A new survey finds that a majority of doctors would approve the use of medical marijuana. The survey, conducted by The New England Journal of Medicine, determined that 76 percent of doctors, when faced with a hypothetical-patient scenario, were in favor of using marijuana for medicinal purposes despite the fact that marijuana is illegal in most countries.

The proposed scenario was this: Your patient is a 68-year-old woman with metastatic breast cancer. Should she be prescribed medical marijuana to help alleviate her symptoms?

Physicians in favor of using medical marijuana in this case focused on their “responsibility as caregivers to alleviate suffering,” the results stated. Those physicians pointed to the “known dangers of prescription narcotics, supported patient choice, or described personal experience with patients who benefited from the use of marijuana” as reasons for their choice.

Those opposing the use of medical marijuana pointed to the “lack of evidence [of effectiveness], the lack of provenance, inconsistency of dosage, and concern about side effects.” A common question in the debate was whether marijuana even belongs under the scope of influence of doctors, or whether it should be legalized and patients allowed to decide for themselves whether to make use of it or not, according to The New England Journal of Medicine.

Interestingly, the survey seemed to incite stronger opinions from US physicians than from those in other parts of the world. A total of 1446 votes were cast from 72 countries and 56 states and provinces in North America, with 1063 coming from the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

“Given that North America represents only a minority of the general readership of the Journal, this skew in voting suggests that the subject… stirs more passion among readers from North America than among those residing elsewhere,” the survey’s authors note.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States, according to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Proponents of the use of medical marijuana believe it to be a “safe and effective treatment for the symptoms of cancers, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, pain, glaucoma, and epilepsy,” among other conditions.

The American Medical Association has called for the government to review marijuana’s status as a federal Schedule I controlled substance, to facilitate “the conduct of clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines, and alternate delivery methods.”

In general, the American public seems to be moving toward the decriminalization of marijuana use. In April, a Huffington Post poll showed that a majority of Americans believe marijuana should be legal, if it is “taxed and regulated like alcohol.”

Alisha is a writer and researcher for Ring of Fire.