A majority of doctors would approve medical marijuana use, according to a survey published in the [New England Journal of Medicine](http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMclde1305159# t=article) in May 2013. In an interactive feature in which readers were given a hypothetical [case](http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMclde1300970# t=cldeOpt1) study about a 68-year-old woman with metastatic breast cancer and asked to vote on the use of marijuana as a treatment for her symptoms, 76 percent of doctors voted in favor of medical marijuana use, even though it is illegal in most countries.
To frame the issue, researchers invited experts to present opposing viewpoints about the use of marijuana, or cannabis, as medicine. J. Michael Bostwick, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Mayo Clinic, Minnesota, recommended the medicinal use of marijuana while Gary M. Reisfield, M.D., an assistant professor and chief of pain management services in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Florida College of Medicine, and Robert L. DuPont, M.D., a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine, provided a counterpoint.
A total of 1446 doctors from 72 countries cast their votes in the poll. Despite the global participation, most votes (1063) came from within North America, with doctors from 56 states and provinces expressing their opinions. In addition, 118 doctors posted comments on the issue. Doctors who said they would prescribe marijuana emphasized the responsibility of healthcare providers to help minimize their patients' suffering, the importance of considering patients' personal preferences and the dangers of prescription painkillers and narcotics. They also cited cases where marijuana was able to help patients.
Many of the chemical compounds, or cannabinoids, found in the marijuana plant are believed to contribute to marijuana's health benefits. However, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are of the greatest interest to researchers. THC increases appetite and reduces nausea. Two THC-based medications have received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for the treatment of nausea in people undergoing cancer chemotherapy and loss of appetite in people with wasting syndrome due to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). It may also decrease pain and inflammation, and control muscle spasms. CBD may be useful in reducing pain and inflammation, reducing epileptic seizures, and treating mental illnesses.
The FDA has yet to approve marijuana as a medicine, citing insufficient evidence of its benefits. In spite of this, 23 states and Washington, D.C., have passed laws allowing people to obtain and use marijuana with a doctor's prescription. If medical marijuana were to be legalized nationally, it could deliver real benefits to patients whose needs are not being met by current treatments.