Veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other chronic pain issues may be able to ask their VA doctors for a new treatment soon: medical marijuana.
This week, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to back the Veterans Equal Access Amendment. Under the measure, Veterans Affairs (VA) would be allowed to recommend medical marijuana to patients for medicinal purposes for everything from back pain to depression to flashbacks.
Veterans who support the proposal say that it is safer and helps more than the addictive and debilitating painkillers that are often prescribed. They say using medical cannabis can help combat PTSD’s insomnia and panic attacks.
The legislation would overturn VA’s policy that forbids doctors from talking to patients about medical pot use.
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who introduced the legislation, argued that forbidding VA doctors from talking about the option of medical marijuana is unconstitutional. He said that First Amendment rights include the right of patients to discuss whatever they want with their doctors.
“They can’t discuss all the options available to them that they could discuss if they literally walked next door to a non-VA facility,” he said. “I don’t believe we should discriminate against veterans just because they are in the care of the VA.”
While medical marijuana is legal in the District and 23 states, the federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, like heroin and LSD. That means it has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.
VA physicians and chronic-pain specialists say they often want to suggest the drug but haven’t been able to.
Several studies have shown that states that allow medical marijuana for health purposes also found a decrease in the number of painkiller-related overdoses.
“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,” Michael Collins, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement. “They have served this country valiantly, so the least we can do is allow them to have full and open discussions with their doctors.”