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Survey Finds the American Public has a Favorable View of Marijuana. Researchers Find That ‘Concerning.’

A study published in the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine showed that Americans view cannabis use more favorably than what current research suggests.

Teams of researchers from the University of California, San Francisco; the University of California, Davis; the Northern California Institute for Research and Education; Columbia University; and the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Tuesday, July 24, 2018, published “Risks and Benefits of Marijuana Use: A National Survey of U.S. Adults” and concluded that, “Americans’ view of marijuana use is more favorable than existing evidence supports.”

The researchers aimed to gauge Americans’ opinions of marijuana and how they perceive the impacts of its use. The study’s conclusions were drawn from previous federal surveys, peer-reviewed literature and media reports, and interviews with substance abuse and mental health experts, dispensary employees, and cannabis distributors.

The study sampled 9,003 US adults 18 years and older who responded to the online survey between Sept. 27, 2017, and Oct. 9, 2017. The results were weighted to approximate U.S. population based on age, sex, race, ethnicity, education level, household income, home ownership, and metropolitan area. Researchers dropped respondents who didn’t answer all of the survey’s questions from the analysis.

A Breakdown of the Demographics

  • Age: Respondents were separated into four age ranges, with 29 percent between ages 18 to 34; 24 percent between 35 and 49 years old; 27 percent between 50 and 64 years old; and 20 percent 65 and older
  • Sex: 52 percent female; 48 percent male
  • Race: White, 64 percent; black, 12 percent; Hispanic, 16 percent; other ethnicities, 8 percent
  • Education: 39 percent had a high school diploma or less; 29 percent had some college education; and 32 percent had a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • Employment: 62 percent were employed; 38 percent were not.
  • Income: The highest income bracket also received the most respondents with 48 percent earning an annual salary of $75,000 or higher; 17 percent earning between $74,999 and $50,000; 23 percent earning between $49,999 and $20,000 and 12 percent earning less than $20,000 a year.

Among the Key Findings

  • 81 percent of adults in the U.S. believe that there is at least one benefit to using marijuana; 17 percent believe it has zero benefits.
  • 91 percent believe there is at least one risk associated with marijuana use; 9 percent believe it has no risks.
  • Pain management was cited as the most common benefit (65.7 percent) and the most important (34.8 percent).
  • The two most commonly cited risks were legal problems (51.8 percent) and addiction to marijuana (50 percent).  
  • 76 percent of adults believe that marijuana is somewhat or very addictive, whereas 22.4 percent believe it to be not at all addictive.
  • One in three (38.2 percent) believe that smoking one joint a day is safer than smoking one cigarette a day. More than half (55.8 percent) of U.S. adults believe that smoking one joint a day is much less or somewhat less safe than drinking a glass of wine per day.
  • When comparing driving under the influence, 27.6 percent believed driving under the influence of marijuana to be somewhat or much safer than driving under the influence of alcohol; 44.4 percent believed marijuana to be as safe as alcohol; and 24.7 percent believed marijuana to be somewhat or much less safe.
  • Nearly all respondents (92.1 percent) believed using marijuana during pregnancy to be completely or somewhat unsafe;  7.3 percent believed that it is somewhat or completely safe.

Scant Support for Therapeutic Benefits

Researchers found that while most Americans believed there are both benefits and risks to using marijuana, many respondents agreed that there were therapeutic benefits associated with pain management and multiple sclerosis,  which researchers found concerning because limited scientific proof exists.

Additionally, many respondents believe marijuana to be beneficial in treating anxiety, depression, and insomnia, which researchers said hasn’t been studied for “efficacy and safety” and “possible harms.”

Researchers also noted that:

  • “A sizeable group of survey participants responded that marijuana has no risk of addiction potential and that smoking marijuana prevents health problems.”
  • “Not enough data exist to support the notion that marijuana use in any form prevents health problems.”
  • “29.2 percent of U.S. adults strongly or somewhat strongly agree that smoking marijuana prevents health problems,” a finding that concerns the researchers.
  • “Despite insufficient evidence for potential harms for daily marijuana smoking, media coverage of existing studies with low cumulative exposure may be creating the impression among the public that smoking marijuana, even on a daily basis, is harmless.”
  • “It may not be surprising that Americans hold an overall favorable view of marijuana. Several historical trends and ongoing public conversation surrounding legalization of marijuana for recreational use may be sending an overall message that it is safe to use marijuana.”
  • “The lack of a coherent national policy regulating the sale and promotion of marijuana has left a vacuum that commercial interests can exploit.”
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