By Rebecca Victoria Olmos
In April, co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Dave Joyce (R-OH), joined Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) to introduce the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act of 2021. This bill would allow Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to discuss and recommend cannabis as treatment in states where weed is legal and research its effects.
Because of weed’s federally illegal status, the VA cannot recommend it as a possible treatment option. There are also limitations on the ability to conduct medical research on cannabis and its effects on different mental health conditions, physical ailments, and how it interacts with other medications. These are crucial factors to consider when treating a human with layers of medical conditions and trauma.
“It has been scientifically proven that medical marijuana has a considerable impact in treating conditions common with veterans when they return from service, like chronic pain and PTSD,” Lee said in a press release.
Veterans who return safely home often deal with more than one health issue due to their service. According to the National Academy of Sciences, these include anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, and an array of others.
Doctors with the VA currently treat these ailments with prescription drugs. While these drugs can be helpful, they also can have adverse side effects like headaches, gastrointestinal conditions, and seizures.
Veterans often self-prescribe cannabis as an alternative medicine because it has less drastic side effects. A 2019 nationwide study done by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that 75% of veterans would consider using cannabis as treatment if it was made available to them.
The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act of 2021 would provide five-year safe harbor protection for veterans and their doctors. This legislation is one of a few bills introduced this year to lift federal restrictions on cannabis research and recommendations for veterans.