Smoke pot? Own guns? What your doctor says about it may depend on political affiliation

Marijuana plants grow in a greenhouse at the Los Suenos Farms facility in Avondale, Colorado, on Feb. 25, 2016.
Marijuana plants grow in a greenhouse at the Los Suenos Farms facility in Avondale, Colorado, on Feb. 25, 2016. Bloomberg

Democratic and Republican doctors may see and treat politicized health issues through different lens, a new paper suggests.

The study, “Democratic and Republican Physicians Provide Different Care on Politicized Health Issues,” by Yale researchers Eitan Hersh and Matthew Goldenberg found that political beliefs may color how primary care physicians respond to various medical issues.

The pair asked doctors to review nine potential patient scenarios, with three addressing “especially politicized health issues,” those being marijuana, abortion and firearm storage. The other patient scenarios – smoking, obesity and depression – were less fraught with political ramifications.

Marijuana’s effects can vary from person to person, and scientists are not quite sure what to make of the common distinction users and growers make between cannabis sativa and cannabis indica.

The findings? “On the politicized health issues – and only on such issues – Democratic and Republican physicians differed substantially in their expressed concern and their recommended treatment plan,” the researchers wrote. They noted that the survey comes as other scholarly research has demonstrated a high level of politicization in the medical profession, with Democratic and Republican physicians disagreeing over the Affordable Care Act.

The survey found that Democratic physicians considered the firearms scenario – in which a parent acknowledged having several firearms at home – to be more concerning. Republican doctors, in comparison, cited the patient who acknowledged using recreational marijuana approximately three times per week as more concerning, along with the patient who says she had two abortions.

Two everyday Americans share their viewpoints on gun control.

The survey found that Republican doctors are more likely to discuss health risks of marijuana, urge the patient to cut back and discuss the legal risks. They were also more likely to discuss the mental health aspects of abortion and encourage the patient not to have any more abortions. Male Republican doctors were more concerned about abortion than their female Republican colleagues.

The survey also found that Democratic doctors were more likely to urge patients not to store firearms at home.

The researchers suggest that the findings show patients with politically sensitive issues might want to be aware of their doctor’s political leanings.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the survey drew on responses from more than 200 physicians.