Did you know that doctors who work for the United States Department of
Veterans Affairs (VA) aren’t allowed to prescribe medical marijuana to
veterans? It doesn’t matter if the doctors and patients live in states
where medical marijuana is legal. Moreover, doctors can’t even talk to
veterans about the advantages of marijuana AT ALL! How’s that for free
speech in America?
Congress Takes Action (Seriously)
As you might have guessed, as a doctor, this marijuana gag order makes
me gag. There’s reason to be optimistic, though. Some of our elected
leaders are coming around. For instance, in 2016, 21 U.S. House members
and senators sent a letter to the VA. This group included Democrats and
Republicans, and the message was in favor of medical marijuana.
You see, the no-cannabis VA policy was set to expire in late January
2016. Therefore, those lawmakers were trying to change the minds of VA
leaders. Their letter stated that VA doctors who practice in states
where medical marijuana is lawful should be able to discuss this kind of
The Senate actually approved that rule change back in November 2015. At
the time, it was included in a funding bill. But of course, politics is
complicated. The bill got rewritten, and this policy was taken out.
Therefore, it never became law. And I thought medical school was hard!
Can the CARERS Act Save the Day?
There’s still hope for this legal change. It could become part of the
2016 appropriations bill. If it does, though, it would need to be voted
on each year to remain law. Or it could become a separate law. If that
were the case, it would be a permanent statute, and Congress wouldn’t
have to keep voting on it annually.
Indeed, in March 2015, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Sen. Kirsten
Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., proposed just such a law.
It’s called the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect
States (CARERS) Act of 2015.
If CARERS passes, states could legalize medical marijuana as they deem
fit. Also, medical researchers would have more freedom to study the
benefits of this therapy. And yes, VA doctors could finally recommend it
to their patients as state law permits.
Many veterans who are returning from battle face special health issues.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one of them.
is a term for the depression and anxiety that happen after a trauma. The
disorder often involves vivid flashbacks, nightmares, social isolation
and a tendency to become violently startled. It can also lead to
insomnia and extreme eruptions of anger.
Naturally, the horrors of combat often bring about PTSD. However,
scientific evidence is showing that medical marijuana can really reduce
Take, for instance, a
that was led by Dr. George Greer of the nonprofit Heffter Research
Institute. Between 2009 and 2011, researchers looked at how medical
marijuana affected those with PTSD. The Journal of Psychoactive Drugs
the results, which were highly encouraging. The average patient who used
cannabis had his or her PTSD effects lessened by a whopping 75 percent!
Reducing Chronic Pain
If you’re a vet, you might be dealing with chronic physical pain due to
the wounds you sustained when you were fighting for our country. When it
comes to pain relief, medical marijuana shows great promise as well.
For example, in December 2015, the Journal of
out the results of a major study on cannabis and chronic pain, one that
began in 2004. Dr. Mark Ware of Montreal’s Research Institute of the
McGill University Health Centre led this endeavor. (Medical marijuana is
legal in Canada.) Several Canadian pain treatment facilities worked
together on this study. Researchers carefully followed 215 adults, each
for a one-year period. All of those participants had the option of
eating, smoking or inhaling their cannabis. Meanwhile, a control group
of 216 chronic pain patients went without marijuana for a year.
It demonstrated that, while marijuana provided pain relief, it didn’t
lead to any higher rates of serious side effects. On top of that, the
cannabis frequently put many of the patients in better moods.
Hope for Vets Who Want Medical Marijuana
Finally, remember that no VA doctor will ever be forced to prescribe
cannabis. And no veteran should ever be pressured to take it. It’ll
simply become another treatment option that doctors and patients should
be allowed to talk about in privacy. If the DEA gets their act together
and take cannabis off of the Schedule 1 list, formal studies in the
United States could finally begin in earnest. When the VA actually
realizes that that all studies from around the world to date show the
enormous benefit of cannabis to treat PTSD and chronic pain, our brave
men and women who’ve served in the armed forces can get the relief they