Being the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave’ does not come without a price for those brave – sometimes a tremendously heavy one at that.
More than 2.7 million U.S. army men and women have been sent to military combat zones since 2001. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – the governmental body responsible for providing healthcare and other benefits to veterans – as many as 20% of returning soldiers are at risk for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This is one of the countless mental and physical ailments veterans suffer from.
One of the tools veterans use to cope with these life-altering post-war traumas is cannabis. In a nutshell, cannabis improves the quality of life for those who put lives on the line to protect others. Unfortunately, many veterans do not have proper access to medicinal cannabis or are afraid that the use of it will come with detrimental repercussions.
“For too long, our veterans have been denied access to highly effective medical marijuana treatment for conditions like chronic pain and PTSD. Medical marijuana has shown proven benefits for treating these conditions and denying our veterans access to them is shameful,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer.
Veterans & Cannabis
According to an American Legion survey, nearly 1 in 5 U.S veterans engage in cannabis use for medicinal purposes. Because the substance is still classified as illegal in many states, veterans do not have proper access to medical cannabis and therefore cannot benefit from its therapeutic benefits.
“What do you tell a veteran who has brought back invisible scars and those opioids aren’t doing a darn thing for them?” said California Rep. Lou Correa.
As their official stance, the VA does not endorse or even acknowledge the positive effects of cannabis in helping many of their veteran’s cope. Citing the federal illegality of cannabis as grounds, the VA does not promote, recommend, or allow the prescribing of medical cannabis, even in states where it is legal. As the largest resource for veterans, the VA’s tough anti-cannabis stance prevents many veterans the relief they are seeking via the plant.
The Red, White & Green; How Cannabis is Helping Veterans
Turning a blind eye to cannabis’s benefits for those suffering from PTSD and other health issues, the VA prefers more pharmaceutical routes to treat their veterans. Moreover, veterans who disclose their use of cannabis are at risk of losing many of their federal benefits received from the VA.
“There’s still a lot of fear from the veterans’ point of view…you become an outcast at the VA when you start mentioning cannabis,” said Stephen Mandile, veteran and cannabis advocate.
Although America still clings to an outdated approach when it comes to medical cannabis and their veterans, officials might benefit from taking a cue from other countries who have embraced cannabis for medicinal use in those who served. In Israel, one of the world’s leading countries for cannabis research, the use of medical cannabis among its reserve soldiers is not only used but accepted. The Israeli Defense Force, IDF, permits its reserve soldiers holding a medical cannabis license to continue its use even while on active reserve duty. “Medical cannabis is given to treat various diseases under the civilian system….and the fitness of a citizen to undergo reserve duty is based on medical condition, not on cannabis consumption,” said the IDF in a published statement.
Instead of embracing this progressive approach, the VA prefers turning to more common Western medical practices like opioids, heavy pain killers, and antidepressants, to treat symptoms commonly found in veterans, such as chronic pain. These potent prescriptions frequently trigger other issues with potentially debilitating side effects. While the answer has been to throw pills at the problem until it is dull enough to live with, the quality of life for many veterans remains compromised.
For veterans in pain, the goal is to function as fully as they can by reducing their pain as much as possible while improving their overall quality of life. For many, this relief comes in the form of cannabis.
“Every day they find new medical uses for cannabis; it’d be sad if we continued to keep putting our heads in the sand,” said Washington Rep. Lou Correa.
Research concerning the effect of cannabis on veterans has only recently begun to gain widescale acceptance and moment. However, there has already been an overwhelming amount of evidence linking the positive effects of cannabis to the relief of common symptoms. These include chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety, and most predominantly PTSD.
“There’s a consensus among clinicians that existing pharmaceutical treatments such as antidepressant simply do not work. In fact, we know very well that people with PTSD who use marijuana — a potent cannabinoid — often experience more relief from their symptoms than they do from antidepressants and other psychiatric medications”, said Dr. Alexander Neumeister, psychiatrist and neuroscientist
A 2009 study researching PTSD and nightmares found that “…many patients stated that the quality and duration of sleep improved, while daytime flashbacks and sweating at night also decreased. The study also showed that cannabinoids could serve a much more effective role than many prescription medicines and antidepressants that were proving to be futile in comparison”.
In America, although some 33 states now allow the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, its classification as a federally illegal drug places tight restrictions of medical testing. Despite the hurdles, research with cannabis and veterans is continuing, with promising results on the horizon.
The open discussion, recommendation, and best practices for medical cannabis veteran patients should not only be accepted, but encouraged.
“It’s crazy to think that the solutions to those problems have been out there the whole time, but veterans just haven’t had access to them,” said Jeff Herlond, a Navy veteran and COO of a Dispensary. “Research is so important. That’s how you normalize it.”
And normalize we will!