Former VA Secretary Admits Medical Marijuana Could Save Veterans' Lives
When David Shulkin worked for the US Office of Veterans Affairs, he opposed medical marijuana research for vets. But just a year after President Trump fired him via tweet, he’s singing a much chiller tune.
Published on October 18, 2019

A year ago, Dr. David Shulkin blocked Congress from investigating medical marijuana as a depression and PTSD treatment for US veterans. At the time, he was the Secretary of the VA, and he cited concerns about weed causing suicidal thoughts in veterans who already experience incredibly high rates of suicide, with one taking their own life roughly every hour in the US.

But in a recent interview with the military-focused news site, Task and Purpose, Shulkin is back-pedalling on his previous statements. Today, he’s demanding that the VA begin medical marijuana research for veterans. 

“I think the time is now,” Shulkin told Task and Purpose and its audience of former and current servicemembers. “I believe that the VA should be involved in research on anything that could potentially help veterans and improve their health and well-being.”

“In particular, with the VA's focus on suicide as the top priority, people just don't take their lives because of no reason,” he continued. “They take their lives, often because of issues related to chronic pain, depression, substance abuse, and there is growing evidence that medical marijuana — I'm not talking about recreational marijuana — but properly prescribed, may have some real benefits in anxiety improvement, in pain management, and potentially, in the issue of substance abuse.”

This is a complete 180 from Shulkin’s position in December 2018, when Democrats in the US House asked if the VA would simply consider medical marijuana for America’s suicidal veterans. At the current rate, roughly 23 veterans commit suicide every day in the US. Yet, a year ago, Shulkin bucked the Democrats’ request by stating that marijuana is a Schedule I drug, and said there was evidence that weed could increase someone’s risk of committing suicide or developing psychosis.

There’s still no consensus as to whether marijuana use can trigger dangerous levels of psychosis or increase suicidal thoughts. But there is a slowly-developing consensus that cannabis can effectively treat chronic pain, depression, anxiety, mood disorders, and PTSD in some patients. However, since the federal government still considers marijuana a highly addictive drug with “no accepted medical use,” and the VA is a federal department, the restrictions on medical marijuana research make it practically impossible to accurately study.

And while it may be easy to judge Shulkin’s 2018 position on medical weed, keep in mind he was a mouthpiece for the Trump Administration back then. And regardless of what Trump supporters may believe about The Don’s supposedly secret, behind-the-scenes moves to push weed legalization, the Trump Administration has made it painfully clear that it opposes cannabis use  –  except when its wealthy house-bros smoke it.

Case in point: When Shulkin openly defied the Trump Administration’s attempts to privatize the VA’s healthcare system, President Trump himself fired the then-VA Secretary via tweet. The same thing probably would've happened if Shulkin kicked open the doors to legit federal weed research, too. 

While it’s too late for Shulkin to exercise any real influence over the VA, he has joined a chorus of former public officials and lawmakers who once opposed legal weed but are now doing everything they can to make it happen at the federal level. Although this is great for the movement’s momentum, we can’t help but wonder why these guys never did a damn thing when they actually had the chance to affect real change.

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Randy Robinson
Based in Denver, Randy studied cannabinoid science while getting a degree in molecular biology at the University of Colorado. When not writing about cannabis, science, politics, or LGBT issues, they can be found exploring nature somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Catch Randy on Twitter and Instagram @randieseljay
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