American Legion Calls on VA to Get Involved with Cannabis PTSD Study

The nation’s largest wartime veterans service organization has urged VA Secretary David Shulkin to get directly involved with federally approved Cannabis PTSD study.

The American Legion has called on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to actively support an FDA-approved research study that will investigate the effects of cannabis on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The study, led by Dr. Sue Sisley, is taking place at the Scottsdale Research Institute in Arizona and is being conducted in collaboration with the National Institute of Health (NIH) National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

The groundbreaking, first-of-its-kind placebo-controlled, triple-blind, randomized crossover pilot study is designed to study the safety and efficacy of marijuana in veterans with PTSD, a mental condition that develops after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event.

Despite the study being federally approved, cannabis’s federal Schedule I status prohibits VA clinicians from discussing medical marijuana with patients. As a result, “the Phoenix VA has not allowed Dr. Sisley to communicate with their staff or veterans receiving PTSD care at the Phoenix facility to recruit for her clinical research,” said Joe Plenzler, the Legion’s media liaison. This obstruction has prevented the study’s investigators from enrolling enough qualifying PTSD patients.

In a letter to VA Secretary David Shulkin, American Legion National Commander Denise Rohan called on the VA to actively assist the cannabis PTSD study to ensure “this critical research is fully enabled.” Rohan requested the VA clear the roadblocks that are threatening the completion of the study.

“There is an overwhelming body of evidence suggests that cannabis is effective in treating a number of service connected related illnesses, including PTSD and chronic pain, the two most persistent and widespread illnesses and injuries plaguing our veteran community,” Rohan’s letter reads in part. “Without the assistance of the Department, this study is in jeopardy of failing due to lack of viable test participants.”

The organization’s letter was submitted after Sisley, the cannabis PTSD study’s lead, had asked members of the Legion’s Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division to express their support.

“We will not be able to achieve this without your help,” Sisley said. “There is no way we’ll be able to complete this study without the Phoenix VA hospital opening their doors to us. Your leadership is well aware of this problem, and they’ve been very generous in trying to help us address this issue with the hospital. But we have not made any headway.

“The American Legion has already been immensely supportive of the study, but we’ve never formalized that. In fact, this falls within the parameters of the (Legion’s Resolution 11) passed last year. I would urge you to consider endorsing the study as an organization, enabling us to have the momentum of the Legion behind the study to generate the cooperation from the Phoenix VA.”

The study’s investigators have almost finished completing research with 22 veterans. They now need to screen 6,000 to 8,000 veterans to enroll an additional 54 qualifying patients.

The American Legion has previously called for the lifting of cannabis restrictions for vets and publicly urged the Trump administration to reschedule marijuana to facilitate research on cannabis’s effect on PTSD. Just recently, the organization adopted a resolution urging federal officials to expand legal access to medical cannabis to veterans. VA Secretary Shulkin has acknowledged there’s evidence of cannabis’s benefits, but that federal law needs to change before it can become accessible for veterans.

Previous studies on cannabis and PTSD have been promising. Researchers from the University of Birmingham recently found cannabinoids to be effective for treating PTSD and anxiety disorders.

You can stay on top of the latest findings of studies investigating cannabis for PTSD by regularly visiting the Scientific Research section of our news page.