Lawmakers to VA: Research Pot as Pain, PTSD Treatment

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Washington Report

Lawmakers from both chambers and both sides of the aisle have asked the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs to do research on marijuana’s effects on chronic pain and post-traumatic stress, according to a report in Stars and Stripes.

A letter signed recently by four elected officials ask VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to conduct a “rigorous clinical trial” to determine if it is a suitable and safe alternative to addictive opioids.

The letter was signed by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., and Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn.

They wrote, “We believe VA has the authority, ability and capacity to carry out such a study. Many of our nation’s veterans already use medicinal cannabis, and they deserve to have full knowledge of the potential benefits and side effects of this alternative therapy.”

Wilkie, who took the reins of the agency two months ago, has not revealed his thoughts on pot as a potential treatment for veterans. His predecessor, David Shulkin, had pushed away the idea citing bureaucratic red tape as the obstacle.

Eric Goepel, the founder of the Veterans Cannabis Coalition, which promotes the legal use of marijuana, supports the lawmakers’ effort.

“I think this is an opportunity to get [Wilkie] on the record and get a more clear understanding of what his perception is about how the VA can conduct cannabis research,” he told the newspaper.

A former Navy SEAL, Nick Ettor, the founder of the Veterans Cannabis Project, said, “Secretary Wilkie has the opportunity to put medicine before politics and address one of the greatest needs of veterans right now, and that is alternative therapies for the signature wound of war. I hope he does the right thing and addresses this directly and aggressively.”

Roe, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and Walz, the committee’s ranking member, introduced legislation in April that clarified the VA’s authority to do the research. The VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act was sent to the full House after unanimous endorsement of the committee, but it has not been addressed. The bill does not mandate such research by the VA, but simply encourages the research.