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PTSD and Pot 

A proposal making its way through Congress would make it easier for veterans to use cannabis to treat their PTSD. Photo courtesy of Military Health System, U.S. Department of Defense.

A proposal making its way through Congress would make it easier for veterans to use cannabis to treat their PTSD. Photo courtesy of Military Health System, U.S. Department of Defense.

As early as the 19th century, doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals noticed that many people who returned from military service had serious difficulty coping with the horrors of war. So many men (mostly) became disabled by combat experience – unable to continue fighting – that the US government set its best mental health professionals to studying the problem. After over a century of research, one fact has become undeniably clear: Experiencing war first-hand causes debilitating mental illness in many, if not most, people. We now call this illness post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Although there are no reliable data on the topic, America's veterans of the Bush-era wars seem to be using cannabis in great numbers to treat their PTSD symptoms. But due to the Obama administration's continuing ban on cannabis-related research and its denial that the drug has any medical benefits, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has gone so far to prohibit its physicians and psychiatrists from even discussing the potential benefits and harms of cannabis with veterans, even those who admit to using cannabis to cope with the symptoms of PTSD, chronic pain, or some other reason.

This policy has been roundly criticized by experts, not only because of cannabis' obvious potential to help veterans, but also because of the federal government's intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship, where honesty and openness is critical to healing. Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer has been a leading critic, and he now seems to be making progress toward changing the policy.

On May 19, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate approved a law that would prohibit the VA from using federal money to stop doctors from discussing or recommending cannabis to their patients. "The death rate from opioids among VA healthcare is nearly double the national average. From what I hear from veterans is that medical marijuana has helped them deal with pain and PTSD, particularly as an alternative to opioids," said Blumenauer, who introduced the proposal.

For two years, Blumenauer has been introducing the proposal that effectively removes the federal government's censorship of doctors, and its passage after a handful of defeats is yet another signal that attitudes about cannabis are undergoing great change. Next, House and Senate committees will work to create a single version of the proposal, which would then be inserted into the larger 2017 military appropriations bill, which provides funding to the VA. The bill would then go to President Obama for approval, something that Congressional pundits believe is likely given its inclusion in the larger funding bill.

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