Surgeon General Cites Uses for Medical Marijuana, Vets May Get Better Access

With the movement to legalize medical marijuana gaining steam, United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy is now saying that medical marijuana can be helpful for some patients. His statements coincide with a bill Congress is considering that would give veterans expanded access by allowing their doctors to recommend it as a treatment.

Murthy told CBS This Morning, "We have some preliminary data showing that for certain medical conditions and symptoms, marijuana can be helpful...I think we have to use that data to drive policymaking, and I’m very interested to see where that data takes us."

Possible Change in Classification

Murthy's comments could help legitimize cannabis as a valid medication. It's currently classified by the Justice Department as a Scheduled 1 controlled substance, which is normally the category for drugs with high abuse potential and no accepted medical value. Despite that categorization, 23 states and the District of Columbia allow legal medical use. An additional two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized it for recreational use. Alaska and Oregon have passed ballot measures to allow recreational use that will come into affect this year.

Studies and anecdotal evidence have already identified cannabis as an effective treatment for a wide variety of conditions, from chronic pain to post-traumatic stress disorder. As this video shows, it may even be helpful for patients suffering from debilitating conditions such as multiple sclerosis.

Congress May Help Vets Get Cannabis Access

The Department of Veterans Affairs prohibits doctors from recommending marijuana, even in states where it's legal and in cases when they believe it might be helpful to the patient. The proposed Veterans Equal Access Act would allow physicians in the 23 states where treatment with cannabis is legal to offer it as an alternative to veterans.

While medical marijuana may be a boon for many patients, legalizing recreational use could lead to problems similar to those caused by alcohol. A study of over 7,000 fatal crashes in nine states occurring between 1999 and 2011 found that half of the drivers were under the influence of alcohol, pot, or both. The percentage of those with marijuana in their systems, with or without alcohol, was relatively low at just over 13 percent, but that number could grow if the drug is legalized for recreational use on a wide scale. If that happens, it could potentially be offset by campaigns to promote responsible use, much like those currently conducted for alcohol.