VA Providers' Perceptions of Cannabis Use Policies in a Legalized and Nonlegalized State

Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2024 Apr 8. doi: 10.1089/can.2023.0276. Online ahead of print.


Background: Providers in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) system are caught between two opposing sets of laws regarding cannabis and cannabidiol (CBD) use by their patients. As VA is a federal agency, it must abide by federal regulations, including that the Food and Drug Administration classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug and therefore cannot recommend or help Veterans obtain it. Meanwhile, 38 states have passed legislation, legalizing medical use of cannabis. Objective: The goal of this project is to examine how VA providers understand state and federal laws, and VA policies about cannabis and CBD use, and to learn more about providers' experiences with patients who use cannabis and CBD within a legalized and nonlegalized state. Materials and Methods: We identified 432 health care providers from two VA facilities in northern Illinois (IL) where medical and recreational cannabis is legal, and two VA facilities in southern Wisconsin (WI) where medical and recreational cannabis is illegal. Participants were invited via e-mail to complete an anonymous online survey, including 31 closed- and open-ended questions about knowledge of state and federal laws and VA policies regarding cannabis and CBD oil, thoughts about the value of cannabis or CBD for treating medical conditions, and behaviors regarding cannabis use by their patients. Results: We received 50 responses (IL N=20, WI N=30). Providers in both states were knowledgeable about cannabis laws in their state but unsure whether they could recommend cannabis. There were more providers who were unclear if they could have a conversation about cannabis with their VA patients in WI compared with IL. Providers were more likely to agree than disagree that cannabis can be beneficial, χ2 (1, 49)=4.74, p=0.030. Providers in both states (81.6%) believe cannabis use is acceptable for end-of-life care, but responses varied for other conditions and symptoms. Discussion: Findings suggest that VA providers could use more guidance on what is allowable within their VA facilities and how state laws affect their practice. Education about safety related to cannabis and other drug interactions would be helpful. There is limited information about possible interactions, warranting future research.

Keywords: Federal Policy; State Policy; Veterans Administration; cannabis; providers.