Veterans have been fighting for the right to use medical marijuana for years – and the VA has continuously maintained that as long as it was federally illegal, it was not an option for treatment. However, this may change as House lawmakers appear likely to pass a bill that would encourage the Department of Veterans Affairs to research the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana. On Tuesday, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs voted unanimously to advance the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act to the House floor for a final vote.
“I am not opposed to using marijuana extracts, following the appropriate medical research, as an alternative to indiscriminately prescribing opioids to our veterans to deal with chronic pain,” Colorado U.S. Representative Mike Coffman told Colorado Politics. “I have long fought the VA for being too ‘drug-centric’ in their modality of treatment for combat-related stress disorders because it only masks the symptoms as opposed to addressing the underlying problems.”
The bill aims not only to encourage (not require) research on medical marijuana, but also to give the VA permission to allow veterans access to medical marijuana for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder or chronic intractable pain. Both conditions affect veterans more than the general population, and both appear to respond well to medical marijuana and are qualifying conditions for medical cannabis in a number of states across the country.
Considering the numerous stories from veterans about how medical cannabis changed their life, it is a law that if passed, has been long-awaited. Veterans who live in medical marijuana states will no longer have to choose between continuing to see their VA doctor or medical marijuana treatment – which should help make their general healthcare more affordable. It may also allow the VA to conduct research through patient surveys to determine how effective cannabis really is for some illnesses.
“I’m keenly aware of need for VA to critically examine possible new treatments that could benefit veteran patients,” said Tennessee U.S. Representative Phil Roe. “Like many of us on this dais, I’ve heard from many veterans who believe medical cannabis can help them lead healthy lives. Right now, we don’t know if that’s true or not, and that’s why we believe the VA should conduct rigorous research on medical cannabis just like any other medication or treatment.”
The VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act is part of a larger proposal of bills that were approved by the committee to reform medical care for veterans. While other parts of the proposal are important, the most important part for many veterans is going to be the law that allows them access to a natural alternative to opioids and other prescription medications.