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360° Perspective: Veterans, PTSD and medical marijuana

Posted at 10:18 PM, Jun 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-28 11:54:09-04

COLORADO SPRINGS – In this 360° Perspective we’re taking a look at the debate over veterans, medical marijuana, and access.

One Colorado veteran is fighting for others to have the option, but the VA refuses as long as marijuana is federally illegal. The VFW supports more research but recently came out against bills that would have expanded access. A former VA addiction psychiatrist says the research will take too long.


Veteran Matt Kahl sustained multiple injuries while serving in Afghanistan, “I deployed twice, and I was medivac’d one time.”

After initial treatments of VA-prescribed painkillers led to some severe side effects, Kahl moved to Colorado to use marijuana for pain management and his PTSD.

“I moved here in 2013, and I think I was off the pharmaceuticals by about late 2014, early 2015,” Kahl said.

Before Colorado added PTSD to the list of treatable conditions, Kahl turned to the state’s recreational market. Today he says many fellow veterans choose this path because they fear the VA will stop benefits if they get in on the medical marijuana registry.

Here’s the VA’s policy:

-VA doctors can’t prescribe medical marijuana, only drugs approved by the FDA.
-They also can’t assist veterans who want to sign up for state medical marijuana programs.
-VA pharmacies won’t fill marijuana prescriptions.
-VA benefits won’t pay for it.
-You can’t possess it on VA property.

There’s another side to the VA policy:

-Veterans won’t be denied benefits for marijuana use.
-They want veterans who choose to use to tell their VA doctors so it can be factored into treatment planning.
-They will document a vet’s marijuana use in their medical records, but those records are protected under patient privacy and confidentiality laws.

“But I think the most reliable information that I have is when I speak with a veteran with PTSD or some other disease and seeing him or her into their eyes and seeing that it’s helping them,” Steve Kjonaas said.

Steve Kjonaas is the VFW Colorado State Commander. He hears from a lot of vets who want to talk about medical marijuana. But he says the VFW does not support the bill in Congress that would expand access for veterans because they don’t believe the VA should provide unproven treatments.

Kjonaas said more testing is needed, but the federal ban on marijuana keeps that restricted.

We also have the perspective of a former VA doctor. Bryon Adinoff specializes in addiction psychiatry and worked for the VA for 30 years.

Now he advocates for cannabis legalization and says he understands why the VA’s policy exists, but admits his perspective changed over time while talking to patients.

“It’s safe enough that I think we’d be better doing it medically now and not waiting for another 2 or 3 decades for the research to come out,” Adinoff said.

Until something changes many vets can’t get access to medical marijuana across America, but still, the national debate over how much it could help continues.

This report was produced by KMGH and Logan McCrary.

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