The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that somewhere between 7 and 8 of every 100 people in the United States will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during their lifetime. For veterans, the numbers are significantly higher. PTSD will strike about 30% of Vietnam veterans, 12% of Gulf War veterans, and up to 20% of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Myriad antidepressants, such as Paxil and Zoloft, are prescribed to help manage symptoms of the disorder, but there’s a natural drug that’s getting a lot of attention as a highly effective alternative to traditional pharmaceuticals: medical marijuana.

What Does the Research Show?

In a recent study published in the online journal, Neuropsychopharmacology, synthetic cannabinoids were successful at preventing PTSD symptoms from being triggered in rats. The physiological and behavioral symptoms typically associated with PTSD were not found to be present in rats even after they were exposed to trauma reminders. This research, conducted by the Department of Psychology at Israel’s University of Haifa, adds to other studies that have shown similar results.

Even with the mounting evidence, PTSD is still only listed as a qualifying condition in fewer than half the states that have legalized medical marijuana. Why is that? Part of the reason could be that the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, which puts it in the same category as heroin, LSD and MDMA. Until that changes, some states will maintain tight restrictions on qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. Even the Veterans Administration, which operates the country’s largest clinic and hospital network, is prohibited from prescribing or recommending marijuana, including in those states where the drug can be legally prescribed.

Changing Times

In a sign that the federal government may be easing its stance on medical marijuana, earlier this year, the Health and Human Services Department approved the purchase of the drug for the purposes of PTSD research. The approval, which was granted to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), was a surprising turn around for a government entity that had long opposed medical marijuana research. Supporters of medical marijuana use for PTSD are hopeful the move is just the first of many to come, and they’re getting even more high level support.

On November 20, 2014, a bipartisan bill was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives, and subsequently referred to its Subcommittee on Health. The bill, entitled the Veterans Equal Access Act of 2014, would “authorize Department of Veterans Affairs health care providers to provide recommendations and opinions regarding participation in State marijuana programs”. The passage of the bill would allow doctors the freedom to dispense honest advice, and could steer patients away from drugs that are more addictive and harmful, according to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). It would also allow those patients that are already self-medicating with marijuana to be more honest with their physicians, who can then monitor their patient’s drug use and progress more effectively and accurately.

If the Veterans Equal Access Act of 2014 passes, medical marijuana will become a viable option for many victims of PTSD. While it may not be a cure, research shows that marijuana is effective at temporarily reducing or eliminating PTSD symptoms. For those who are looking for a natural alternative to traditional pharmaceuticals, the government’s decision cannot come too soon.