Response to ABC - Cannabis as a treatment for PTSD

The Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) is committed to ensuring veterans can access services that are effective and safe, and provide the best opportunity for recovery. DVA funds treatment where there is a clear evidence base to support this.

Scientific studies have shown medicinal cannabis to be effective in treating chronic pain in adults, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and multiple sclerosis. In 2018, DVA developed a framework for funding medicinal cannabis for treating these conditions. It may also be considered for treating other conditions where it is supported by several high quality scientific studies.

There is currently limited evidence supporting the use of medicinal cannabis as an effective treatment for mental health conditions, including for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The following are the most recent studies:

  • A 2017 report prepared for DVA by Phoenix Australia Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health found insufficient evidence for the use of medicinal cannabis for treating PTSD, depression or anxiety disorders.
  • A 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal found insufficient good quality evidence exists to justify the use of medicinal cannabis as treatments for mental disorders at that this time.

However, the research into medicinal cannabis as a treatment is rapidly evolving and DVA will continue to monitor the developing research and published evidence.

DVA works closely with researchers, peak health bodies and government agencies to understand emerging trends in treatment and management of health issues, including PTSD.  DVA funds treatment delivered in accordance with the 2013 Australian Guidelines for Treatment of Adults with Acute Stress Disorder and PTSD, developed by Phoenix Australia – Centre for Post Traumatic Mental Health and endorsed and approved in 2013 by the National Health and Medical Research Council. 

DVA spends more than $230 million annually on supporting the mental health needs of veterans and their families.  This funding is demand driven and uncapped. DVA-funded mental health services include: services provided by psychiatrists, general practitioners, and allied mental health providers, pharmaceuticals, and inpatient and outpatient hospital treatment.  DVA also funds special programs for veterans including PTSD Trauma Recovery Programs and community-based drug and alcohol treatment programs. 

DVA can pay for treatment for mental health conditions without the requirement this condition to be deemed service-related.  This is known as non-liability health care and anyone who has served at least one day in the full-time Australian Defence Force (ADF) may access free treatment for any mental health condition. 

Open Arms is Australia's leading provider of mental health and wellbeing support to the veteran and ex-service community and their families. All current and former ADF members with at least one day of service, along with their families, can access military aware mental health support through Open Arms. The Open Arms clinical service delivery model recognises that trauma rarely impacts on an individual in isolation, as such, eligibility extends to the current or former ADF member's partner and children. They can be reached 24/7 on 1800 011 046.