers at Yale University presented a group of 233 primary-care physicians with nine hypothetical patient behaviors, then made the doctors rank them from 1-to-10 in terms of how problematic they perceived each one to be.

Summarizing their findings in a journal article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) this week, the researchers ranked pot use as the least-worrisome among doctors polled.

At the top of that list, physicians said they were equally put off by two hypothetical patient behaviors. The doctors ranked not wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle and engaging in prostitution as the most-worrisome, allocating either a score of 8.4 out of 10.

The doctors ranked, in order, tobacco use, depression, alcohol use, obesity, and the presence of firearms as factors deemed more worrisome than marijuana use. Smoking pot and a history of having abortions placed last on the list with an average score of 5.7 each.

With voters in nine states casting ballots next month on various marijuana measures from coast to coast, the findings further demonstrate a sea change that has seen new pot laws adopted across the U.S. in recent years. More than half of the states in the country have adopted medicinal marijuana programs as of 2016, and Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, Washington state and Washington, D.C. have all implemented laws decriminalizing pot possession during the last couple of years.

The federal government classifies marijuana as highly addictive drug and without medical value, but has avoided intervening in any of the dozens of states where marijuana can be bought for medical and sometimes recreational purposes.

Voters in five states will weigh legalize recreational weed Nov. 8, while voters in four more will consider joining the majority of states with medicinal marijuana programs on the books. As of Wednesday, pro-legalization measures were favored in all five states where they’ll appear on ballots next month, the Washington Post reported.

When it comes to politics, however, the Yale researchers say doctors have different approaches with respect to smoking pot. The study published in PNAS this week was conducted to look for differences in how Democrat and Republican physicians offer guidance on more politicized issues, and the researchers said marijuana was revealed to be among the more polarizing.

“We found that on politicized health issues like abortion or marijuana use, Democratic and Republican doctors are thinking about the issues differently and they’re recommending different kinds of treatment plans,” lead author Eitan Hersh of the Department of Political Science at Yale told Rhode Island Pubic Radio this week.

“On marijuana, the Republican physicians are much more likely to discuss the health risks than the legal risks of marijuana, and urge the patient to stop,” he told WBUR. “The Republican doctors are much more concerned about it, much more likely to say that the patient should stop using marijuana, much more likely to discuss the health and legal risks.”

It’s not clear which party is right or wrong, he added. “It’s just that the differences themselves are fascinating, and they suggest that the care is going to be different on these issues.”

“On the patient side, for patients with immediate health issues that touch on politically sensitive areas — like LGBT health, reproductive health, end-of-life care, medical marijuana — what our study suggests is that they might need to think about who their practitioner is and what kind of care they’re going to get,” he told WBUR.

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