VA Says It Will Not Study Effects Of Medical Marijuana On PTSD And Chronic Pain


The Department of Veterans Affairs will not conduct research into the effects of medical cannabis on post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain — some of the very ailments veteran patients rely on the drug to treat.

In a Dec. 21 letter to Minnesota Democrat Rep. Tim Walz, VA Secretary David Shulkin said that the department is unable to research medical cannabis due to federal restrictions. “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,” he added.

Your browser cannot view this PDF.You can click here toview the PDF. 

VA press secretary Curt Cashour expanded on Shulkin’s explanation in an email to  Task & Purpose this afternoon: Conducting research into medical cannabis at the VA would “involve interactions with a number of federal entities” from the Food and Drug Administration, Health and Human Services, National Institute of Health, National Institute of Drug Abuse, and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“Requirements include review of an investigational new drug application and approval of the research protocol by the FDA; an investigator registration and site licensure by the DEA; and obtaining the medical drug through NIDA and the nationally approved medical marijuana production laboratory,” Cashour said in an email.

In other words, it’s not illegal, but there’s a lot of red tape to get through.

Related: VA Doctors Are Now Cleared To Talk About Medical Marijuana With Patients »

Shulkin’s letter was a response to Walz and nine other Democrats from the House Committee on Veterans Affairs who submitted a letter in October asking whether the VA would commit to conducting research into the effects of medical cannabis on post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain, and if not, what barriers stood in the way of that research.

Walz’s office released both Shulkin’s Dec. 21 letter, as well as another letter dated Jan. 16, again calling for the VA to outline "any and all external and internal barriers in the pursuit of research" into medical cannabis.

Your browser cannot view this PDF.You can click here toview the PDF. 

“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 wrote. “They claimed, without citing any specific law, that VA is restricted from conducting research into medical cannabis, which is categorically untrue. They also go on to make additional excuses while demonstrating a severely limited understanding of existing medical cannabis research in the process.”

Shulkin’s confirmation that the VA will not pursue research on the potential benefits of medical marijuana for veterans is a huge setback for advocates who see the drug as a potential alternative to a pill-heavy treatment plan, for ailments like chronic pain — which affects half of all patients enrolled in the Veterans Health Administration

Twenty-nine states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam have legalized medical cannabis programs, and veterans organizations have been pushing for research into the drug as a possible treatment option for ailments such as PTSD and chronic pain, and as an alternative to highly addictive opioids.

Cannabis research also has widespread support among veterans and their family members, with a November 2017 American Legion phone survey reporting that 92% of veteran households support research into the efficacy of medical cannabis in treating mental and physical health conditions.

The news that the VA will not conduct research into medical cannabis comes just a month after the department broadened its guidelines for patients in state-legal medical pot programs to openly discuss their cannabis use with VA physicians — something never officially barred but not widely disseminated or understood.

At this time, it’s unclear how the department’s stance on marijuana research will impact how VA doctors speak with patients about the drug’s use.

“I do not understand how VA can allow VA doctors to discuss medical cannabis with veterans while at the same time refusing to conduct research into medical cannabis’s effects on veterans,” Walz told Task & Purpose in an email. “To me, these mixed signals are counter intuitive and irresponsibly put veterans’ health at risk.”

Getty Images/Washington Post/Matthew Staver

NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO — An enlisted Navy SEAL sniper testified on Wednesday that Chief Eddie Gallagher told his platoon prior to their deployment that if they ever captured a wounded fighter, their medics knew "what to do to nurse them to death."

In early morning testimony, former Special Operator 1st Class Dylan Dille told a packed courtroom that he had heard the phrase during unit training before the men of SEAL Team 7 Alpha Platoon deployed to Mosul, Iraq in 2017.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Army photo)

A Navy SEAL sentenced to one year in prison for the death of Army Special Forces Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar is under investigation for allegedly flirting with Melgar's widow while using a false name and trying to persuade her that he and another SEAL accused of killing her husband were "really good guys," according to the Washington Post.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Army/Capt. Jason Welch)

Soldiers with the 3rd Cavalry Regiment from Fort Hood, Texas, returned from a deployment to Iraq, Syria, and Kuwait, in February 60 combat badges richer.

Read More Show Less
Photo: Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Porch/U.S. Army

Army Staff Sgt. Albert Leon Mampre, who served during World War II with the famed Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division depicted in the HBO series 'Band of Brothers,' was laid to rest on June 15th, the Army announced

Mampre, who died on May 31 at 97 years old, was the last living medic from Easy Company, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. A number of soldiers assigned to his unit provided an honor guard for his funeral service.

Read More Show Less

In his seven months as legislative assistant to the commandant of the Marine Corps, Brig. Gen. Norman Cooling proved to be an abusive, bullying boss, who openly disparaged women, ruled through intimidation, and attempted to spread a rumor about a female officer after the Senate complained about him to the defense secretary, according to a Defense Department's Inspector General's Office investigation.

"The adjectives a majority of witnesses used to describe his leadership were abusive, bullying, toxic, abrasive, and aggressive,"a DoD IG report on the investigation into Cooling's conduct found. "Some subordinates considered him an 'equal opportunity offender,' disparaging men and women. BGen Cooling denied making some of the comments attributed to him, but more than one witness told us they heard him make each of the comments described in this section of our report."

Read More Show Less