Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs does not allow doctors to even discuss the use of medical marijuana to veterans irrespective of state law legalizing medicinal marijuana use. Lawmakers in Illinois and New York that have legalized medical marijuana are urging changes to current policy in order for VA doctors to use modern medicine treatment options for veterans suffering from PTSD.
Nearly half of the states across the United States have passed laws allowing marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes. Despite state action, marijuana still continues to be prohibited under federal law.
Since 1970, the federal government has categorized marijuana as the most dangerous type of drug: a Schedule I controlled substance. Schedule I is defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use, high potential for abuse, and high risk of dependence. However, commonly known medicinal marijuana benefits include reduced pain and anxiety, treatment of conditions including seizures, PTSD, chemotherapy-induced nausea, glaucoma, AIDS wasting syndrome, neuropathic pain, multiple sclerosis, and insomnia.
Regardless of doctors recommending marijuana to combat negative health effects, the federal government continues to categorize it as a Schedule I controlled substance along with heroin, ecstasy, and LSD.
In 2011, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) denied categorizing marijuana as a Schedule II drug because there has not been enough research on the drug. Recently, in December 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended that marijuana’s classification be changed.
Currently, marijuana requires an excessively strict process for approved research. The FDA requires researchers to be approved as an Investigational New Drug (IND), which renders the drug safe and effective for their intended use. Additionally, the DEA must review the application and issue special licensure and registration because of its classification as a Schedule I controlled substance. Lastly, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is responsible for supplying the research grade marijuana to the approved researchers.
The FDA’s lack of approved research rests on their claim that the purity and potency of the drug may vary considerably. Although NIDA requires strict testing and compliance for any FDA approved marijuana research, states are lacking in uniformity of testing procedures.
The FDA wants the potency levels for using marijuana well defined so that patients and doctors may control the exact dose. Recently, new mechanisms for testing potency have been developed, but certain states only require some of the cannabinoids to be tested. For example, in Connecticut every production facility is required to test only THC and CBD levels, but the other cannabinoids are not being tested.
The FDA also wants the purity of marijuana to be ensured. Medicinal marijuana is prescribed to people who suffer from some adverse health condition; the patients are not typical healthy individuals with strong immune systems. Thus, there is a need for marijuana to be free of E Coli, pesticides, and mold. Despite this, states continue to lack uniformity in testing purity. In California, for example, the grower or the dispensary facility may test the marijuana. This may result in growers selling unclean marijuana to distributers. Conversely, in Connecticut, every production facility must have every strain and every product tested to ensure the marijuana is clean.
Although medicinal marijuana dispensaries provide information and individualized consultations, uniform testing, research, and amended laws governing such practices are necessary to fully understand the effects of marijuana.