The following first appeared on Smell the Truth:
A landmark study by longtime public health data gatherers in Sacramento offers the public some baseline numbers to talk about when we talk about medical marijuana.
One in 20 California adults, roughly 1.4 million people, report having used medical marijuana to treat a serious illness. And an astounding 92 percent of those Californians report the drug was helpful for their condition. Medical marijuana use spans all ages, genders, races, and counties.
Called “Prevalence of medical marijuana use in California, 2012” and published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review (2014), this is the first time anyone has measured the prevalence of medical marijuana use in California, says study authors Suzanne Ryan-Ibarra, and Marta Induni, for Survey Research Group at Public Health Institute in Sacramento. Danielle Ewing co-authored. (Read more on the methodology and findings here.)
“This really adds to the literature,” said Induni. “This is the first estimate out there that’s population-based. This represents California, unlike other studies either in a clinical setting, or maybe taking a convenient guess.
Those conveniently guessing include police lobbyists like John Lovell, who said cops consider medical marijuana a giant con.
If it is, it would be the most elaborate, well-orchestrated con in history. Researchers were blown away when 92 percent of those who had reported ever using medical marijuana said it was helpful. No drug or policy enjoys that much support.
“I found that number, I don’t want to say staggering, but kind of staggering. To get that kind of agreement on anything is pretty astounding,” Induni said.
The survey did not ask how much people had used medical marijuana, or for how long, just that they had used it in their lifetime.
About five percent of Californians are thought to have used medical marijuana for a serious medical condition.
“This is people who at least at one point in their lifetime did use it and reported benefits. It’s certainly worthy of more study. If it were a placebo effect, we would only see about 30 percent reporting benefits. It’s a pretty large number,” said Induni. “It’s a very high number for any field particularly public health, where people are still fighting about immunizations. They can’t agree on that, but they can agree [cannabis] has helped them with their medical conditions.”
The study has some limitations: it didn’t survey people in prison, or who didn’t speak english or spanish, and it may under-report prevalence due to a stigma about admitting use. Respondents weren’t shy, said Ryan-Ibarra. The survey is anonymous and the pot questions came at the end of a lengthy talk.
“We asked them difficult health questions about sex and colonoscopies, they were pretty comfortable by the time we got to marijuana questions,” Ryan-Ibarra said.
Conversely it could over-report. The study didn’t ask folks if they have a recommendation from a physician for medical cannabis, and includes people self-defining as having a medical need.
“We trust the estimate is accurate and represents the state well,” Induni said.
“In an ideal world,” Induni said California would have been tracking medical marijuana prevalence since voters legalized the drug in 1996. It did not. SRG added the medical marijuana questions to the annual Behavioral Risk Factors Survey for the year 2012. “We just wanted to have a sense of the general population,” she said.
“No one has had baseline numbers,” Induni said. “We need to do more of this type of research for effective policy decisions.”
The data shows that 18 years after Californians passed Prop 215, medical marijuana prevalence is massive. Meanwhile, the vast majority of California cities ban safe access to medical cannabis, and the new trend is to ban the cultivation of a single plant. Such policies have also not been based on evidence, Induni said.
“They’ve left it up to the individual to fend for themselves in this world in terms of getting their own certification card and even growing it. It’s been fairly ungoverned in my opinion,” said Induni.
SRG is not currently collecting any more related data and has no current plans for collecting any additional related data, though they are open to opportunities.