IMPORTANT: All information contained on this website is for educational purposes only. None of this information should be construed as medical or treatment advice for any specific person or condition. Cannabis has not been analyzed or approved by the FDA, and there is limited information on the side effects of using cannabis as a medication. You should always consult a licensed physician in all matters related to your health.
As cannabis legalization continues to expand across the United States, millions of people living with conditions like chronic pain and PTSD are finding relief through medical cannabis. Military veterans, many of whom rely on VA medical benefits, face a complicated situation when it comes to medical cannabis access. Even though 1 in 5 veterans use state-approved medical cannabis as an alternative to pill-heavy treatments, and an overwhelming majority of veterans and their caregivers support medical cannabis research, the complex (and often contradictory) federal and state regulations surrounding medical cannabis make it difficult for them to seek medical cannabis treatments.
The federal government classifies cannabis as Schedule I Controlled Substance. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (commonly known as the VA) is a federal agency and must abide by federal law. The VA currently serves close to nine million veterans, many of whom could potentially benefit from the regulated medical cannabis market. These veterans find themselves caught in the middle, wanting or needing to access to medical cannabis that is legal in their home state but restricted by federal law.
The VA has its own healthcare program (VHA) and its own set of rules when it comes to medical cannabis. To address widespread cannabis legalization at the state level, the VA crafted the VHA Directive 1315. The VHA Directive 1315 protects veterans from being denied VA benefits solely due to participation in a state medical cannabis program.
Because they are a federal agency, VA physicians and other medical personnel may only prescribe medications that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As of October 2019, there is only one cannabis-derived product with FDA approval (a CBD-based prescription medication used for treating severe epilepsy). There are no THC-based products that have been approved by the FDA. Without FDA approval, the VA is bound by several limitations:
Given these legal boundaries, it’s easy to see why many veterans are hesitant to be completely honest with their VA doctors when it comes to cannabis. Honesty is important, however, because doctors must consider all lifestyle choices and possible drug interactions in order to make informed decisions about a patient’s course of treatment. As with all medical information, disclosure of legal cannabis use is part of a confidential medical record that is protected under patient privacy and confidentiality laws and regulations.
If you’re a veteran and you’re interested in medical cannabis treatments, you don’t need to be afraid. If you’re still uncertain, you can reach out to one of our experts today to learn more.
*Additional limitations apply for individuals currently serving in the military:
Current members of the military are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which prohibits the use and possession of marijuana at all times under the UCMJ by Section 912a, Article 112a (10 U.S.C.S. § 912a). Military personnel in active duty are subject to monthly drug-testing. The Army’s Substance Abuse Program (ASAP) is detailed in AR 600-85. Violations are punishable by military law.
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