California Vets With PTSD Caught in VA Medical Cannabis ‘Catch-22’

With over 2 million veterans, California is the state with the most veterans. With anywhere between 100 and 300 thousand vets who’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, the Golden State also has the highest PTSD population among Vets as well.

California Vets Medical Marijuana Infographic

None of the state’s veterans can get a prescription for medical cannabis or any type of treatment at the VA that has anything to do with medical marijuana.

Although Marijuana (either medical or recreational) continues to grow state by state as an effective treatment for PTSD and other mental disorders in the non-military ranks, it is illegal for any VA physician in any state to prescribe Medical Marijuana as a treatment.

The Veterans Administration has many rules related to medical marijuana, but they all boil down to one thing: if Vets want to use it to treat their PTSD, they aren’t going to get it at the VA. Vets aren’t supposed to lose other VA benefits if they use medical marijuana on their own, but cumbersome “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies continue to be approved by Congress.

  • Veterans who participate in state-approved medical marijuana programs will not be denied access to VA health care.
  • The use or possession of marijuana is prohibited at all VA medical centers, locations, and grounds.
  • VA clinicians may not prescribe medical marijuana.
  • VA clinicians may not complete paperwork/forms required for Veteran patients to participate in state-approved marijuana programs.
  • VA pharmacies will not fill prescriptions for medical marijuana.
  • VA will not pay for medical marijuana prescriptions from any source.
  • Veterans are encouraged to discuss marijuana use with their VA providers.
  • VA doctors and clinical teams may advise Veterans who use marijuana of the drug’s impact on other aspects of the Veterans’ care such as pain management, PTSD or substance use disorder treatment.
  • VA doctors and clinical staff will record marijuana use in the Veterans VA medical record along with its impact on the Veterans treatment plan.
  • Veterans who are VA employees are subject to drug testing

These VA ground rules are in direct conflict with the edicts of several states (including California) where the treatment of PTSD using medical marijuana is a legal alternative and considered medically effective in reducing or eliminating symptoms.

Even though there are now Federally approved clinical trials under way, it will be several years before clinical trials are complete and the approved use of Medical Marijuana by the VA for veterans can be realized.

In the meantime, Vets who seek to medicate using marijuana face several difficulties.

The VA will not pay for Medical Marijuana despite the source or costs. Out of pocket cost to the Vet can run as high as $100 per week.

At the Federal level, marijuana continues to be a Schedule 1 prohibited substance. Possession and use are illegal.

Current Status of Medical Marijuana for Vets With PTSD

The potential to reduce opioid use for pain relief by using medical marijuana is limited by the lack of availability of legally acquired marijuana. The non-clinical trials to date and anecdotal evidence support fast tracking the use of Medical Marijuana to treat PTSD. Another new bill to authorize the VA to recommend medical marijuana treatment for PTSD was passed out of committee in July.

This news sounds great, but it is nearly the same vote from the committee as occurred in previous years when amendments stopped the measure. The difference: three Republican senators who previously voted “no” have changed their votes to “yes,” possibly signaling that medical cannabis to help treat Veterans with PTSD may become a reality in the near future.