Cannabis has great management properties for anxiety and depression. And for veterans, who may have had traumatic experiences while being deployed this can have some positive effects. There are calming benefits in particular strains. So they are often seen as a good natural alternative to pharmaceutical drugs to treat situational anxiety and sleep disorders. Veterans have long had to consider the use of opiates and antidepressants to deal with a lot of the mental issues that can ensue after time in the armed forces. And while the Department of Veterans’ Affairs won’t prescribe it, there is a growing interest in using cannabis as a natural alternative. Often with very positive results. Here is our guide to using medical marijuana if you are a veteran.

What Research Is Available On Using Cannabis As A Veteran?

At the moment there is limited research to support the idea that cannabis can be used to treat mental health disorders. Many of the studies say while there are positive results; it has been difficult to carry out comprehensive and controlled studies. The main reason for this is it is classed as a Schedule 1 drug under federal law. And falls in the same category as heroin. This means it cannot get funding to be studied. And the VA does not like to advocate cannabis as a treatment. Veterans are continuously looking for new and possibly safer ways to treat the variety of mental health and chronic pain disorders which they have to deal with.

One Vietnam veteran, Bob Luciano developed his own strains to assist with treating PTSD. Starting his business back in 1990, he grows “pure organic flower developed for high-THC with intense terpene profiles and rich flavors and aromas.” It is aimed specifically at veterans and disabled people, like him, who are treating illnesses developed during or after their service.

How Cannabis Can Help Veterans

Veterans frequently get prescribed a cocktail of drugs and pharmaceuticals to treat chronic pain and PTSD. But these often have a negative impact on your senses rather than treating the symptoms and healing. It has led to many supplementing their prescription drugs with cannabis. The reason for this is the administration’s clinicians cannot recommend medical marijuana. And as a result cannot complete paperwork needed to participate in state-approved programs. However while this is the case, as a veteran you are encouraged to inform the VA if you are using cannabis to supplement treatment. A new bill which was released in April was nicknamed the Veterans Cannabis Use for Safe Healing Act  and was proposed in Congress. It was designed to protect veterans from losing benefits due to cannabis usage. And the bill also let VA physicians recommend medicinal cannabis to their patients.

How Veterans Are Helping Veterans Use Cannabis

The Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance (SCVA) has been designed to support veterans while using cannabis. It’s run by Jake Scallan, a member of the US Air Force deployed to Iraq in 2009, Aaron Newsom, a Marine deployed to Afghanistan, and Jason Sweatt, an army veteran. After having their own experiences with PTSD, which led to Jake nearly committing suicide, they now grow 1000’s of cannabis plants and do a monthly giveaway of flower for those who have been in the armed forces. Because of what they have been through, they understand first hand why people need to be able to function and still have a life while they deal with PTSD. However, they are only able to operate in states where cannabis is legal. Thankfully now more research is being done to try and find out exactly how cannabis can help with PTSD. Dr. Suzanne Sisley is now conducting research that should make a difference to how the VA, which runs the National Center for PTSD, looks at cannabis and vets using it. Dr Suzanne headed up the first clinical trial into PTSD and vets. Acting as lead researcher she and her team looked at how using the whole marijuana plant could help. The study was sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). It was the first of its kind to receive approval and oversight by the Food and Drug Administration, Drug Enforcement Administration, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It concluded in 2018.

Dr Susan who has been a long term advocate for the use of marijuana in this space told Stars and Stripes at the time: “I don’t think we would be at the finish line without the dedication of all these veterans organizations and individual veterans who stood by us all these years,” Sisley said. “Over the past decade, we had all these veterans standing shoulder-to-shoulder with us, helping to kick down doors. They never relented, and they knew we were determined to persevere.”

Protecting Veteran’s Using Cannabis

In a 2017 survey, 9% of veterans were using cannabis where it was medically legal. However 41% reported using it medically, which is a surefire indication it can have a positive impact on veteran’s health. The Veterans Cannabis Project, which was founded by Nick Etten, a former Navy SEAL, advocated for those using medical marijuana. There are an estimated 80% of veterans who support medical cannabis programs which can enable them to fight symptoms of PTSD and offer pain relief. The Veteran’s Cannabis Project aims to get “unrestricted and supported access to medical cannabis through the VA just like any other medicine.” However, while the information is still thin on the ground when it comes to studies, there is only anecdotal evidence to be referred to. Of course as with any kind of treatment not everyone responds the same way. And only time will tell if veteran’s can really get the access many of them want when it comes to using cannabis. However with the way moves are currently being made and the higher level of acceptance to the drug, it make be sooner rather than later this goal can be achieved. Then it will be a case of the VA accepting the use as the new normal, and vets being able to get access to treatment plans which can help them with their symptoms.

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