A U.S. Senate panel last week approved a bill that directs the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to conduct research into cannabis as a treatment for chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The bipartisan legislation, which was introduced by Montana Democrat Senator Jon Tester on February 9 and co-sponsored by Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska, was approved by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee with a vote during a closed-door session on Thursday.
Under the bill (S. 326), the VA would be tasked with conducting a large-scale observational study that evaluates the safety and efficacy of cannabis as a treatment for PTSD and chronic pain. An identical bill (H.R. 1003) sponsored by California Democratic Representative Lou Correa is also pending in the House of Representatives, with Republican Representative Jack Bergman signed on as a co-sponsor.
The observational study would explore the positive and negative health outcomes of cannabis use by veterans, including whether using marijuana reduces the use of alcohol or opiates. The study would also investigate other aspects of medicinal cannabis use, including sleep quality, pain intensity, agitation, and overall quality of life. Once the study is complete, the legislation requires the VA to report back to Congress on the results and the feasibility of conducting clinical trials.
Senate Veterans Affairs committee chair Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, said in a statement when he introduced the bill earlier this month that the legislation will give military veterans new choices to manage their health care.
“Our nation’s veterans deserve options when it comes to treating the wounds of war, which is why VA needs to have a better understanding of how medicinal cannabis plays a role in their healing,” Tester said. “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.”
A New Milestone In Cannabis Policy Reform
Lawmakers in both chambers of Congress have introduced similar legislation in previous years, including a bill that was approved by the House Veterans Affairs Committee two years ago. Thursday’s approval by the Senate panel, however, is the first advancement of a veterans cannabis research bill in the upper chamber of Congress.
“Many of our brave men and women in uniform suffer from unseen wounds of war as a result of their sacrifices on behalf of our country, wounds that often manifest in post-traumatic stress,” Sullivan said in a statement when the bill was introduced. “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.”
Tester’s bill also directs the VA to assess the ability of the agency to coordinate FDA-approved clinical trials into the safety and effectiveness of cannabis and cannabis extracts for health care among veterans. If approved by the VA, the clinical trials would provide study participants with cannabis products from federally licensed producers and compare the results with a control group.
Thursday’s approval of S. 326 by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee is being hailed by medical marijuana and cannabis policy reform advocates as a significant step forward in the movement to end the prohibition of weed in the United States.
“I’m heartened to see the U.S. Senate take an essential step forward on what should be a priority we all agree on — taking care of our country’s veterans and providing them with alternative treatments for things like PTSD and chronic pain management,” Steven Jung, a U.S. Army veteran and the chief operations officer of vaporizer manufacturer PAX, said in an email to High Times. “Veterans are in crisis and at much greater risk of suicide than the national average, and it’s time we take action now.”