What Does Veterans Affairs Do for Canada’s veterans with PTSD?
The Canadian Forces Health Services, the military, and Veterans Affairs say they are in the early stages of developing a research project that will study the safety and efficacy of marijuana in the treatment of mental health disorders. In particular, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For veterans, a portion of the population who find themselves susceptible to PTSD, the conclusions of the research project could change the quality of life for our veterans.
Veterans Affairs reimburses veterans for medical cannabis, and some veterans with PTSD say it does help, but it’s all anecdotal evidence, and there is little empirical data on people with PTSD. The jump in veterans who use the reimbursement program saw a major jump from 2013 to 2015 and beyond, so much so that Veterans Affairs paid $44.5 million in medical marijuana expenses in the year before the reimbursement policy changed. The department covered 3.7 million grams of marijuana at an average cost of $12.01 per gram from October 2015 to September 2016—30 percent higher than what it considers market value.
Right now, they reimburse three grams of medical marijuana per day, including (but not exclusively) for the relief of PTSD symptoms. They used to get 10 grams per day until last fall when an auditor general’s report questioned the number.
According to Health Canada: more than five grams per day may increase risks on the drug’s effect on the cardiovascular, pulmonary, and immune systems, and psychomotor performance. Despite these risks, the limit sat at 10 grams per day per veteran (and in rare circumstances could be raised by the veteran’s healthcare provider). Reimbursement costs in the four months since the November policy change totaled $16.8 million. The Department of Veteran Affairs has been reviewing existing research to ensure that the study with the military will only strengthen the evidence on the effects of marijuana on the health of veterans. So, the study would do just that.
A briefing note to the Veterans Affairs minister from last October reveals the following three crucial points about the study.
1. The clinical trials will probably be conducted internally, by a senior psychiatrist with the Canadian Forces.
2. VAC and CAF are developing the protocol, partnership, and funding together.
3. There is no information about when the study will begin, or how much it will cost.
What the results of the study will mean for the medical marijuana reimbursement program are unknown. As in, it may not force Veteran Affairs to re-visit the changes made to the compensation program, but it will go down as another step forward made by Canada to better understand this drug. And hey, it may even help convince some US legislators who can’t bring themselves to add PTSD to their medical marijuana qualifying conditions list.