Will the VA research marijuana for veterans? We asked Shulkin ourselves.

Phil Briggs
February 27, 2018 - 2:00 pm

Early morning Tuesday, American Legion members gathered in the Washington D.C. Hilton ballroom, to hear from their National Commander, Congressmen and the VA Secretary. We wanted to find out what Congress and the VA are doing to address the American Legion’s (and the majority of all veteran's) strong demands for medical marijuana research. 

Here’s what they had to say:

Tennessee Congressman, Rep. Phil Roe, M.D., Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

Connecting Vets: I know Secretary Shulkin replied last year to the House Veterans Affairs Committee memo requesting the VA conduct research on medical marijuana. Where are we with that? Where are you with that? Is that something we can pursue this quarter?

Rep. Roe: "Here’s something I wish the VA would do, the VA has a huge research arm as you know. Hepatitis C treatment came out of the VA, and there is so much controversy about cannabis now, we need to study that drug like any other drug. And where there are benefits (if there are any) then we use it for what it’s researched for … there will be black box warnings, just like I have on any other medication. But I would strongly encourage him to go ahead and do this. There is so much discussion about it now, I’ve talked with the FDA about it. "We don’t need state legislators making medical decisions, we need medical people making medical decisions."

Connecting Vets: Have you been able to express that to Dr. Shulkin and let him know the handcuffs are off?

Rep Roe: "I would support him if he did it, and I will make that clear to him."


VA Secretary, David Shulkin, M.D.

Connecting Vets: Last Fall, you replied to Rep. Walz's memo, saying you were unable to conduct research with current legislation in place. As part of your five points, in your address here this morning, you stated you wanted to find a path where veterans don’t begin on an opioid plan. Is medical marijuana research part of that plan and something you are going to do in 2018?

Sec. Shulkin: "First off, Federal law says we can’t use medical marijuana as a clinical tool at this point, so that um …"

Connecting Vets: But, I had several Representatives also state that federal law does not prohibit you from doing the research.

Sec. Shulkin: "Right, I do believe the VA is now able to do research. There are many, many barriers and steps that one has to take. But VA, while it takes a long time, is moving forward in some of those research studies. We have one in Charleston right now that we’re trying to get approved through the appropriate channels.  I do believe that researching and studying anything that could potentially help our veterans is consistent with our mission and we should be looking at that. But we are going to have to adhere to federal law in terms of prescribing, until a time that law would change."

Connecting Vets: But do you see research happening on the horizon in 2018?

Sec. Shulkin: "I do. It’s difficult to do the research, but we are putting in applications, and we're committed to studying anything that would potentiually help veterans."

Ellen Mihiser, Reporter, Synopsis: Along those lines, do you support the VA clinicians helping veterans in those states where there is legal medical marijuana? Helping them get their paperwork filled out so they can access it outside, without actually providing the prescription?

Sec. Shulkin: "Yeah, I think our understanding of the law is that our doctors cannot participate in the approval process, and the requirements for getting medical marijuana, but what we do want our doctors to do is be talking with their patients about what their using, in terms of something being prescribed by an outside doctor and incorporating that into an overall assessment and care plan."

Ellen Mihiser, Reporter, Synopsis: If the veteran gets care from a community provider, who does prescribe them medical marijuana, does that preclude them from getting paid by the VA for that visit?

Sec. Shulkin: "Hmmm…That’s a good question. Um, I don’t think it would, if that were an authorized visit, but I’m going to havbe to look into that answer further. But if that is care by a licensed physician, I don’t know that we precluded from that."

Connecting Vets will follow up on these comments, and in particular, the status of the research study mentioned by Secretary Shulkin in the coming weeks.