There are two signature wounds from our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – traumatic brain injury, often from IEDs blowing up Humvees, and post-traumatic stress disorder, worsened by repeated deployments into combat.
On this Memorial Day, our elected officials and policymakers should renew their pledge to take care of troops when they come home. Part of that is investigating all treatments – including moving past the ridiculous and severe restrictions on federal research into marijuana.
Under current rules, VA doctors can’t even talk with their patients about marijuana, though it might help those struggling with PTSD and prevent some of the estimated 8,000 veteran suicides a year, a national disgrace.
Now the 2.4 million-member American Legion – the largest veterans group and one of the most politically conservative – is calling on President Donald Trump to permit large-scale research on pot and PTSD.
“There is overwhelming evidence that it has been beneficial for some vets. The difference is that it is not founded in federal research because it has been illegal,” Louis Celli, the Legion’s national director of veterans affairs and rehabilitation, told Politico recently.
Unfortunately, the Legion’s reasonable appeal may fall on deaf ears in the Trump administration, given the head-in-the-sand stand of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is reviving the failed war on drugs.
As The Bee’s editorial board has said more than once, it makes no sense for marijuana to be classified (along with heroin and LSD) as a Schedule 1 drug with no medicinal value and high potential for abuse. While medical marijuana is already legal in California and 28 other states, what’s needed is good research into its therapeutic value, and how it can best be used.
Among younger veterans in particular, there’s growing activism and an increasing number of anecdotal reports that marijuana has helped ease symptoms such as nightmares and flashbacks and might be more effective than pharmaceuticals.
But scientists at the VA’s National Center for PTSD warn that because there have been no controlled studies, there is no solid evidence that marijuana is an effective treatment, and that some research suggests that marijuana can be harmful.
There is one small trial of marijuana and PTSD. But we owe it to veterans to find out for sure, and that can’t happen without more research. Of the nearly 2 million who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, an estimated 25 percent to 40 percent are trying to live with traumatic brain injury or PTSD.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the largest group of post-9/11 veterans with more than 183,000 members, also supports research, saying more evidence is needed before widespread use to treat PTSD. IAVA also says veterans who are legally prescribed medical marijuana should not face federal prosecution or lose their VA benefits.
With the all-volunteer military, very few Americans have had to serve in the wars since Sept. 11. Why would we deprive them of treatment that might give them some comfort?