Will VA Doctors Finally Be Able To Recommend Pot To Veterans?

A new amendment aims to lift the current gag order that prevents VA doctors from discussing medical cannabis with their patients. 

Whether U.S. military veterans should have access to medical cannabis is up for debate again—for the treatment of pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more. 

Last Thursday (July 13), the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 24-7 to adopt an amendment in a budget bill allowing vets to obtain medical cannabis recommendations from VA physicians. 

Tom Angell at MassRoots notes that the committee adopted a similar measure in last year’s budget bill, which outlines funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Proponents of the measure say vets stand to benefit from having greater access to medical cannabis. Some vets report that cannabis is able to alleviate symptoms shared by those who have served in the military, such as pain and PTSD.

Vets are especially vulnerable to certain mental health conditions. According to a 2012 VA report, roughly 20% of vets who served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD and depression. Not only that, the suicide rate among vets suffering from PTSD is 50% higher than the national average.

Some say medical cannabis is a safer alternative to prescription medication for pain and anxiety. “The death rate from opioids among VA health care is nearly double the national average,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a supporter of the amendment. “From what I hear from veterans is that medical marijuana has helped them deal with pain and PTSD, particularly as an alternative to opioids.”

Current policy prohibits VA doctors from recommending cannabis to patients, even in states where it is legal. This is because the federal government still classifies cannabis on its most dangerous drugs list, alongside heroin and LSD. These drugs are defined as having a high potential for abuse and no medical value.

The amendment would allow VA physicians to recommend medical cannabis where it’s legal—or as Senator Steve Daines of Montana put it, the measure “simply allows the VA patients in states with medical marijuana programs to discuss that option with their VA doctor or physician.”

However, whether the amendment will pass with the final budget bill this time around remains to be seen—especially given that the current administration isn’t as friendly to cannabis as the last one.