In this day and age, when 31 states have adopted policies legalizing medical marijuana, when more countries are following this trend (and some even have legalized recreational use, like Canada), it makes US veterans wonder: why is our access to the alternative to opioids restricted?
Cannabis has long been used for medical purposes to relieve chronic pain: it is believed to be a better option than opioids, especially now that the opioid epidemic is evident. However, even in the states where it is officially possible to obtain cannabis to use it as part of treatment, there is a category of the population who cannot get such prescription, and that is veterans.
If a physician working at a medical center belonging to the US Dept. of Veteran Affairs dares to prescribe cannabis, the federal law will require punishing this doctor, often by means of giving him or her the sack. This situation is not beneficial to either side of the deal: doctors want to wean patients off more dangerous drugs, and patients want to manage their pain.
However, a new proposal by B. Schatz, who is Hawaii Senator, aims to break the mould and introduce legal marijuana prescriptions to medical practice in VA.
Time for change?
If the proposal is supported, it will enable VA physicians to fill out recommendation forms and prescribe medical marijuana. This plan implies establishing a 5-year protection for those who are liable to receive this type of medication. The bill in question has already been supported by many groups, including NORML, but it is also reported that the majority of veterans are in favor of this move and consider such changes necessary.
In 2017, the American Legion carried out a study which found that as many as 22% of US veterans resort to marijuana in an attempt to reduce their pain – either physical or mental. These findings suggest that among veterans marijuana use is more than double the use in all other groups of the population.
In most cases, it happens due to having chronic diseases – the elderly are more likely to develop something that will cause them pain, and they are also prone to injuries resulting from falls. That is why they are actually the target audience of medical marijuana, as they are at a higher risk of suffering from something that urges to take more painkillers and other medications.
A double-edged sword
While the benefits of medical marihuana are something that weighs heavily with the voters who support legalization of medical marijuana, making it easier to obtain may have dire consequences. This is due to the possible side effects smoking marijuana may cause, and another reason why the issue is contentious is that driving while high is really dangerous. According to a recent study, stoned-driving is definitely an issue, and more people do not find it a problem to be behind the wheel after smoking pot.
Given the fact that many elders are risky drivers (not all of them, of course, but there are reasons why insurance companies charge much more if the potential policy holder is a senior), introducing one more risk factor can exacerbate the situation.
Still, managing pain with the help of cannabis is reported to be a better option, as it is characterized by fewer adverse effects, so enabling veterans to have it at their disposal could make sense. However, developing medications based on CBD (the non-psychoactive compound responsible for the beneficial effects) would be a much better solution.