For military veterans who have been wounded in service and who are suffering and struggling with medical conditions like PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), chronic pain, insomnia, and a host of other physical and psychological injuries, there are benefits to having access to medicinal cannabis to treat symptoms and improve their quality of life.
Critical research is still needed however, along with access to organizations and businesses that provide medicinal cannabis for veterans to use. Civilian advocates for the use of medicinal cannabis along with veterans’ groups like the American Legion are working tirelessly to convince the Veterans’ Administration to stop prohibiting government-sanctioned researchers from seeking veterans for studies on the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis1.
In 2017, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee took up an amendment that would allow affected military veterans the ability to access recommendations for medicinal cannabis by way of Veterans Affairs2. This signaled a major victory for the progress of medical cannabis to be recognized as legitimate by the federal government.
The stories and accounts of veterans who have benefitted are manyfold. In a survey given to veterans, 1 in 5 currently use cannabis to treat a medical condition, while over 92% of surveyed veterans support the research of medicinal cannabis, over 83% believe that the United States government should make medicinal cannabis legal (nationally), and over 82% expressed a preference to making medicinal cannabis a federally approved legal treatment option3.
Roger Martin, a 65-year-old United States Army veteran, after leaving active duty decades ago, suffered from insomnia, chronic pain, and PTSD as a result of some of the injuries and illnesses he endured while serving. He was among countless numbers of veterans who found medicinal cannabis to be a lifesaver in helping to manage conditions and symptoms more effectively than traditional medications that contained opioids and a higher potential for addiction.
But at the time, while marijuana was still classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance4 (in addition to heroin) and federally illegal, the US Veterans Health Administration and Veterans Affairs officials were not interested in working with researchers or seeking veteran participants for research studies. Nor were they cooperative in providing access to medical cannabis through the administration.
So, due to governmental restrictions like these and limited access to medicinal cannabis, in 2014 Roger developed Grow for Vets USA5 (newly renamed as HeroGrown in January 2018), a non-profit organization that helped raise money for veterans to obtain medical cannabis and products made from hemp free of charge (in 2014, 24 states had legalized cannabis for medical purposes6). In addition to that, Grow for Vets provided education on medical conditions that could be treated with cannabis and the strains and doses that were safest to use.
For Roger, switching to medicinal cannabis versus continuing the use of opioid drugs for pain management and other conditions was a no-brainer. His physician had prescribed over 10 mg of oxycontin, which turned into about 60 mg three times per day, plus a prescription for 10 mg of Ambien turned into 40 mg by 2010. But eliminating his opioid-based medications caused him to go through an intense period of withdrawal when he sought out medicinal cannabis to treat his insomnia and chronic pain. Although the combination of vaping and eating cannabis-permeated edibles has resulted in a full day of relief and sounder sleep, discovering the right dosage has taken time, and will have to be readjusted as his symptoms change.
A safer alternative:
Prescribed medications used to treat injuries and illnesses from service are often dangerous and can lead to addictive behavior. Medicinal cannabis has been shown to be effective in helping to manage medical conditions such as chronic pain and PTSD. Plus it can be safer to use over a longer period of time than aspirin.
Medicinal cannabis could one day be considered a “miracle drug”, when it comes to its ability to help veterans grappling with severe post-service medical conditions manage their symptoms better, and to help curb thoughts of taking their lives because of continual pain and suffering with their conditions.
According to groups that advocate and monitor veterans’ and their daily lives, over 22 veterans end their lives each day.7 The promise that medicinal cannabis has shown in helping to treat veterans with PTSD, traumatic brain injuries (TBI’s), and other crippling emotional and bodily contusions can prove beneficial in many ways.
There have also been studies showing a marked reduction in opioid overdoses and addictions, which affects populations like America’s veterans disproportionately8.
A caveat of hope:
There is positive news out there that can be of benefit to wounded veterans and their families now about the use of medicinal cannabis to help them manage their conditions. For example, as of 2017, if a veteran is taking advantage of programs in his or her state where medical cannabis programs are approved, he or she doesn’t have to fear losing healthcare benefits from their local VA provider.
However, cannabis still cannot be used or brought into or onto any VA property or centers. The VA will also not pay for veterans’ purchases of medicinal cannabis from dispensaries or any other provider, as positive test results could lead to the loss of prescribed medications for pain symptoms. As it stands, if a veteran is using medicinal cannabis for a medical condition, their use of the drug will be recorded in their file along with information on how it can affect their prescribed treatment plan.
A clinical trial study by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)9 was launched in January 2017 in Phoenix Arizona to study the effects of cannabis on veterans that are struggling with a form of PTSD that is resistant to treatment by traditional means. The study is targeted to conclude in February of this year with data compilation expected to be completed by January 2019.
Despite the direction that the current federal government administration seems to be going in, the progress that has been made over the past decade on legislation making medical and recreational cannabis legal in over 29 states is not set to all go up in smoke!
In actuality, politicians are keeping their eyes open for the positive prospects of greatly increased tax revenue from states that have or will have both medicinal and recreational cannabis legalized. There’s anticipated to be a long period of time while regulations and restrictions get worked out through the court system that will affect both entrepreneurs and underground networks.
As it presently stands, cannabis for medicinal use is helping to treat a number of conditions that affect injured veterans: just about any chronic irritation, back pain, sleep abnormalities, and arthritis. These are some of the medical conditions where treatment with opioids has resulted in physical addiction and fatal overdose. On the other hand, cannabis has not been known to result in overdose fatalities and any withdrawal symptoms associated with it are primarily psychological10.
All that veterans and anybody with debilitating symptoms caused by diseases can do is wait and hope that the political debate—with enlightened conversation and hardcore proof, will show that medicinal cannabis offers a better treatment option for veterans who are in need of it and will lead to nationwide access to it .