A federal official just told Congress that the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is keeping a close watch on new research exploring the therapeutic use of psychedelics to treat veterans with PTSD.
At a recent meeting of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX) requested a status update on the current research in the field of medicinal psychedelics. Lisa Brenner, PhD, director of the VA Rocky Mountain Mental Illness Research Education and Clinical Center for Veteran Suicide Prevention, responded that the VA was actively following several new clinical trials investigating the issue.
“We’re also watching very, very closely—both clinicians, researchers and the [VA] Office of Research is watching very closely,” Dr. Brenner said, according to Marijuana Moment. “Not only that, we do have researchers that are connected to the VA that are working on some of these projects with their affiliates.”
“There are currently some trials underway, and we’re eagerly anticipating the results from those well-designed trials,” she added. “Once we are able to see the results from those well-designed trials, then we will be able to begin to think about what would be next steps in terms of any modifications necessary or what next steps within VA would be, but along with you we will continue to watch closely.”
Allred also asked whether the VA has the authority to allow its doctors to prescribe or recommend psychedelic-assisted therapy to veterans, or whether Congress would need to pass a separate law to allow this. Brenner responded that this was “a complicated issue,” and said she would need to investigate the matter more thoroughly before answering.
The VA actually made one small step into the world of psychedelic medicine back in 2019, when it approved the use of ketamine for veterans suffering from depression or suicidal ideations. In order to help stem the growing tide of suicide and self-harm among former service members, the VA now allows its doctors to prescribe Spravato, a formulation of ketamine that has been approved by the FDA to treat severe cases of depression.
But even as the agency is keeping tabs on the frontiers of psychedelic medicine, it is holding steadfast to its extreme prohibition of cannabis. VA doctors are completely forbidden from discussing medical pot with patients, and veterans who use medical pot or are employed by state-legal medical cannabis businesses are at risk of losing their benefits, including home loans and pension payments. The department even bans its employees from using weed, even if they live in a state where it is legal.
Veterans advocacy groups have been demanding that the VA grant veterans access to medical marijuana for years now, but the agency refuses to budge. Lawmakers have already proposed dozens of bills that would legalize medical cannabis for veterans, authorize legal research into medical pot, or even just protect the benefits of veterans who use state-legal cannabis. But each time, Republican lawmakers have shot these proposals down, and the VA is still encouraging Congress to reject any attempt to grant veterans access to medical pot.