New VA Rules Allow Docs to Talk About Medical Marijuana


Doctors and pharmacists at the Veterans Affairs Department have been cleared to talk about the pluses and minuses of medical marijuana use with vets who ask about the drug.

The doctors will still be barred from recommending or prescribing marijuana, but under a new VA directive they will be able to "discuss with the veteran marijuana use, due to its clinical relevance to patient care, and discuss marijuana use with any veterans requesting information about marijuana."

In issuing the new rule earlier this month, the VA reaffirmed its long-standing policy against marijuana use under federal laws including the Controlled Substances Act.

The new rule said "providers are prohibited from completing forms or registering veterans for participation in a state-approved marijuana program."

Under federal law, marijuana is still listed as a "Schedule 1" drug "with a high potential for abuse, without a currently acceptable medical use in treatment in the United States, and lacking accepted safety for use under medical supervision," according to the VA.

However, at least 29 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana in some form or sanctioned its medical use.

In its directive, the VA said doctors and pharmacists at the Veterans Health Administration [VHA] "should discuss with patients how their use of state-approved medical marijuana to treat medical or psychiatric symptoms or conditions may relate to the veterans participation in other clinical activities."

The discussions could involve "how marijuana may impact other aspects of the overall care of the veteran such as how marijuana may interact with other medications the veteran is taking," the VA said.

In addition, the doctors and pharmacists could talk to the vet on "how the use of marijuana may impact other aspects of the overall care of the veteran, such as pain management, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD], or substance use disorder treatment," the VA said.

The American Legion late Tuesday praised the VA's new rules on marijuana and renewed its call on Washington to remove marijuana from the list of Schedule 1 drugs.

In a statement, the Legion said, "This updated policy will help encourage veterans using medical cannabis to more openly and fully discuss their health care options with VA medical providers."

"Many states believe cannabis is a drug with medical value, and many studies, to include the recommendations of the National Academy of Medicine, support this contention," the Legion said.

In a survey conducted for the Legion in August, more than 80 percent of veterans nationwide favored legalizing the medicinal use of marijuana and said they would want to have it as a potential treatment option.

Eighty-three percent of veteran households surveyed said the federal government should legalize medical cannabis, and 82 percent indicated that they would want to have medical cannabis as a legal treatment option.

At its national convention in Reno, Nevada, in August, the two-million-member Legion also adopted a resolution urging the removal of marijuana from the government's list of "Schedule 1" drugs, including heroin, LSD and Ecstasy, which are deemed to have no medical use.

In a White House briefing in May, VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin said states allowing medical marijuana use may be providing "some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful, and we're interested in looking at that and learning from that."

However, Shulkin said that "until time the federal law changes, we are not able to prescribe medical marijuana for conditions that may be helpful."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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