Smoking marijuana isn’t the biggest concern for your doctor, unless perhaps he or she is a Republican

Marijuana use is not among your doctor’s major worries, but that might depend on his or her politics, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Yale University researchers Eitan Hersh and Matthew Goldenberg “presented a representative sample of 233 primary-care physicians with nine hypothetical patient behaviors — tobacco use, alcohol use, obesity, etc. — and asked them how much of a problem they thought these behaviors were on a 10-point scale,” Christopher Ingraham writes for The Washington Post.

Abortions and marijuana use were tied as the “least-worrisome behaviors,” while alcohol use, tobacco use, obesity and depression were rated significantly more problematic. (In 2012-14, 32 percent of adults in Kentucky were obese, 27 percent smoked, and they averaged five mentally unhealthy days per month.) “By contrast, doctors rated not wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle and having intercourse with sex workers several times a year as the most problematic behaviors on the list,” Ingraham writes.

Washington Post chart

Though the findings “add some empirical heft” to a Scientific American essay by Nathaniel Morri, the original intent of the study was to find a political distinction between Republican and Democratic doctors’ opinion on marijuana use. “Republican doctors were, on average, much more concerned about marijuana use than their Democratic colleagues,” Ingraham writes. His colleague Erin Blakemore reported, “When faced with hypothetical scenarios involving politically charged issues, they make different treatment decisions.”

Republican doctors are also more likely to discuss both health and legal risks of marijuana to “urge the patient to cut down,” according to the study. Ingraham added: “The doctors were also polarized over the relative seriousness of previous abortions (Republican doctors more concerned) and of the presence of guns in the home (Democratic doctors more concerned).”

Researchers are more concerned with heavy use of marijuana — the people who use marijuana daily, or multiple times a day, Ingraham writes. “Those people are at a greatest risk for dependency and various health problems associated with heavy use — even if those problems don’t appear to be as severe as the debilitating conditions associated with long-term heavy tobacco or alcohol use.”

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