AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File

The nation's top doctor confirmed on Wednesday what many Americans already know: medical marijuana can help treat certain ailments.

“We have some preliminary data showing that for certain medical conditions and symptoms, that marijuana can be helpful,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said on “CBS This Morning.”

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"So I think we have to use that data to drive policymaking, and I’m very interested to see where that data takes us," he continued.

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia already permit medical cannabis and it's been debated across the country.

In the eyes of the federal government, however, marijuana is still a dangerous substance with no recognized medical value. The drug is classified as a Schedule I substance — placing it on par with heroin and limiting the ability of researchers to study it.

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The easiest way for the drug to be re-classified would be through Congress, but legislators from both parties have been reluctant to take up the cause in recent years.

Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement that Murthy now joins a "large list" of health professionals who acknowledge the drug's medical worth.

"Lawmakers in several states are considering medical marijuana legislation," Tvert said, "and it is critical that they hear from people in his position.”

Murthy's remarks don't represent a radical shift from his predecessor, Regina Benjamin, who expressed a tentative openness to medical marijuana when speaking with The New York Times in 2011.

"There’s evidence that shows that it’s useful for medicine, but we need to investigate how to avoid the adverse effects of smoking marijuana," she said.

UPDATE, Feb. 5, 3:20 p.m.

Murthy issued a statement through the Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday night. Here's an excerpt:

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"While clinical trials for certain components of marijuana appear promising for some medical conditions, neither the FDA nor the Institute of Medicine have found smoked marijuana to meet the standards for safe and effective medicine for any condition to date."

Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.