The Grapevine

Health Benefits Of Marijuana Unproven But Still Believed By Many Americans

A new survey revealed that many Americans view marijuana favorably but seem to associate it with more health benefits than existing scientific evidence can support.

The study titled "Risks and Benefits of Marijuana Use: A National Survey of U.S. Adults" was published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine on July 23.

"The American public has a much more favorable point of view than is warranted by the evidence," said lead author, Dr. Salomeh Keyhani, a professor of general internal medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. "They believe things that we have no data for."

A nationally representative sample of over 9,000 participants answered the survey which presented questions regarding the risks and benefits of marijuana use.

Overall, 81 percent of the respondents believed that marijuana offered at least one benefit. Most respondents named pain management, followed by the treatment of epilepsy, and relief from anxiety, stress, and depression.

While research has shown that it can be helpful in easing symptoms such as seizures in children with epilepsy or vomiting in patients undergoing chemotherapy, Keyhani stated that marijuana is not the miracle cure it is perceived to be. For instance, one recent study failed to find evidence that it could reduce chronic pain.

"Perhaps most concerning is that they think that it prevents health problems," she added. Approximately, a third of respondents believed that edible marijuana could prevent health problems or that smoking or vaping marijuana had a protective effect. These beliefs had no scientific basis, which sparked concern among the researchers.

While a vast majority (91 percent) believed that marijuana use carried at least one risk, most respondents listed legal problems as the biggest concern instead of health risks like addiction and impaired memory.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), marijuana is a schedule I drug which means that it has a high potential for abuse. While 76 percent of respondents were aware of the potential, around 23 percent did not believe it to have any such risk.

Such incorrect perceptions may be attributed to the commercialization of marijuana, which has progressed rapidly despite scientists facing difficulties in studying the effects of the restricted drug. 

"We want to do more studies, but we can’t do a darn thing if the federal government handcuffs us," said Dr. Timothy Fong, a professor of addiction psychiatry at the University of California. As a result, he felt that public perception is largely influenced by pop culture, celebrities, and social media.

The bottom line, according to Keyhani, was the absence of solid evidence for the vast majority of benefits people believed in. And since there is not enough data on the risks and dangers, people have turned to biased marketing efforts and assumed it to be safe.