Background: Among U.S. veterans, increasing rates of cannabis use are well documented, and usage of cannabis for medicinal purposes is double that of non-veterans. Despite the increase in cannabis use, information about veterans’ knowledge, perceptions, and usage patterns is limited.
Methods: Cross-sectional cohort study of 206 veterans receiving treatment in inpatient psychiatry units and residential programs at Boston VA. An anonymous survey was administered to volunteers, who were given a $5 gift card. Questionnaire responses were analyzed using SAS version 9.3. Summary statistics were generated using percentages and categorial variables were tested using Chi Square.
Results: The cohort was mostly males (88%) aged 18-64 (76%). Most (65.5%) attended at least some college. Most (72%) reported using cannabis within the past year; 62% reported first using cannabis at age 17 or younger. Reported use at age 17 or younger was associated with higher percentage of current tobacco use x2(4)=19.63, p<0.05, alcohol use x2(4)=20.56, p<0.05, prescription drug use for non-medical reasons x2(4)=11.81, p<0.05, and illicit drug use x2(4)=14.95, p<0.05. Despite these patterns, only 32% felt cannabis is a gateway drug. Most (67%) reported that cannabis is more potent than it was in the past, a minority (18%) felt cannabis is bad for people’s health, and 53% felt that long term usage of medical cannabis is very safe. 49% felt it was unsafe to drive after consuming cannabis. A majority felt cannabis was an effective treatment for pain (78.5%), PTSD (62%), and anxiety (72%).
Conclusions: Veterans are indeed using cannabis and they feel it is generally safe. Initiating cannabis at a younger age was associated with a greater percentage of current substance use. Most felt cannabis is an effective treatment for pain, PTSD, and anxiety, despite conflicting evidence supporting its usage for these conditions. Although cannabis use has been associated with impaired driving, only half of veterans felt it was unsafe to drive under the influence. In general, veterans were undecided about the safety and efficacy of cannabis, which suggests an opportunity to provide psychoeducation.