Amidst the ongoing American opioid crisis, veterans are looking for alternatives to treat their mental and physical ailments. Many have found that using medical marijuana not only cuts down on their prescription opioid use, but that it is often more effective at treating the pain. While many vets benefit from medical marijuana on a daily basis, they cannot gain the support of their own Department of Veteran Affairs. The department has strict policies about the use of medical marijuana; V.A. clinicians may not recommend medical marijuana, prescribe products containing Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), Cannabidiol (CBD), or any other cannabinoids, or complete the paperwork required for veteran patients to participate in state-approved marijuana programs. In addition, VA pharmacies may not fill prescriptions for medical marijuana and the V.A. will not pay for medical marijuana prescriptions from any source, leaving veterans very few alternatives to prescription painkillers, anti-depressants, and other addictive drugs.
Currently, doctors practicing in states where medical marijuana is legal can give recommendations to veterans, but are barred from giving any actual prescriptions. The department does say that V.A. scientists may conduct studies to research the effects of medical marijuana under regulatory approval. However, because cannabis is classified as a Schedule 1 drug under federal law, along with other drugs such as heroin and ecstasy, researchers would require approval from five separate agencies to conduct studies. This means that it is up to Congress to remove these restrictions. In a recent New York Times Article on the subject, Marcel Bonn-Miller, a psychologist who worked for years at the veterans’ hospital in California said that the V.A. has funded multiple marijuana studies but they have all been to examine the problems associated with marijuana use. There are several grassroots organizations of veterans who are fighting to make medical marijuana more accessible for veterans battling illnesses that range from chronic pain to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These organizations are pushing the government and the V.A. to conduct more studies to determine the benefits of medical marijuana despite the opposition from the V.A., prominent members of Congress, and the judicial branch of government.