Under legislation advanced by a Senate panel, Virginia would be required to do research on medical marijuana!

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For the first time, a significant Senate committee has approved legislation mandating the VA investigation of medical marijuana for the treatment of chronic pain and PTSD.

The VA Medical Cannabis Research Act, which mandates a “large scale” observational study and possibly a clinical trial on the effects of marijuana usage on veterans’ health, was advanced by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in a closed-door session on Thursday.

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., said in a statement this month when he proposed the bill that the VA needs a greater knowledge of how medicinal cannabis plays a part in the healing of veterans.

“Our bipartisan bill works to empower veterans to make safe and informed decisions about their health while listening to the growing number of veterans who find crucial relief from alternative treatments like medicinal cannabis,” the bill’s authors write.

Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) is one of the bill’s co-sponsors in the Senate. This week, Representatives Lou Correa (D-Calif.) and Jack Bergman (R-Mich.), a veteran Marine Corps officer, submitted identical legislation in the House of Representatives.

Earlier iterations of the bill have been introduced in both houses of Congress, and in 2021 the House Veterans Affairs Committee approved its passage. But Thursday’s vote is the first significant Senate action on the bill, it has been pending for a while.

The VA is not permitted to recommend, prescribe, or pay for marijuana despite the fact that more than 20 states have legalized marijuana for recreational use and at least 37 states allow medical marijuana.

Advocates say veterans feel stigmatized and uncomfortable talking to their doctors about marijuana use due to the drug’s ambiguous legal status, despite official VA policy stating that a veteran will not lose benefits for using marijuana and allowing for discussion about marijuana use between VA providers and patients.

Twenty-two percent of veterans surveyed by the American Legion in 2017 said they used marijuana for medical purposes, while 92 percent of veteran households said they backed medical marijuana research.

The bill was approved on Thursday, but before it could become law, the VA would have to conduct an observational study looking at the health effects of marijuana use among veterans, including whether or not they cut back on other substances. The study also needs to assess pain severity, the standard of sleep, irritability, and general well-being.

The VA would have to update Congress on its findings when the observational research is complete, detailing whether or not it thinks a clinical trial is feasible.

If the department decides to move forward with a clinical trial, the study will investigate the effects of the medicine on chronic pain and PTSD symptoms across dosing regimens.

Many of our courageous men and women in uniform suffer from hidden wounds of war as a result of their sacrifices on behalf of our country, wounds that often appear in post-traumatic stress,” Sullivan said in a statement when the bill was presented. We owe it to the brave men and women who have served our country in the past and present to investigate and learn more about treatments that are both safe and helpful for veterans’ mental health issues.

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