The Center Square: Bipartisan bill seeks to study medical cannabis for veterans

by Brett Rowland

(The Center Square) – Groups are backing a plan to study if medical cannabis could help veterans. 

A new bipartisan bill would create a comprehensive research plan for the Department of Veterans Affairs to study the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis for the treatment of chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.

U.S. Sens. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Jon Tester, D-Mont., introduced the measure. 

“Our nation’s veterans deserve options when it comes to treating the wounds of war, which is why VA needs to have a better understanding of how medicinal cannabis plays a role in their healing,” Tester said in a statement. “Our bipartisan bill ensures VA is listening to the growing number of veterans who find critical relief from alternative treatments like medicinal cannabis, while working to empower veterans in making safe and informed decisions about their health.”

The VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act would authorize the VA to implement a comprehensive research plan, including a series of clinical trials that assess the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis for the treatment of chronic pain and PTSD.

It would also expand cannabis research into other factors related to veterans’ health, such as improvements to mood and/or social functioning, impacts on other substance use and changes to overall quality of life.

The measure additionally requires the clinical trials examine the effects of different forms, potencies, and methods of cannabis administration.

Sullivan said better data are needed.

“Medicinal cannabis is already in use by thousands of veterans across the country, but we don’t yet have the data we need to understand the potential benefits and side effects associated with this alternative therapy,” he said in a statement.

Veterans of Foreign Wars also supports the measure.

“VFW members tell us that medicinal cannabis has helped them cope with chronic pain and other service-connected health conditions,” Pat Murray, director of National Legislative Service for Veterans of Foreign Wars, said in a statement. “They cannot receive these services at VA because of VA’s bureaucratic hurdles. VA uses evidence-based clinical guidelines to manage other pharmacological treatments of post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, and substance use disorder because medical trials have found them effective. VA must expand research on the efficacy of non-traditional medical therapies, such as medicinal cannabis and other holistic approaches.”

Cole Lyle, executive director of Mission Roll Call, a group that works to prevent suicides and improve access to care, said anecdotal reports only go so far and rigorous study is needed.

“Many in the veteran community have seen medical marijuana work for themselves or fellow veterans. Some have stopped drinking or trying to cope in other unhealthy ways, mitigated their service-related issues, have great jobs and a loving family,” he said. “But this is all anecdotal. As we continue to fight veteran suicide, it is essential that veterans are able to explore any and all means that could help them carry on with their lives. Congress should authorize and fund research on medical marijuana, so we can determine its effectiveness in treating service-related issues veterans across America are coping with.”