Even though nearly one million veterans may use cannabis medically, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) still cites federal law for its reason to not recommend or study cannabis for its healing abilities. However, two upcoming studies that have the potential for turning the department’s opinions show that the VA is listening to veterans regarding cannabis consumption.
Almost one in 10 veterans consume cannabis, and 40 percent of them use it medically where available. However, veteran affairs doctors claim to have little research to educate themselves, and are at a loss in supporting veterans who wish to pursue cannabis treatment. “We have a disconnect in care,” said Marcel Bonn-Miller, a former psychologist at a veteran’s hospital in Palo Alto, CA. “The VA has funded lots of marijuana studies, but not of therapeutic potential. All the work has been related to problems of use.”
Earlier this year, the VA’s funding came with a provision that allowed veterans to seek cannabis treatment from their government doctors. The Senate approved the amendment, but it has not been passed in the house or approved by President Donald Trump. Another bill that has been introduced would order the VA to study cannabis’ effects and benefits. However, the VA is already taking small steps into the research with two new studies.
In San Diego, one study will begin in October that will research if cannabidiol helps patients during Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder treatment therapy. The study will partner cannabis with prolonged exposure therapy, a technique that has patients engage with memories of the trauma instead of avoiding them. The study has not yet selected participants and is planned to continue until 2023.
Another study still in the works is a South Carolina-based project researching the palliative effects of cannabis in hospice patients. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization doesn’t have an official position on cannabis use, but a paper published in Gerontologist stated, “ . . . cannabis may be an effective substitute for prescription opioids and other misused medications; on the other hand, cannabis has emerged as an alternative for the undertreatment of pain at the end of life.” Hospice care options are of interest to the VA. The department is seeing an increase in veterans enrolling in hospice care, and that number will continue to grow along with the amount of people over 65 in the U.S. in 2011, 44 percent of inpatient deaths in VA hospitals were in hospice beds.