Veterans’ Doctors Still Aren’t Allowed To Recommend Marijuana — Which Can Ease PTSD

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by Aaron Kase

on April 30, 2015

A congressional voice vote Wednesday failed to pass an amendment that would allow Veterans Administration doctors to recommend medical marijuana for patients.

Update: The measure had a chance to advance via an upcoming recorded vote at the time of original publication. However, the House of Representatives formally voted to reject the amendment to ease medical marijuana restrictions for veterans Thursday evening by a tally of 210-213.

The amendment would have paved the way for veterans to use cannabis by blocking the VA from using federal funds to prevent doctors from recommending it.

“The marijuana medical train has left the station,” the amendment’s sponsor, Congressman Earl Blumenauer from Oregon, said during the voting session. “A million Americans have a legal right to use medical marijuana, and they do so.”

Among other uses, marijuana can be helpful in treating pain and PTSD in people who have suffered through or witnessed traumatic events.

“While there is no single approach to aiding our nation’s veterans, medical marijuana is proven to help in treating posttraumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries frequently suffered by veterans,” Blumenauer said in a press release. “States are listening to their residents on the benefits of medical marijuana, including veterans, and are changing their laws. It is unacceptable for our wounded warriors to be forced out of the VA system to simply seek a recommendation on whether or not medical marijuana is a good treatment option. We should not be preventing access to medicine that can help them deal with these injuries to survive and thrive.”

Twenty-three states plus Washington, D.C. currently permit residents to use medical marijuana, but it is still strictly prohibited by federal law and doctors in the Veterans Administration system may not recommend it to their patients. That means that veterans have to go outside the VA system and find their own doctor if they want to use legal marijuana to treat their symptoms.

“We have enough information to know that medical marijuana can be a safe and effective treatment for a variety of medical conditions,” retired V.A. physician Dr. E. Deborah Gilman wrote in a letter to Congress. “It would be cruel to deny access to any medication for any patient when his or her doctor decides the benefits outweigh the risks and recommends it, but that’s particularly true for veterans and medical marijuana.”

Denied access to cannabis, many veterans are instead prescribed prescription opiate-based painkillers, which have more serious side effects than cannabis and are highly addictive. Other veterans self-medicate with alcohol, and 22 veterans per day commit suicide. Marijuana could help mitigate all those problems, if the VA doctors could only recommend it.

“Veterans in medical marijuana states should be treated the same as any other resident, and should be able to discuss marijuana with their doctor and use it if it’s medically necessary,” said Michael Collins, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, in a press release. “They have served this country valiantly, so the least we can do is allow them to have full and open discussions with their doctors.”

In addition to this amendment, the Veterans Equal Access Act was introduced in Congress earlier this year, which if passed would have the same result. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act currently under consideration by the Senate would also give VA doctors a green light to recommended marijuana.