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VA Refuses to Conduct Medical Marijuana Research for Veterans

It’s no secret that veterans across the country want to see medical marijuana legalized. Known for its unprecedented ability to help counter the negative effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), pain management, and reduction of opioid use, the use of medical marijuana by veterans is a no-brainer.

Department of Veterans Affairs Says No to Marijuana Research for Vets

The Department of Veterans Affairs however, says it will not direct any research efforts on veterans who suffer from PTSD and chronic pain. Even as more and more veterans support the research of medical marijuana, the VA is holding firm to their decision.

A letter sent to the VA in October asked Department of Veteran’s Affairs Secretary, David Shulkin to commit to studying the effects of medical marijuana on veterans who suffer from PTSD and chronic pain. It also asked Shulkin to identify the obstacles that prevented the VA from doing so.

In response, Shulkin had the following to say: “VA is committed to researching and developing effective ways to help Veterans cope with post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain conditions. However, federal law restricts VA’s ability to conduct research involving medical marijuana, or to refer veterans to such projects.”

More Veterans Favor Marijuana Legalization Than Ever

Today, more veterans favor marijuana legalization than ever before. The current treatment options their given are doing little to help, and in some cases only make their conditions worse. Opioid medications like Oxycontin and Vicodin for pain management are handed out like candy. What’s more, is they’re often prescribed alongside with benzodiazepines to help ease anxiety. The combination of the two however, is known to increase a person’s risk of overdose.

The prescription of multiple drugs is common. Overdose and suicide amongst veterans is also something becoming far too common. This is something the VA is already aware of. According to a 2011 study by the VA, veterans are twice as likely to die from accidental opioid overdoses than non-veterans.

Yet, the VA still refuses to conduct any research into medical marijuana. Nick Etton, founder and executive director of the Veterans Cannabis Project says, “What America’s veterans need prioritized right now is for cannabis to be treated as a health policy issue. We’re desperate for solutions to the problems we’re dealing with.”

Some Believe VA Refusal to Study Medical Cannabis is A Cop Out

Some believe that the VA’s refusal to do any research is unwarranted. Yes, marijuana is federally illegal, but research on it isn’t. John Hudak, deputy director at the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution, says, “Obviously it is federally illegal, but there are no restrictions on doing scientific research on it. Universities do this all the time and there’s a process to go through. It’s really a cop out for the VA to say, ‘oh, we’re not doing work on this because of federal law’ when actually federal law allows them to do that.” He also made note that that National Institute on Drug Abuse funds cannabis research regularly.

US Representative Tim Walz, who received Shulkin’s response, noted that it was “disappointing and unacceptable.” He plans to send another letter to Shulkin for further clarification.

“VA’s response not only failed to answer our simple question, but they made a disheartening attempt to mislead me, my colleagues and the veteran community in the process,” Walz said regarding Shulkin’s response that the VA is “restricted from performing cannabis research.”

Shulkin did note that the VA is offering veterans other forms of alternative treatment however. Now aside from a cocktail of deadly prescription medications, veterans are also offered yoga, meditation, and alternative treatments for PTSD through the VA. He also said that prescriptions for opioids have been reduced by 33 percent.

Is this supposed to justify the fact that he lied about the VA’s ability to conduct research into the benefits of cannabis? Sure yoga, meditation, and massage can help, but the fact that medical cannabis research is still not available for vets remains the real issue at hand.

Shulkin also referred to “insufficient evidence” that medical cannabis helps patients with PTSD or chronic pain, despite the countless studies (and accounts from people worldwide) that state otherwise.

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