Veterans and Medical Cannabis: A Comprehensive Guide

As the medical marijuana field continues to evolve, the potential benefits for veterans have increasingly come to the forefront. Many veterans struggle with various physical and psychological conditions resulting from their service. In this instance, medical cannabis offers a promising alternative or complementary treatment option. 

Navigating the complexities surrounding the Veterans Administration and medical cannabis can be daunting. As such, we provide you with a comprehensive guide for veterans using medical cannabis and the various aspects of it, including its usage, accessibility, legal considerations, healthcare options, and available resources.

Guide for Veterans Using Medical Cannabis

In recent decades, there has been a significant evolution in the legal status of medical marijuana across numerous states, reflecting changing attitudes toward cannabis as a legitimate form of medication. There are multiple US states with an established state-approved medical marijuana program as well as states permitting the use of cannabinol (CBD) oil – a non-psychoactive component of cannabis – for medical purposes exclusively.

For veterans considering medical marijuana as a treatment option, it’s essential to approach its usage with careful consideration and understanding. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

  • Consultation with Healthcare Providers: Before initiating medical marijuana treatment, veterans should consult with their healthcare providers, including primary care physicians and specialists. These professionals can provide valuable insights into whether medical cannabis is a suitable option based on the veteran’s medical history, current conditions, and treatment goals.
  • Understanding State Laws: While medical marijuana is legal in many states, the specific regulations governing its use can vary widely. Veterans should familiarize themselves with the laws and regulations in their state regarding medical cannabis, including eligibility criteria, qualifying conditions, and the process for obtaining a medical marijuana card.
  • Start Low and Go Slow: For those new to medical marijuana, it’s advisable to start with low doses and gradually increase as needed. This approach allows veterans to gauge their individual response to the medication while minimizing the risk of adverse effects.
  • Keeping a Symptom Journal: Maintaining a symptom journal can be invaluable in tracking the effectiveness of medical marijuana in managing specific symptoms or conditions. Veterans can use this journal to document their experiences, including dosage, frequency of use, and any observed changes in symptoms.
  • Exploring Different Consumption Methods: Medical marijuana comes in various forms, including flowers, concentrates, edibles, tinctures, and topicals. Veterans may need to experiment with different consumption methods to find the one that best suits their needs and preferences.
  • Monitoring for Side Effects: Like any medication, medical marijuana may cause side effects in some individuals. These side effects depend on various factors, including dosage, method of consumption, individual physiology, and the strain of cannabis used. Veterans should be vigilant in monitoring for any adverse reactions and promptly report them to their healthcare providers. Some reactions include physical effects like dry mouth, red eyes, increased heart rate, throat irritation, and changes in appetite.

Veterans’ Access to Medical Marijuana

The benefits of medical cannabis for veterans are many, but access to medical marijuana for veterans has been a topic of ongoing debate and advocacy. While the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) does not prescribe or recommend medical marijuana due to its classification as a Schedule I controlled substance at the federal level, veterans still have several avenues for accessing medical cannabis:

  • State Medical Marijuana Programs: Many states have established medical marijuana programs that allow veterans with qualifying conditions to obtain a medical marijuana card. These programs typically require certification from a licensed healthcare provider and provide access to dispensaries where medical cannabis products are available.
  • Veterans Outreach Programs: Several nonprofit organizations and advocacy groups specialize in assisting veterans with accessing medical marijuana. These organizations provide educational resources, assistance with navigating state laws, and support in obtaining medical marijuana cards.
  • Alternative Treatment Centers: Some veterans may explore alternative treatment centers that offer holistic approaches to healthcare, including medical marijuana evaluations and recommendations. These centers often cater to individuals seeking natural and non-traditional treatment options.
  • Legislative Efforts: There have been ongoing efforts at the federal level to expand veterans’ access to medical marijuana. The proposed legislation seeks to amend existing laws and policies to allow VA healthcare providers to discuss medical marijuana with patients, conduct research on its efficacy, and prescribe medical cannabis in states where it is legal.

While access to medical marijuana for veterans has improved in recent years, significant barriers still exist, including the lack of federal recognition and support. Advocates continue to push for policy changes that would ensure veterans have the same access to medical marijuana as other patients.

Legal Considerations for Veterans and Medical Marijuana

VA policy on medical marijuana for veterans can be particularly challenging, given the discrepancies between state and federal laws. Here are some legal considerations to keep in mind:

  • Federal Law vs. State Law: While many states have legalized medical marijuana, it remains illegal at the federal level. This disparity creates legal ambiguity, especially for veterans who receive healthcare services through the VA, a federal agency.
  • Impact on VA Benefits: Veterans who use medical marijuana may be concerned about the potential impact on their VA benefits, including disability compensation, healthcare, and eligibility for certain programs. As of now, the VA’s policy prohibits its healthcare providers from recommending or prescribing medical marijuana as it remains a Schedule 1 substance, but VA benefits are not affected by a veteran’s participation in state medical marijuana programs and they can discuss cannabis use with VA providers.
  • Employment Considerations: Veterans who use medical marijuana should be aware of the potential implications for their employment, particularly if they work in industries subject to federal regulations, such as transportation or government contracting. While some states have laws protecting medical marijuana users from employment discrimination, federal law may supersede these protections in certain circumstances.
  • Travel Restrictions: Veterans who use medical marijuana should also consider the potential implications when traveling, especially across state lines or internationally. While some states have reciprocity agreements recognizing out-of-state medical marijuana cards, others do not, and federal law prohibits transporting marijuana across state lines.
  • Child Custody and Visitation: Veterans involved in child custody disputes may face challenges related to their medical marijuana use, as some family courts may view it negatively when determining custody and visitation arrangements. Veterans should consult with legal experts to understand their rights and responsibilities in such situations.

It’s essential for veterans using medical marijuana to stay informed about the legal landscape and seek guidance from legal professionals familiar with cannabis laws in their state.

Veterans Healthcare and Medical Marijuana Options

While the VA does not prescribe or recommend medical marijuana, it does offer a range of healthcare services and treatment options for veterans with various medical and mental health needs. Veterans seeking alternative therapies, including medical marijuana, may explore the following options:

  • Comprehensive Healthcare Services: The VA provides comprehensive healthcare services, including primary care, specialty care, mental health services, and rehabilitation programs. Veterans can work with their VA healthcare providers to develop personalized treatment plans that address their unique needs and preferences.
  • Mental Health Support: Many veterans struggle with mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety, which may be alleviated by medical marijuana. The VA offers a variety of mental health services, including counseling, therapy, and medication management, to support veterans in their recovery journey.
  • Pain Management Programs: Chronic pain is a common issue among veterans, often stemming from service-related injuries or conditions. While opioids have traditionally been used to manage pain, medical marijuana offers a potentially safer and more effective alternative. The VA offers pain management programs that incorporate various therapies and modalities, including acupuncture, physical therapy, and cognitive-behavioral therapy.
  • Clinical Trials and Research: Despite federal restrictions on medical marijuana research, the VA is actively involved in exploring alternative treatments for veterans, including cannabis. The VA’s Office of Research and Development oversees various clinical trials and studies aimed at evaluating the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana for specific conditions, such as PTSD and chronic pain. Any questions related to research can be addressed to

While the VA’s policies regarding medical marijuana remain restrictive, veterans can still benefit from the comprehensive healthcare services and treatment options available through the VA system. By working closely with their healthcare providers and exploring alternative therapies, veterans can optimize their health and well-being.

Veteran-Specific Medical Marijuana Resources

For veterans seeking information and resources specifically tailored to medical marijuana use, several organizations and initiatives cater to their needs:

  • Veterans Cannabis Project (VCP): The Veterans Cannabis Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving veterans’ quality of life through access to medical cannabis. VCP advocates for policy changes at both the state and federal levels, researches the efficacy of medical marijuana for veterans, and provides educational resources to help veterans navigate the complexities of medical cannabis use.
  • Veterans Alliance for Holistic Alternatives (VAHA): The Veterans Alliance for Holistic Alternatives is an educational organization with a mission to increase awareness of the efficacy of medical cannabis and psychedelics to help veterans regain control of their health with a holistic approach.
  • State Veterans Affairs Offices: Many state veterans affairs offices provide information and support services related to medical marijuana. Veterans can contact their local VA office to inquire about available resources, eligibility criteria for medical marijuana programs, and assistance with navigating the application process for medical cannabis cards.

By leveraging these resources and organizations, veterans can access the support, information, and advocacy they need to explore medical marijuana as a viable treatment option. Additionally, veterans can connect with fellow service members who have firsthand experience with medical cannabis to gain insights and support throughout their journey.

Featured image by Hansjörg Kelle on Unsplash.