Marijuana, or cannabis, is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule I substance. Despite this, 23 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized marijuana for medicinal use. California was the first state in the United States to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes when voters passed Proposition 215, or the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, by 55.6 percent on November 5, 1996. On September 30, 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 1449, reducing the punishment for the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. Since then, there has been no population-based data describing medical marijuana users in the state.
Researchers for the Survey Research Group at the Public Health Institute in Sacramento, California, used data from the California Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System 2012, a health-related telephone survey of over 7,500 adults, to investigate the prevalence of medical marijuana use. Published in the Drug and Alcohol Review in 2014, the study revealed that in total, five percent of adults in California reported ever using medical marijuana. Of these, 92 percent believed it helped treat or relieve symptoms of a serious medical condition. The most common reasons for using medical marijuana were chronic pain (31 percent), arthritis (11 percent), migraine (8 percent) and cancer (7 percent). Other conditions reported included acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), muscle spasms, nausea, stress and depression.
Medical marijuana use was prevalent in all age groups, although usage was higher amongst adults aged 18 to 24. One reason for this could be that older adults have yet to recognize the benefits of medical marijuana as a therapy for conditions such as cancer. Medical marijuana use was similar amongst men and women, and in all areas of California, lending support to the notion that medical marijuana is not exclusively used by any one specific group.Prevalence of ever using medical marijuana was highest among white adults, although use was reported by every racial group examined. The difference in marijuana use between racial groups was less than three percentage points, which suggests that medical marijuana is being used equally by many racial groups.
Medical marijuana is being used for conditions for which mainstream treatments may not exist or may not be effective. As more states contemplate legalizing marijuana for medical use, those who have already benefited from its therapeutic effects must continue to speak out on its place in modern medicine.