Use of marijuana for medical purposes among adults in the United States

Substance abuse and public health experts took a joint look at differences between medical and nonmedical users of marijuana in America, where approximately one-half of states allow medicinal consumption.

Substance abuse and public health experts took a joint look at differences between medical and nonmedical users of marijuana in America, where approximately one-half of states allow medicinal consumption. Using 2013–14 data from 96,100 adult respondents to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the researchers found that 12.9% had used marijuana in the previous year. The vast majority, 90.2%, reported just recreational use, while the other 9.8% reported medical use—exclusively or in combination with recreational use. Medical-only users accounted for 6.2% and primarily lived in states that have legalized medical marijuana, but the practice also occurred in jurisdictions that have not. Marijuana users who cited both personal and medical reasons made up the smallest share of the past-year user population, at 3.6%. With few exceptions, prevalence trends were similar across all three groups; however, there were notable differences between medical-only and nonmedical-only use. Specifically, residence in a legalized state, disability, older age, initiation to marijuana use at an older age, Medicaid status, stroke diagnosis, anxiety order, frequent marijuana use, and poor self-rated health were all directly linked to exclusive medical use. These associations suggest that users are turning to medical marijuana for viable health reasons; however, similarities in correlates of medical and nonmedical users—like concomitant psychiatric conditions and other substance abuse—indicate that some users of medical marijuana are accessing it without medical need.