By Chris Roberts  |  Published in SF Weekly

Hemp and cannabis is as American as apple pie, and as universal as alcohol and acupuncture.

A Californian with a job, an education, and every opportunity this society can afford him (minus perfect health).

Meet your typical medical marijuana patient.

A study conducted by a sociology professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz has some interesting revelations about the state’s medical cannabis patient population.

Craig Reinarman analyzed about 1,746 people seeking doctor’s recommendations for medical marijuana at medical clinics throughout the state between July and September of 2006.

What he found was that 75 percent of patients surveyed were male, and over half were white.

They’re also more likely to hold jobs than the California population as whole — and they use medical cannabis as a substitute for prescription drugs — and in some cases, alcohol.

What’s even more compelling is that 40 percent said had never used marijuana prior to becoming a patient. A gateway drug, indeed.

The study is admittedly narrow: There’s no way to judge whether the patients who were surveyed are an representative sample of the whole, Reinarman writes.

And on top of that, without federal approval for clinical research as well as a larger sample size, many of the  conclusions come down to informed speculation.

That said, here are some raw facts from the study:

— Women, Latinos and Asian-Americans are all under-represented in the study, while African Americans and members of Native tribes were over-represented.

— The study speculated that women are reluctant to use medical marijuana because of fear of losing children to Child Protective Services, and that women are also less likely to suffer the kind of injuries — manual labor-related maladies and mishaps like motorcycle injuries — than men.

–Latinos are under-represented because of a general reluctance to involve the government in their affairs, stemming from the immigration issues, while a history of herbal medicine as well as a general reluctance to use cannabis keeps the Asian-user segment low. African Americans use marijuana medically at a rate nearly double their segment of the population, in part because they are more likely to use prescription medication for pain, suffer from AIDS, or cancer, and are poor and lack health insurance.

–Pain and insomnia were the two most prevalent illnesses for which patients sought relief with marijuana. Some 82.6 percent of patients reported pain, while 70 percent said marijuana was a sleep aid. The next three most prevalent medical conditions were muscle spasms, headaches, and anxiety.

— Over half — 50.9 percent — said they used medical marijuana as a substitute for prescription medication, while 13 percent said they used it as a substitute for alcohol.

–Most medical marijuana users are between the ages of 25 and 54.

— About 86 percent consume their medicine via smoking. Half use it only once or twice per day, and half use it at night or before going to sleep.

The study contained no evidence to support critics’ theories that medical marijuana users are all faking illnesses in order to use cannabis legally.

“Neither our data, nor any other data we were aware of allow any clear-cut empirical estimate of the scale of such diversion,” the study says.

It also doesn’t support any fact saying otherwise.

With widespread nonmedical use among Americans in general, and 754,000 Americans arrested for mere possession of marijuana in 2008, “It seems likely that at least some [medical marijuana] patients use [medical marijuana] dispensaries as sources of supply for nonmedical use.”

The most stirring fact? “Our data … contains no obvious signs that [medical marijuana] patients differ from the general population,” the study says.

In other words, medical marijuana patients, they are us.

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