Active duty military personnel, veterans and their family members support allowing U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to recommend medical marijuana and psychedelics to patients if they believe it would provide a benefit, according to results of a survey from Ohio State University (OSU).
Researchers polled service members, veterans, their family members and non-military respondents over a few weeks in late August and early September, the report says. All told, 1,168 individuals participated, including 315 active and veteran military members, 426 members of military families and 427 non-military individuals. The goal was to assess the differing likelihoods across the categories of respondents to support various statements about medical marijuana and psychedelics as available treatment options.
“Given the prevalence of health issues within the veteran community and the need for a wide range of treatment options, some researchers have started to explore whether and how veteran populations should have access to alternative treatment options such as marijuana and psychedelics,” authors wrote in the preprint paper, which was published this month by OSU law school’s Drug Enforcement and Policy Center and has not been peer-reviewed. “Studies of veteran views on these issues, however, have not closely explored how veteran perspectives on certain drug issues compare directly to those in their immediate and broader community.”
The survey participants, drawn from the volunteer American Population Panel, were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with four statements about marijuana and psychedelics:
- Marijuana/psychedelics can be an effective treatment for various medical conditions.
- A doctor should be legally allowed to recommend marijuana/psychedelics if the doctor believes the patient could benefit from medical marijuana/psychedelics, even without FDA approval.
- A doctor should be legally allowed to recommend marijuana/psychedelics, but only after it has received an approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
- Because of the unique hardships and health conditions experienced by veterans, U.S. Veterans Administration doctors should be legally allowed to recommend marijuana/psychedelics to veterans if the doctor believes the patient could benefit from marijuana/psychedelics.
Strong majorities of all three surveyed groups agreed the substances can be effective treatments, with even more sizable proportions saying that Veterans Administration (VA) doctors should be able to legally recommend the substances to patients if they believe they would provide some benefit.
A sizeable majority of respondents to a new DEPC @OSU_Law and @ChrrOSU survey supported the use of marijuana and psychedelics as treatment options for veterans, though active military and veterans were somewhat less supportive than others. Read the report: https://t.co/hghrxOoJKT pic.twitter.com/v31Chhqc74
— Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (@OSULawDEPC) December 27, 2023
All three groups also preferred the idea of doctors generally being able to recommend marijuana or psychedelics for patients with or without approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Fewer respondents agreed with the idea that it should only be allowed after FDA approval—a process that could take years even if the substances are rescheduled.
One notable finding, authors wrote, is that the responses indicate that active and veteran military members, despite favoring marijuana and psychedelics reform on balance, “remain somewhat less supportive in their viewpoints about use of historically illicit drugs as a medical treatment when compared to their family members and the general population.”
The only question in which military members and veterans led the groups in agreement was whether doctors should be able to recommend the substances “only after it has received an approval” from FDA. Half of veterans agreed with that statement regarding marijuana, while 48 percent agreed with respect to psychedelics.
Statements that didn’t hinge on FDA approval, meanwhile, straw stronger support among military family members and the general public.
In Congress, meanwhile, lawmakers are at odds over whether to keep provisions in a large-scale federal spending bill that would allow VA doctors to issue medical marijuana recommendations to veterans living in legal states.
That reform would achieve the same policy outcome as a standalone bill that was refiled on the House side in March by Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chairs Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Brian Mast (R-FL).
The Veterans Equal Access Act has been introduced several times in recent years with bipartisan support—and moved through committee and floor approval a number of times—but has yet to be enacted. Blumenauer, who is retiring at the end of this Congress, has made the modest reform a priority even as he’s pushed for broader legalization.
Congressional lawmakers in November, meanwhile, held a first-ever hearing on psychedelic-assisted therapy for military veterans.
In August, bipartisan congressional lawmakers expressed “deep concern” over a recently updated VA marijuana directive that continues to prohibit its doctors from making medical cannabis recommendations to veterans living in states where it’s legal.
They said the decision to maintain the “harmful policy” on cannabis recommendations is especially “alarming” in the context of VA’s latest clinical guidance on PTSD, which strongly recommends against using medical cannabis as a treatment option.
“Many veterans already report using cannabis for medical purposes as a substitute for prescription drugs and their side effects,” they said, adding that a recent survey of veterans who use cannabis found that they report improved quality of life and reduced use of certain prescription drugs, including opioids.
VA has updated its cannabis guidance before, adding language in its 2017 version that explicitly encouraged VA doctors to discuss veterans’ marijuana use, for example.
In April, Senate Republicans separately blocked a procedural vote to advance a bill to the floor that would promote VA research into the therapeutic effects of marijuana for military veterans with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The medical cannabis recommendations amendment was one of relatively few drug policy reform measures to make it through the GOP-controlled House Rules Committee, which has consistently blocked such proposals from bipartisan members this session.
However, it did advance a Republican-led amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would require Department of Defense (DOD) funding of clinical trials exploring the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelics for active duty military service members. Following bicameral negotiations, the reform was ultimately included in the final deal that President Joe Biden signed into law last week.
Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.