A U.S. Senate panel is urging the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) to streamline access to medical marijuana for veterans and look into research programs to study the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics. Additionally, the panel is requesting the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to actively support the hemp industry and the research on cannabis genetics.
In the 1980s, the genetic resources for hemp were destroyed due to governmental policies and regulations regarding the plant. During the time, hemp was considered a controlled substance, so the cultivation and use of hemp were banned, and all of the plants and their seeds were destroyed to completely eliminate it from agricultural systems. The destruction of hemp and its genetic material prevented researchers from conducting plant breeding programs and producing better hemp varieties. This led to a limited genetic diversity which would otherwise create resilient and commercially usable hemp strains (1). Now that hemp’s economic and industrial potential has been reevaluated, there has been a renewed focus on collecting and preserving hemp’s genetic traits.
In the recently published Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies appropriations bill, the committee encourages the research of the genetic traits of hemp to develop new and improved varieties. They request the Agricultural Research Services (ARS) to collaborate with related institutions and study the genetic control of hemp’s quality traits, production, and breeding and editing techniques. The Committee also recognizes the significance of hemp as a crop and calls for publically available crop genetic resources for breeding purposes. They will provide funding to instruct the ARS to conduct research into how to effectively integrate hemp into existing agricultural systems while complying with federal and state laws and regulations.
The Committee has also filed a separate report for the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies appropriations bill, which contains several sections about the 2024 military construction budget, asking for over $2,395,000,000 over the President’s budget request. Amongst the standard budgeting requests for housing, childcare, and education, the bill also requests funding for psychedelic research and support for veterans who choose to use medical cannabis.
The Committee has requested that the VA assist veterans who want to use medical cannabis through state-approved programs. This assistance includes providing them with recommendations, completing the necessary paperwork, and taking other appropriate measures to assist any veteran interested in these programs. The department should also ensure that all documentation is done properly and adheres to the restrictions of Federal law.
The Committee also involves a section that prohibits the use of funds to prevent veterans from joining these state-approved medical cannabis programs or denying them services because of their participation.
Additionally, the Committee acknowledges the growing interest in psychedelic therapies and the therapeutic potential of psychedelic medicine. They encourage the VA to look for ways to support privately funded research programs to study the efficacy of psychedelic therapies in treating severe mental health conditions like PTSD and major depressive disorder.
Cannabis and psychedelic medicines have been shown as promising treatments for veterans with mental health conditions. According to a 2016 study, around 1.1 million veterans were diagnosed with either depression, PTSD, substance use disorder, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia (2). These statistics demonstrate the critical need for expanded therapeutic options for veterans who may face challenges searching for effective treatment. By funding more research into these drugs, the VA can determine alternative treatments for veterans interested in treating their conditions with new frontiers in medicine. Implementing these initiatives would demonstrate the VA’s commitment to working alongside scientific advancements and shifts in societal acceptance to better serve the needs of veterans.
Although the 1971 War on Drugs criminalized cannabis and several psychedelic substances on a federal level, the increasing shift of destigmatization and extensive research is giving veterans with mental health conditions more treatment options. Growing scientific research has pointed towards the potential therapeutic benefits of these substances in managing and treating several mental health disorders. Many veterans have also shared their personal accounts of how these substances have helped them manage their mental health symptoms, especially in conjunction with talk therapy. The combination of studies and anecdotal evidence has indicated that these substances can be more effective for those with treatment-resistant mental health concerns that don’t respond well to traditional medicines and therapy. There has also been an overwhelming shift in perception regarding these substances in many states across the U.S., with several of them legalizing or decriminalizing cannabis and psychedelics for medical use. This gradual acceptance of substances previously viewed as illicit is paving the way for further research and support from governmental agencies.