The U.S. Veterans Administration (VA) recently adopted a policy prohibiting VA physicians from recommending medical marijuana to their patients, even if marijuana is the safest and most effective medicine to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other service-related conditions.
No doubt the policy stems, in part, from the VA's efforts to address the serious problem of drug abuse among returning veterans. Veterans' advocates and organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) certainly share this concern; last fall, DPA issued a report calling for immediate policy changes to improve veterans' substance abuse and mental health treatment.
Yet seen from the larger perspective of helping veterans adjust to civilian life, the VA's stance on medical marijuana is counterproductive and harmful. The ban means that--despite their service to our country--veterans who reside in the 14 states that have legalized medical marijuana are denied the same rights as every other resident of these states.
At minimum, the VA should be actively studying whether cannabis and its unique chemical ingredients can be used to reduce post-combat trauma without contributing to drug dependency. Ample research and anecdote strongly suggest this is the case.
Patient reports and published research indicate that marijuana can be a highly effective treatment for PTSD, a condition afflicting nearly one in five veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And overwhelming scientific evidence has already proven marijuana's safety and efficacy for treating conditions like chronic pain, which affects many combat-injured veterans.
Marijuana, moreover, carries none of the risks associated with prescription drugs used to treat PTSD, which have been implicated in the tragic overdose deaths of several current conflict veterans.
"I've run the gamut of different medications at the VA, and basically I was at my limit," said decorated U.S. Army veteran Paul Culkin, a New Mexico medical marijuana patient who suffers from PTSD after serving in Iraq. "The medications were turning me into a zombie...medical cannabis made me a father and a husband again. It's been a blessing."
Disappointingly, however, it seems the VA's policy is not just about preventing substance abuse among veterans. The VA claims the ban is primarily a response to threats from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to prosecute VA doctors for recommending medical marijuana, or for completing forms necessary for their patients to enroll in a state medical marijuana program--even though to do so would not constitute a criminal offense. Civilian doctors recommending marijuana to their patients have not been arrested or threatened with arrest.