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House lawmakers advance bill to study marijuana as treatment option for veterans

American veterans are one step closer towards access to marijuana as a remedy for post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain

by Alexa Liautaud
May 9 2018, 2:59am

American veterans are one step closer to accessing marijuana as a remedy for post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain, after House lawmakers advanced a bill Tuesday that would permit the Department of Veterans Affairs to start conducting research.

Members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs unanimously voted to push the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act to the House floor. The bill would better articulate the laws surrounding what the VA can and cannot do as a government agency when it comes to marijuana research.

It’s a win for veterans fighting against the high rate of opioid prescriptions and for alternative methods of dealing with PTSD. Despite the fact that 29 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana, the VA has said in the past it is not authorized to prescribe or recommend marijuana to veterans because the federal government still considers it a “Schedule I controlled substance.”

In December 2017, then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin said in an interview the VA was prohibited from researching the effectiveness of cannabis to combat PTSD.

“Currently, federal law prohibits us from doing research on medical marijuana or prescribing medical marijuana,” Shulkin told Task & Purpose. “We don’t make the laws of the country; we follow them. So that would be up to a law change.”

But now, lawmakers are saying that’s not the case and the bill clarifies that the VA can, in fact, study the impact of marijuana.

“I’m keenly aware of the need for VA to critically examine possible new treatments that could benefit veteran patients,” said the committee's chairman, Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee. “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,” he added.

Ryan Walton, a retired U.S. Army soldier and survivor of the 2009 Fort Hood mass shooting, says marijuana changed his life. He is organizing a rally along with a group of other veterans on May 26 called “Plants over Pills” to raise awareness about the dangers of veteran opioid use and the safer alternatives for healing PTSD.

“This is a great opportunity to prove once and for all the medical value we are all seeing in our legal states,” Walton told VICE News. “I think if we continue to show the change in ourselves and the worthiness of our cause we will continue to see changes to the medical cannabis program in the VA and our country.”

“I personally have seen my life change before my eyes over the last two years,” he added.

Testing for how weed benefits veterans is a thin field. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment granted one team of researchers at the the Scottsdale Research Institute in Phoenix $2 million last year to pursue an FDA-approved study of the effectiveness of cannabis to treat veterans’ PTSD. The study led by Dr Sue Sisley has just progressed to the clinical trial phase, according to High Times, and has between 50 and 60 participants.