Sullivan, Tester Push VA to Explore Medicinal Cannabis as an Alternative Treatment for Veterans

Senators introduce bipartisan legislation to begin clinical trials on medicinal cannabis to treat chronic pain, PTSD among veterans

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), both members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, introduced bipartisan legislation this week that pushes the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to explore the potential benefits of medicinal cannabis for veterans. 

The Senators’ VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act directs the VA to begin clinical trials to test the effects of medicinal cannabis as a treatment for chronic pain and symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD). 

“The devastating nationwide opioid epidemic has clearly shown we need to find alternatives to these medications for the treatment of pain, and that’s certainly a priority I’ve heard from many of the veterans I represent in Alaska,” said Sullivan. “Medicinal cannabis is already in use by thousands of veterans across the country, but we don’t yet have the data we need to understand the potential benefits and side effects associated with this alternative therapy. I’m glad to reintroduce this legislation with Chairman Tester, directing the VA to investigate how cannabis use can affect veterans with PTSD and chronic pain.”

“VA needs to take its cues from the growing number of veterans who find critical relief through medicinal cannabis in treating the wounds of war,” said Tester. “Our bipartisan bill ensures VA takes proactive steps to explore medicinal cannabis as a safe and effective alternative to opioids for veterans suffering from injuries both seen and unseen. This is a necessary step in taking care of the folks who fought and sacrificed on our behalf, and I’m glad to join Senator Sullivan in this effort.”

The Senators’ bill received strong backing from various Veterans Service Organizations.

“The VFW supports the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2021,” said Tammy Barlet, Associate Director, National Legislative Service, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). “VFW members tell us that medicinal cannabis has helped them cope with chronic pain and other service-connected health conditions. They cannot receive these services at VA because of VA’s bureaucratic hurdles. VA uses evidence-based clinical guidelines to manage other pharmacological treatments of post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, and substance use disorder because medical trials have found them effective. VA must expand research on the efficacy of non-traditional medical therapies, such as medicinal cannabis and other holistic approaches.”  

“Paralyzed Veterans of America fully supports investigation into medical marijuana's ability to relieve veterans' chronic pain and thanks Senator Tester and Senator Sullivan for introducing the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act, which would allow VA to begin researching cannabis' ability to address symptoms of pain and post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Heather Ansley, Associate Executive Director of Government Relations, Paralyzed Veterans of America.

“Since 2017, IAVA has made it one of our top priorities to empower veterans who are calling for the medicinal use of cannabis,” said Jeremy Butler, CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). “Eighty-eight percent of IAVA members support the research of cannabis for medicinal purposes and veterans consistently and passionately have communicated that cannabis offers effective help in tackling some of the most pressing injuries we face when returning from war. We thank Senators Jon Tester and Dan Sullivan for reintroducing the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act in order to increase that research and reduce the stigma at VA.”

“DAV has long-supported further VA research into medicinal cannabis, along with other alternative approaches, as a means of alleviating chronic pain, symptoms of PTSD and other conditions that affect so many disabled veterans,” said Joy J. Ilem, National Legislative Director, Disabled American Veterans (DAV). “As with any other form of treatment, it is essential to understand the safety, efficacy, potential side-effects and risks, and we believe the VA Medical Cannabis Research Act will be an important step in that process. We thank Senators Tester and Sullivan for taking up an issue that is of great interest and importance to the disabled veteran community.”

The Senators’ bill authorizes a series of clinical trials that assess the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis in reducing symptoms of chronic pain and/or PTSD, improving mood and/or social functioning, and impacting other substance use. It also requires the clinical trials to examine the effects of different forms and methods of cannabis administration.

Text of the Senators’ VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act can be found HERE.