A nationally representative survey of U.S. adults suggests that Americans’ view of marijuana use is more favorable than existing evidence supports. Aggressive commercialization of marijuana is likely to blame, according to researchers. The findings are published in Annals of Internal Medicine.
Despite insufficient evidence regarding its risks and benefits, marijuana is increasingly available and aggressively marketed to the public. Whereas the marketing of tobacco and alcohol to consumers is heavily regulated, the promotion of marijuana products has no such constraints. As such, understanding how the public perceives marijuana use is important.
Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco and the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center conducted a probability-based online survey of 16,280 U.S. adults to evaluate public perceptions regarding the health benefits and risks of marijuana use. The researchers found that U.S. adults ascribe many benefits to marijuana that are not supported by existing evidence. Over a third of respondents believe that smoking marijuana prevents health problems, such as pain or multiple sclerosis. They also believe that marijuana is beneficial in treating insomnia, depression, and anxiety, for which efficacy and safety have not been established and possible harms may exist.
In addition, a sizable group of survey participants responded that marijuana has no risk of addiction potential and also suggested that secondhand smoke from marijuana is safer than secondhand smoke from tobacco, despite no evidence to support those beliefs.
According to the researchers, the gaps in understanding of the health effects and safety of marijuana use are extensive, and the public may be underestimating its long-term risks.
These national data underscore the need to invest in further research to better understand both the health effects of marijuana use and the public health investment necessary to better communicate potential health risks to the public.