Federal Commission encourages research into cannabis and psychedelics use among military Veterans


Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Members of the U.S. House of Congress have been informed by the federal Commission that they should stimulate research into the therapeutic properties of cannabis and other psychedelic substances, including MDMA (ecstacy) and psilocybin (mushrooms). 

The federal commission, which is responsible for drafting recommendations to enhance the mental health of military veterans, is also prompting the executive branch to take action into the promotion of cannabis and psychedelic medical research.

This conclusion was drawn up in January, after numerous meetings were held over the previous months. As an outcome of the meetings, the commission published a detailed report titled, “Creating Options for Veterans Expedited Recovery (COVER)“. 

Fresh news regarding the contents of this COVER Commission report recently emerged, after a disappointing initial response from advocates in the medical cannabis community. 

“Medical cannabis and psychedelic drugs may have uses in treating mental health issues among veterans; however, these substances are currently classified as Schedule 1 under the Controlled Substances Act, which precludes VA from conducting research on their efficacy,” explained the panel, which is chaired by presidential appointee Jake Leinenkugel.

Another important element of the COVER Commission report were panel recommendations that would encourage executive and legislative branches to make it compulsory for the National Institute On Drug Abuse to develop “strains of cannabis with THC levels equivalent to those being used by medical cannabis users in the states where medical cannabis is legal to ensure that research on medical cannabis use generates meaningful information on the related risks and benefits.”

COVER Commission Report: Veterans should be able to harness the therapeutic potential of psilocybin 

On the psychedelic side of the spectrum – notably, psilocybin and MDMA – the panel noted how these substances have shown promise in easing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when investigated by research institutes and universities.

The COVER Commission report goes on to say that veteran’s health care is being impacted due to lack of research on the VA’s behalf into cannabis and psychedelics; claiming that the VA is unable to conduct studies into the anxiety and depression-relieving effects of medical psilocybin in patients who have been diagnosed with life-threatening disease like cancer. 

“The opioid epidemic highlighted the need for third-party research into negative effects of treatment interventions and underscored that FDA approval alone does not reveal all of the potential negative consequences that can come about when a prescription treatment is made available to the public,” said researchers.

A recent Johns Hopkins study exploring the benefits of prescribing psilocybin for depression saw 80 percent of 51 “terminally ill” cancer patients with end-of-life phobias experience improved mental health after consuming psilocybin. The drug was used over a six-month period in a monitored clinical setting.

COVER Commission report: Scheduling status preventing medical cannabis and psychedelic research approval 

With the cannabis plant currently being categorized as a schedule 1 controlled narcotic in the U.S., the VA has been unable to conduct any research into cannabis and psychedelics for veterans whatsoever. This is according to the panel, which felt some unexpected backlash from advocates who disagreed with the statement. 

The opposing advocates have a point, since many veterans across the U.S. are actively using the plant in accordance with state laws. Nonetheless, the commission claims that the VA should “better understand medical [cannabis], and how it can benefit and harm patients who use it, so VA providers can better care for these veterans.”

Then again, the COVER report researchers were right in saying that the process of carrying out randomized clinical trials on the effects of cannabis demands an “arduous application process that may last years.”

While the generalizability of these findings is somewhat limited due to “sample size and homogeneity issues”, the COVER Commission reporters go on to say that previously conducted cannabis and psychedelic research has highlighted the potential in treating people who suffer from substance abuse, anxiety disorders, and PTSD.

With that being said, the commission urges the VA to “engage with other federal agencies, as appropriate, to research the potential short- and long-term risks, as well as benefits, of medical cannabis and psychedelic drugs.”