Survey: VA Clinicians “Often Lack Necessary Knowledge About Cannabis”

Portland, OR: Clinicians affiliated with the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) self-report lacking sufficient knowledge about the use of cannabis to competently counsel their patients, according to data published in the journal Family Practice.

A team of investigators affiliated with the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland conducted semi-structured phone interviews with 14 VA clinicians from three separate states (Connecticut, Indiana, and Oregon). 

Researchers reported, “Our study found that VHA clinicians often lack necessary knowledge about cannabis resulting in discomfort when engaging in conversations about cannabis use with their patients.” They added, “In addition to a general lack of information about cannabis, some VA clinicians suggested that the VA’s status as a federal institution, where cannabis is classified as a Schedule I Controlled Substance and VA providers are restricted from endorsing or certifying medical cannabis use, gives them an ‘out’ from having to discuss the topic with patients.”

Federal regulations permit VA physicians to discuss issues surrounding the use of medical cannabis with their patients, but explicitly forbids VA doctors from recommending it as a therapeutic option. According to survey data compiled on behalf of The American Legion, 39 percent of veterans personally know a veteran who is currently using cannabis medicinally. 

Several prior surveys of health care professionals working in the United States and abroad – such as those here, hereherehereherehere, and here – have similarly reported that that the majority of respondents do not believe that they possess sufficient knowledge about cannabis’ health and safety effects to adequately counsel their patients.

Full text of the study, “A qualitative study of VHA clinicians’ knowledge and perspectives on cannabis for medical purposes,” appears in Family Practice. Additional information is available from the NORML fact sheet, “Marijuana and Veterans Issues.