January 11, 2018

Veterans Get Green Light to Discuss Medical Marijuana With VA Doctors

January 11, 2018
While the announcement is encouraging, advocates for veterans' access say it doesn't go far enough.

Department of Veterans Affairs Encourages Vets to Talk About Cannabis Use with Physicians

Veterans’ access has always been one of the major issues within the fight to legalize medical marijuana. With an average of 22 soldiers committing suicide every day due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), advocates believe that cannabis may be the answer. However, many vets keep their medical marijuana use under wraps from Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors due to the plant being illegal at the federal level – even if they’re participating in a state program where it is legal.

That all could change after the Veterans Health Administration recently released a directive encouraging both vets and their physicians to openly discuss cannabis.

What Does the Announcement Mean for Vets Desiring Medical Cannabis?

The guidance encourages VA clinical staff and pharmacists to discuss with veterans how their use of medical marijuana could interact with other medications or aspects of their care, including treatment for pain management or PTSD. But while the directive does encourage open and honest communication, it falls short of allowing VA doctors to prescribe medical cannabis.

In an interview with NPR, VA spokesman Curtis Cashour clarified by referencing a White House press briefing last spring, where VA Secretary David Shulkin stated:

“Some of the states that have put in appropriate controls [on the use of medical marijuana], there may be some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful. And we’re interested in looking at that and learning from that. But until federal law changes, the VA is not able to prescribe medical marijuana.”

Cannabis Communication Directive Doesn’t Guarantee Medical Marijuana for Veterans

While proponents of veterans’ access to medical cannabis believe the announcement is a potential step in the right direction, it doesn’t go far enough.

“What exactly are the doctors trying to talk about?” asked Ricardo Pereyda, of The 1620 Legion, a community of vets pushing for access. “Have they been educated on this subject? Do they even know what they’re talking about? If so, how?

“As federal patients, we should have full access to cannabis, and be educated thoroughly on its medicinal applications and benefits. On top of that, we need to be prescribed cannabis through the VA. With so many veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI), depression, insomnia, anxiety, and a general lack of interest in life, why would the government keep cannabis away from them?”

High Hopes for Veteran Access

While today’s announcement doesn’t ensure vets have access to medical marijuana, it is a positive move, specifically for doctors looking to treat their patients as effectively as possible. It is hoped that the conversation will eventually lead to all veterans having access to cannabis should they need.


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