After weeks of speculation, it’s official: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will not conduct any research into whether medical marijuana could help veterans suffering from the debilitating effects of PTSD and chronic pain.
That’s the word from David J. Shulkin, M.D., Secretary of Veterans Affairs, who flat-out rejected the evidence-based claim the drug could be a beneficial alternative to opioids and anti-depressants for vets.
The VA’s ability to research medical cannabis is rendered moot by the fact that the drug is illegal federally, said Shulkin.
“The VA is committed to researching and developing effective ways to help Veterans cope with post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain conditions,” Shulkin wrote in a response to members of Congress. “However, federal law restricts the VA’s ability to conduct research involving medical marijuana, or to refer veterans to such projects.”
Commit the VA to Test the Efficacy of Cannabis Research
Shulkin’s statement came in a letter to U.S. Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), who led a group of 10 House of Representatives to ask the Trump cabinet leader to commit the VA to test the efficacy of such research.
Even though cannabis is illegal federally, cannabis research is not prohibited, said John Hudak, deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution.
“Universities do this all the time and there’s a process to go through,” said Hudak. “It’s really a cop-out for the VA to say, ‘Oh, we’re not doing work on this because of federal law’ when actually federal law allows them to do that.”
Currently, the National Institute on Drug Abuse funds limited cannabis research.
VA Patients Urged to Discuss Medical Cannabis Use with Physicians
In a contradictory move, last month the Veterans Health Administration urged its veteran patients to discuss their medical marijuana use with their doctors, a shift from previous policy.
Still, VA physicians may not legally refer patients to state medical cannabis programs because of federal law. And veterans who admit cannabis use to VA doctors could jeopardize their lifetime benefits.
Shulkin pointed out the VA offers a number of alternative treatments for PTSD patients — yoga, meditation, acupuncture, and hypnosis.
Only Limited Cannabis Research for Medical Purposes
There has only been limited research into cannabis for medicinal purposes, largely based on the fact that it is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, along with hard substances that include heroin.
President Trump claimed, during his campaign, that he supported making medical cannabis available for medicinal purposes, if only for “the very sick.”
However, his appointed attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is a staunch opponent of cannabis use or research of any kind.
In early January, he made it easier for federal prosecutors to enforce federal law in states that legalized the use of cannabis. A total of eight states, including California, and the District now allow recreational cannabis use.
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- Washington Post, Jan. 16, 2018: VA says it won’t study medical marijuana effects on veterans
- National Public Radio, Jan. 9, 2018: VA clears the air on doctors talking to veterans about marijuana use
- High Times, Dec. 19, 2017: VA rolls out new medical marijuana policy for vets