Important facts every veteran should know about medical marijuana, including the VA's official position and how marijuana helps PTSD and related symptoms. DAV supports researching medical marijuana for veterans' medical needs. More data is needed to assess medical marijuana's uses, including its benefits and harms.
5 Things Veterans Deserve to Know About Medical Marijuana
As we honor those who have served in the United States armed forces, CannaMD has organized five of the most important things every veteran deserves to know about medical marijuana, PTSD, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
We’re eternally grateful for the selfless sacrifice and courage of those who have served and remain committed to helping our veterans in any way we can!
If you are not a veteran, but have a loved one who is, we encourage you to share today’s important message.
1. Medical Marijuana Patients Still Receive VA Benefits
While VA doctors can’t prescribe or recommend medical marijuana (that’s what we do), they also can’t withhold benefits because you’re a medical cannabis patient.
The VA, through VHA Directive 1315, confirms:
Veterans must not be denied VA services solely because they are participating in state-approved marijuana programs.
According to the VA:
Veteran participation in state marijuana programs does not affect eligibility for VA care and services. VA providers can and do discuss marijuana use with veterans as part of comprehensive care planning, and adjust treatment plans as necessary.
The VA also outlines the following rules:
- Veterans will not be denied VA benefits because of marijuana use.
- Veterans are encouraged to discuss marijuana use with their VA providers.
- VA health care providers will record marijuana use in the veteran’s VA medical record in order to have the information available in treatment planning. As with all clinical information, this is part of the confidential medical record and protected under patient privacy and confidentiality laws and regulations.
- VA clinicians may not recommend medical marijuana.
- VA clinicians may only prescribe medications that have been approved by the FDA for medical use. At present, most products containing THC, CBD, or other cannabinoids are not approved for this purpose by the FDA.
- VA clinicians may not complete paperwork/forms required for veteran patients to participate in state-approved marijuana programs.
- VA pharmacies may not fill prescriptions for medical marijuana.
- VA will not pay for medical marijuana prescriptions from any source.
- VA scientists may conduct research on marijuana benefits and risks, and potential for abuse, under regulatory approval.
- The use or possession of marijuana is prohibited at all VA medical centers, locations and grounds. When you are on VA grounds it is federal law that is in force, not the laws of the state.
- Veterans who are VA employees are subject to drug testing under the terms of employment.
2. Marijuana May Work Better than Other PTSD Medications
Although SSRIs [antidepressants] are associated with an overall response rate of approximately 60% in patients with PTSD, only 20% to 30% of patients achieve complete remission.
Fortunately, medical marijuana may provide an effective alternative. As Dr. Alexander Neumeister, director of the molecular imaging program in the Departments of Psychiatry and Radiology at the NYU School of Medicine, explains:
There’s not a single pharmacological treatment out there that has been developed specifically for PTSD. There’s a consensus among clinicians that existing pharmaceutical treatments such as antidepressant simply do not work.
In fact, we know very well that people with PTSD who use marijuana — a potent cannabinoid — often experience more relief from their symptoms than they do from antidepressants and other psychiatric medications.
For more on marijuana vs. pharmaceutical medication, see: How Marijuana Helps PTSD.
3. Veterans Receive Discounted Marijuana Treatment
Before purchasing cannabis from a medical marijuana treatment center, Florida patients must first qualify for a medical marijuana certification; CannaMD provides qualified patients with the state-required recommendation to complete this process.
In addition to working with Veterans for Cannabis and other local organizations, CannaMD‘s board-certified physicians are honored to provide medical marijuana treatment to veterans and offer a 10% discount on all appointments.
CannaMD offers convenient locations all across the state. To schedule an appointment, simply call (855) 420-9170 or fill out a quick online application!
Veterans are also encouraged to speak with their local dispensary regarding military discounts on cannabis medication. Standard discounts include:
: 15% discount : 20% discount : 20% discount (includes veterans and spouses) : 30% discount (includes veterans and spouses) : 20% discount : 25% discount : 25% discount : 15% discount : 20% discount : 15% discount
Note: Discounts are subject to change. Dispensaries may be running additional specials on Veteran’s Day.
For a full list of medical marijuana treatment centers, see CannaMD‘s Dispensary Directory.
4. PTSD Studies Support Cannabis
A 2014 study of 80 patients applying for their state’s medical cannabis program concluded:
Based on the Clinician-Administered Post-Traumatic Scale (CAPS) for DSM-IV, study participants experienced greater than 75% reduction in CAPS symptom scores when patients were using cannabis compared to when they were not.
Research suggests that marijuana may work in a number of different ways to decrease PTSD symptoms. For instance, a recent Frontiers in Neuroscience review noted that marijuana cannabinoid, CBD, can inhibit disturbing memories while offering fewer side effects than pharmaceutical medication.
Medical marijuana may also play a role in treating nightmares. A 2009 Canadian clinical trial of synthetic cannabinoid medication, nabilone, found:
The majority of patients (72%) receiving nabilone experienced either cessation of nightmares or a significant reduction in nightmare intensity. Subjective improvement in sleep time, the quality of sleep, and the reduction of daytime flashbacks and night sweats were also noted by some patients.
Lastly, research has identified a link between PTSD and low levels of the brain lipid, anandamide – a compound that closely resembles marijuana cannabinoid, THC. Anandmide has been called the body’s “natural antidepressant,” and when anandamide levels are restricted, results can include chronic anxiety, impaired fear extinction, aversive memory consolidation, and other symptoms of PTSD.
Importantly, anandamide activates our body’s CB1 receptors, the same brain receptors that are stimulated by THC. Studies link exposure to chronic stress to decreased CB1 receptor binding and expression within the hippocampus. This is a significant finding, as the hippocampus plays a major role in short and long-term memory consolidation (disruptions to memory consolidation are thought to play a role in PTSD flashbacks and other symptoms, such as hyper-vigilance).
While more research is needed, these studies suggest medical marijuana may restore balance to this complicated biological process.
5. You’re Not Alone
Of the nearly 175,000 medical marijuana certifications issued in Florida in 2018, more than 41,000 were for the treatment of PTSD, making it the second most common qualifying condition behind chronic pain. While CannaMD‘s experienced team of physicians are always available to help, it’s important to know that other PTSD and veterans resources are also available.
For additional support, consider visiting:
For more PTSD and cannabis facts, see CannaMD‘s PTSD Studies Page.
A NOTE REGARDING ACTIVE SERVICE MEMBERS: The Department of Defense states in their military drug and alcohol policy for active service members that they will “…enforce the prohibition of illicit and controlled substances, and substances prohibited by lawful order. Controlled substances are scheduled in 21 U.S.C. § 812 and are referenced by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), 10 U.S.C. § 912a, Article 112a.” However, thanks to an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), active service members may now use products containing hemp and its derivatives, including CBD (note: marijuana-derived CBD is still prohibited).
Ready to try medical marijuana?
Ready to try medical marijuana? Or just have questions? Give us a call at (855) 420-9170 or fill out a quick and easy online form. Our board-certified physicians are always available to help!
And to all our veterans out there: THANK YOU for your courage, sacrifice, and protection!
Medical cannabis as an alternative to opioids for veterans
Like many veterans, the rigors of military service took a toll on Air Force veteran and DAV life member Jarid Watson’s body. He’s not sure when exactly it happened—perhaps during physical training or while loading and unloading cargo planes as a member of the world-famous U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds—but at some point during his nearly 12 years in uniform, a bone growth on the ball joint of his hip tore his labrum and damaged much of the surrounding cartilage.
The injury brought on chronic pain for Watson and eventually led to his medical retirement from the military in 2016. It also severely affected his sleep, which in turn negatively influenced his motivation and mood. As a father, husband, entrepreneur and student, he knew something had to be done to combat the pain and restore his ability to get a good night’s rest, for the benefit of himself, his family, his career and his studies.
For Watson, there was only one choice.
The Cannabis cure
DAV calls for more research into medical cannabis as an alternative pain relief option for veterans with chronic pain, PTSD and TBIs.
Like many veterans, the rigors of military service took a toll on Air Force veteran Jarid Watson’s body. He’s not sure when exactly it happened-perhaps during physical training or while loading and unloading cargo planes as a member of the world-famous U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds… continue reading
Marijuana’s promising moment
Iraq veteran finds cannabis helpful as Washington debates how to move forward.
Like many veterans, service took a toll on Ryan Rasnick.
While he was driving in western Anbar Province in Iraq in 2009, an RKG-3—a Russian-made anti-tank hand grenade—was hurled directly in front of his vehicle. Rasnick quickly slammed on the brakes. And while the maneuver likely saved his and other lives, it violently jostled his neck causing longterm damage… continue reading
Is medical cannabis legal?
Over the past two decades, the legal status of medical marijuana in many states has evolved to reflect the shifting attitude towards cannabis as a viable medicine.
Currently, 33 states and the District of Columbia have state-approved medical marijuana programs, as do Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Two additional states have passed medical cannabis legislation that is expected to be fully implemented at a later date, while seven states permit cannabinol (CBD) oil—the non-psychoactive component in cannabis—for medical purposes only.
Visit the National Conference of State Legislatures to find which states have medical marijuana programs.
However, physicians face ethical and legal barriers when deciding to recommend medical marijuana for veterans—while it may be permitted where they live, it remains a federally prohibited drug.
What types of conditions can medical marijuana treat?
The FDA notes increasing interest in the use of cannabis to treat a variety of medical conditions, including glaucoma, cancer, multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy-induced nausea, and certain seizure disorders. Of the states that allow medical marijuana, chronic pain, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder are often qualifying medical ailments.
What are other possible benefits?
Advocates and researchers believe that legal access to medical cannabis could potentially alleviate the opioid addiction crisis that has been reported among veterans.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 65% of veterans suffer from chronic pain and are twice as likely to die from an accidental prescription opioid overdose as non-veterans. As such, many veterans are looking for alternatives to highly addictive and potentially dangerous opioid medications—like medical marijuana.
According to USA Today, almost every VA facility has experienced a steady drop in its opioid prescription rates since 2012, with an overall decline of 41 percent. The VA is also continuing its efforts to promote safe prescribing practices and to address the broader opioid epidemic in the United States, which includes alternative therapies for its patients.
Are there efforts underway to legalize medical cannabis for veterans within VA?
VA scientists are able to conduct research on marijuana benefits and risks, and potential for abuse, under regulatory approval. Any questions related to research can be addressed to [email protected] .
Several bills introduced in the 116 th Congress, including the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2018 (H.R. 5520), the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act (S. 3409), and the Veterans Equal Access Act (H.R. 1647) sought reforms concerning medical marijuana for veterans. While these bills did not ultimately make it into law, new legislation is likely to be introduced in the 117 th Congress.
What is DAV’s stance on medical cannabis for veterans?
DAV Resolution 023, passed by DAV members in 2018, calls for research into the medical efficacy of medical cannabis for treating conditions of service-disabled veterans. Additionally, as mentioned above, DAV has supported legislation which seeks to do this. This is an important issue for many disabled veterans and DAV members—and leadership believes it is critical to enhance the base of knowledge surrounding the potential benefits and risks.
Can veterans get medical marijuana through the VA?
Currently, VA doctors cannot provide or recommend medical marijuana for veterans as the federal status for cannabis remains a Schedule 1 substance, making the drug illegal in the federal government’s eyes. Because of this, veterans should never bring any type of marijuana into a VA facility, even when provided through a state-sanctioned medical marijuana program.
However, veterans participating in a state-sanctioned medical marijuana program will not be denied VA benefits, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. VA providers are able to discuss cannabis use with veteran patients and adjust care and treatment plans as needed. Veterans are encouraged to discuss medical marijuana use with their VA providers as part of their confidential medical record.
The VA will not pay for medical marijuana prescriptions from any source, nor will VA providers complete paperwork or forms required for a veteran to participate in a state-approved medical marijuana program.
However, anecdotal feedback from veterans shows that VA’s directives and actual patient experiences sometimes differ in cases where a prescribed medical marijuana user walks into a federal (VA) facility.
View VA’s full directive on medical marijuana here. If you have questions regarding this policy please contact [email protected] .
Is it true that I could lose the right to buy or own firearms if I use medical cannabis?
Marijuana, despite medical and recreational legalization in some states, is still illegal under federal law.
According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, “Any person who uses or is addicted to marijuana, regardless of whether his or her state has passed legislation authorizing marijuana for medicinal purposes is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance and is prohibited by Federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition.”
Some states have remedial steps to restore 2 nd Amendment rights for registered medical marijuana users. But it is important to remember that even in states where it is legal, the federal law still applies.