Over 90 percent of U.S. military veterans who use medical marijuana say that it improves their quality of life, with many using cannabis as an alternative to over-the-counter and prescription medications, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts, University of Utah and cannabis research institutes looked at self-reported survey data from 510 veterans who said that they consume marijuana, seeking to better understand the purpose and experiences of their usage.
A majority of the respondents (67 percent) said that they use cannabis daily. And about one-third (30 percent) said that they consume marijuana to reduce the use of other medications, including anti-depressants (25 percent) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (17 percent). Another 21 percent said that cannabis has allowed them to reduce their use of opioid-based medications.
Overall, 91 percent of the veterans said that cannabis improved their quality of life.
“Veterans who were Black, who were female, who served in active combat, and who were living with chronic pain were more likely to report a desire to reduce the number of prescription medications they were taking,” the study says. “Women and individuals who used cannabis daily were more likely to report active use of cannabis to reduce prescription medication use.”
“Medicinal cannabis use was reported to improve quality of life and reduce unwanted medication use by many of the study participants. The present findings indicate that medicinal cannabis can potentially play a harm-reduction role, helping veterans to use fewer pharmaceutical medications and other substances.”
The observational study, which was published last month in the journal Clinical Therapeutics, has several limitations—including the fact that data was self-reported and several cannabis friendly media outlets and companies promoted recruitment or provided funding for the research initiative. But the findings are generally consistent with other studies that have focused on marijuana as a potential alternative to prescription drugs.
There’s particular interest in studying the possibility of cannabis as a treatment option for veterans, as the population disproportionately suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and high rates of suicide.
A 2019 survey from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) found that 20 percent of veterans have used marijuana for medicinal purposes, while 66 percent have consumed cannabis for recreational use.
As far as the medical side goes, veterans are able to speak with doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) about their use of cannabis. But the doctors remain prohibited from filling out the forms required to issue a medical cannabis recommendation in a legal state. A bipartisan congressional bill—as well as an amendment attached to VA spending legislation—aim to change that this session.
The House Armed Services Committee separately held a markup of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) last month, and members adopted GOP-led provisions to create a medical marijuana “pilot program” and require a study into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for active duty military members under the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).
In February, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved another bill to direct VA to carry out studies into the therapeutic potential of marijuana for military veterans with certain conditions—marking the first time that standalone cannabis legislation ever advanced through a panel in the chamber. But Senate Republicans blocked a procedural motion to move it to the floor in April.
Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) filed a different bill in May that would similarly promote research into the medical potential of marijuana for military veterans with PTSD, chronic pain and other conditions deemed appropriate by the VA secretary.
A coalition of more than 20 veterans service organizations (VSOs) sent a letter to congressional leaders late last year to urge the passage of a marijuana and veterans research bill before the end of the last Congress. But that did not pan out.