As we’re still making up for decades of lost time, cannabis research is a must as the industry continues to grow. On Thursday, a U.S. Senate committee approved a bipartisan bill promoting cannabis research for military veterans. The research would specifically evaluate the safety and efficacy of cannabis products for veterans who suffer from chronic pain and post-traumatic stress. 

The first piece of standalone cannabis legislation to ever advance through a committee in the chamber. It also directs the Veteran Affairs office to conduct a large-scale observational trial, aimed to assess veterans’ use of cannabis and to report on its ability to mitigate pain, improve sleep and influence subjects’ intake of other substances like prescription medications or alcohol.

As the results were not streamed live, Marijuana Moment confirmed the vote result with a staffer at Sen. Dan Sullivan’s (R-AK) office, who sponsored the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act alongside Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT).

The bill’s passing speaks to a larger issue surrounding veterans and access to healthcare, especially when it comes to treating physical and mental wounds from their time serving in the armed forces.

When initially introducing the bill earlier this month, Tester said that U.S. veterans “deserve options when it comes to treating the wounds of war,” pointing to the need for the VA to have a “better understanding” of the role cannabis can play in healing.

“Our bipartisan bill ensures VA is listening to the growing number of veterans who find critical relief from alternative treatments like medicinal cannabis, while working to empower veterans in making safe and informed decisions about their health,” he added.

It’s not the first version of the bill—others were introduced in both chambers of Congress in years past, and the measure was also advanced out of the House Veterans Affairs Committee in 2021. This week’s actions do, however, mark the first major movement of the bill in the Senate.

Even though recreational and medical cannabis have spread throughout the states over the past several decades, it’s still illegal federally and the VA is not permitted to recommend, prescribe or pay for it. The official VA policy does state that veterans won’t lose benefits for using cannabis and allows discussion about cannabis between providers and patients, though that doesn’t mean that veterans who use cannabis don’t experience a stigma or discomfort in actually discussing their use with doctors.

When the bill was first introduced, Sullivan specifically highlighted post-traumatic stress. Post-traumatic stress, and post-traumatic stress disorder, have often been treated in the past with therapy and pharmaceutical medication, but we’re entering a new frontier, as research begins to explore how plant medicines like cannabis and psilocybin could potentially play a part in treating such symptoms and conditions.

Sullivan referenced the many veterans with “unseen wounds of war as a result of their sacrifices on behalf of this country,” which often manifest as post-traumatic stress.

“We owe it to these courageous service members, past and present, to explore and better understand new remedies for these mental health challenges that are safe and effective, treatments that could give our suffering veterans hope,” he added.

The most recent version of the bill raised red flags among some observers, however. The VA would be required to submit a report within 90 days of completing an observational study on whether or not it can carry out the more robust clinical trials.

“The Secretary may terminate the clinical trials…if the Secretary determines that the Department of Veterans Affairs is unable to meet clinical guideline requirements necessary to conduct such trials or the clinical trials would create excessive risk to participants,” the bill text says.

This text has some nervous, given the VA’s history of repeatedly speaking out against past versions of the reform proposal. It essentially allows the VA to finish the qualitative observational study and decide against carrying forward with the clinical trial portion with human subjects.

A number of studies have already noted that cannabis has potential to combat post-traumatic stress symptoms. Just recently, an observational Israeli study found that using cannabis prior to bedtimes was associated with improved sleep among post-traumatic stress patients. Another observational U.K. study published in December 2022 observed stress experience symptom improvements among patients with post-traumatic stress.

Patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress also acknowledge higher cannabis consumption rates than those reported by the general population.




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