According to a survey in the New England Journal of Medicine, 76 percent of doctors around the world say they approve of medical marijuana use.
Hundreds of New York doctors are urging the state’s governor to let them prescribe marijuana, the latest sign that physicians are increasingly in favor of allowing therapeutic use of the drug.
“Denying patients access to a safe, effective medication that can relieve their suffering is cruel and forcing them to break the law is simply wrong,” states a letter signed by 610 doctors from across New York state to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The doctors say they signed the letter because they want to be able to prescribe marijuana for patients that would benefit from the drug.
Dr. Julie Holland, a psychiatrist, told the Albany Times Union she signed the letter because “it’s kind of crazy when my patients have to break the law to get medicine that is less toxic.”
Dr. Mark Pettus, chief of medicine at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, N.Y., agree with Holland, saying “many people can’t tolerate other medications.”
Julie Netherland is the deputy state director for the New York State office of the Drug Policy Alliance. She said the physician-endorsed letter was to be delivered to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week and would give momentum to the medical marijuana legalization movement.
“This changes the situation, if over 600 physicians from every corner of the state (are) saying they want the option of recommending medical marijuana,” she said.
According to a survey that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, it’s not just doctors in New York that would like to be able to prescribe marijuana — about 76 percent of doctors around the world say they approve of medical marijuana use.
The poll, which included responses from 1,446 doctors from 72 different countries, found that 78 percent of doctors outside the U.S. supported the use of marijuana, while about 75 percent of North America-based physicians would prescribe the drug.
Among the U.S. states in which 10 or more physicians responded, all but one registered at least 50 percent in support of medical marijuana. Utah was the exception, with just 1 percent in favor of medical marijuana, while 96 percent of Pennsylvania doctors support using the drug to treat patients.
Lack of medical consensus
Those in favor of medical marijuana often mentioned testimonies of patients that benefited from marijuana and stressed that the decision to use the drug ultimately belongs to the patient.
Dr. J. Michael Bostwick, a professor of psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said that while there are no guarantees that marijuana will cure patients’ ailments, doctors should be able to prescribe it if they think it would help.
“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 commented in his response to the survey.
Others, like Dr. Gary Reisfield, a Florida-based anesthesiologist, say marijuana may do more harm than good, especially for patients with lung conditions since “marijuana smoke irritates the airways.”
“Heavy marijuana use is associated with numerous adverse health and societal outcomes including psychomotor, memory and executive function impairments, marijuana use disorders, other psychiatric conditions such as psychosis, poor school and work performance and impaired driving performance,” he said.
Medical marijuana is currently legal in 19 states and Washington, D.C. Several other states are debating legalization. In November 2012, recreational use of marijuana became legal in Colorado and Washington.
Despite its illegal status at the federal level, marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug among Americans, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It is also thought to have some medical benefits, most notably as a pain reliever. However, the National Institute on Drug Abuse says there is not enough evidence to convince the Food and Drug Administration that marijuana’s medicinal benefits outweigh any risk of harm.
New York next to legalize?
Gov. Cuomo announced earlier this year that he wanted to reform New York’s marijuana laws by decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has also called for a change in the state’s marijuana laws, proposing tickets rather than arrest for those found to be in possession of a small amount of the drug.
As Mint Press News previously reported, neither Cuomo nor Bloomberg were endorsing medical or recreational marijuana legalization, but rather were concerned with the number of hours and financial resources the New York Police Department spent on marijuana.
A report released in March by the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Arrest Research Project found that between 2002 and 2012, the NYPD spent about 1 million hours making 440,000 arrests for low-level marijuana possession charges.
“It’s almost embarrassing to be a New Yorker, to look around, and Connecticut and New Jersey and Vermont and Rhode Island, and Massachusetts and Maine all have legal medical marijuana, and we don’t,” Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said.
Other backers of a state medical marijuana law include New York State Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried, New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm and State Sen. Diane Savino.
Talking to local media after lawmakers and terminally ill patients gathered at City Hall in April, Savino said the state legislature wants to give people an alternative to dealing with pain or using deadly, addictive drugs.
“People want relief, they don’t want to get high,” she said. “If they wanted to get high, they could get a prescription from their doctor, they could take two Vicodin, wash it down with a glass of wine. They don’t want to get high… They want relief.
“If people are interested in getting high, they would not want to enroll in this program. They can go out in the street and buy it, it’s not that hard to get in New York state. But patients shouldn’t have to break the law to get relief.”