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Meds Veterans and Medical Marijuana


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5 Things Veterans Who Need Medical Marijuana Should Know

Even with medical and recreational marijuana laws expanding in states across the U.S., military veterans still have to struggle, in many instances, to access programs, due to the continued federal prohibition of cannabis.

Veterans need safe access

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On a day like Memorial Day, we should definitely remember the sacrifices made by so many brave men and women who have given their lives for their fellow Americans. And since many of those who did survive returned with deep physical and psychological wounds, we have to reaffirm our commitment to the fight for safe access for all veterans.

More than 22 veterans commit suicide every day, according to advocacy groups. It doesn’t have to be this way. Cannabis has shown incredible promise in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), any many other conditions faced by our returning heroes.

Here are a few things of which veterans and those who love them should be aware.

1. Veterans who participate in state-approved medical marijuana programs will not be denied healthcare

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This is now official VA policy. Even so, the use and possession of cannabis are prohibited at all VA medical centers, locations and grounds, and VA physicians are not allowed to complete paperwork or forms for veteran patients to participate in these programs.

VA will not pay for medical marijuana from any source. While veterans are “encouraged” to discuss cannabis use with their VA providers, they can still run the risk of losing their pain pill prescriptions when they do so. According to the VA,

VA doctors and clinical staff will record marijuana use in the veteran’s VA medical record along with its impact on the veteran’s treatment plan.

Veterans who are employees of the VA are subject to drug testing and dismissal.

2. Cannabis is safer than your prescriptions

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Kate Cochran Morgan, a veteran of the Navy hospital corps, reports KXAN,

Every day, veterans are prescribed dangerous and addictive pharmaceutical drugs to treat service-related injuries and illnesses.

Many of these drugs cause side effects for which another pill is prescribed. Cannabis can help treat conditions like PTSD and chronic pain, and it has a better safety profile than aspirin.

It is unacceptable that veterans are being denied access to this medicine.

3. Veterans suffering from PTSD are currently participating in the first clinical trial studying the effectiveness of treatment with cannabis

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Each of the 76 participants will undergo treatment with marijuana over a 12-week period, with a required six-month follow-up, reports the Daily Caller. Researchers are hoping the results can give guidance to lawmakers in terms of future policy when it comes to treating veterans.

The study, funded by a $2 million grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, is expected to greatly increase knowledge about the medical properties and uses of marijuana.

4. The politicians are finally showing signs of catching up

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For the first time ever, the U.S. Senate last year included a stipulation in the military appropriations bill to allow Veterans Administration doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in states where it is legal.

5. You aren’t facing this alone; there are a number of organizations here to help

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Several national organizations exist to help veterans navigate the process of accessing medicinal cannabis.

The California-based nonprofit Weed For Warriors Project, for example, has chapters across that state, as well as in Florida, New Jersey, Tennessee, D.C., and Wisconsin. WFWP educates veterans on the benefits of medical marijuana while providing free cannabis to veterans who have proof of service and a current medical marijuana authorization.

The Weed for Warriors is a grassroots organization that is attempting to help bodies plain and simple.

What occurs within our Chapters goes beyond just access to cannabis, one of the only medicines stemming the tide of suicides and overdoses in this country.

It is the camaraderie that heals and creates a tremendous safety net for all of us that is just plain lacking for too many. – Sean Kiernan, president of WFWP

Other groups helping veterans in the struggle for safe access include Grow For Vets, which has chapters in California, Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington state; and the Veterans Cannabis Project (VCP), which is in the midst of a plan to expand nationwide.
This man is an amazing person. A tireless advocate for medical cannabis for veterans. Veterans in the state of WA can use medical cannabis because of folks like Patrick Seifert.
Even though federally its still illegal.

I used to frequent his medical dispensary before he had to shut down which was a real shame for such a wonderful person and cannabis activist.

With an eye on veterans, Olympia cannabis activist welcomes Hempfest outpost

Fri., Jan. 13, 2017, 11:46 a.m.

By Andy HobbsOlympian (Olympia, Wash.)

Seattle Hempfest organizers are opening an outpost in downtown Olympia with a little help from one of the state’s most visible cannabis activists.

Olympia Hempfest Central will have a grand opening from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at 322 Fourth Ave. E., site of the former Rainier Xpress medical marijuana dispensary owned by Patrick Seifert.

A supporter of the medical marijuana movement, Seifert was unable to secure a state license to sell cannabis legally and was forced to close Rainier Xpress last summer after five years.

However, Seifert remains dedicated to educating people and helping veterans. The downtown building is now the headquarters for his new ReLeaf Xchange and as the veteran advocacy group Twenty22Many.

“Olympia is our home,” said Seifert, acknowledging an ongoing struggle to pay the lease. “We’re going to fight tooth and nail to keep it open.”

ReLeaf Xchange will cater to state-qualified medical marijuana patients while offering educational programs for the entire community. Weekly classes include gardening and cooking techniques, and proper cannabis consumption through methods such as dabbing.

Along with T-shirts and glass pipes, the shop sells cannabis-based creams and edibles that lack the psychoactive ingredient THC, but contain cannabidiol (CBD), which is valued for medicinal purposes. Seifert also offers organic kombucha and alkaline water that’s been run through a Kangen ionizer.

Veterans form the backbone of Seifert’s outreach. To curb the veteran suicide rate, the group Twenty 22 Many (“twenty-two too many”) supports veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. The group’s name comes from a grim statistic: an average of 22 veterans take their own lives each day, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Literally every single day, we get homeless veterans in here looking to stay warm,” said Seifert, who served in the Marine Corps. “Any veteran is welcome here.”

Sharon Whitson, general manager of Seattle Hempfest, said the Olympia outpost and its partnership with Seifert seemed like a natural fit.

She praised Seifert and his volunteers for their outreach to veterans and their work in the legalization movement. One example is a successful lobbying effort in 2015 that added PTSD and traumatic brain injuries to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana authorization in Washington.

These lobbying and charitable efforts, she said, help reduce the stigma of cannabis while further legitimizing its positive attributes.

“Society is owed the truth about the medicinal benefits of cannabis, especially to help people who have given their life, blood, body and brain to our country,” said Whitson, noting the effect of cannabis’ illegal status at the federal level on research and pain management. “Prohibition has hurt so many people, and to know that it’s hurting our veterans is a travesty.”
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By Michael Krawitz March 29, 2017



Our first president probably wasn’t aware of the many medicinal properties of cannabis. He probably never smoked the stuff either. Nonetheless, George Washington was an enthusiastic hemp farmer. But if he’d known how important cannabis would be to the well-being of future military veterans—and how the US government would one day outlaw the plant entirely—the Bill of Rights might very well have included a few clauses about the right to grow, as well as the right to share.

Many of America’s early settlers brought cannabis extracts and tinctures with them from the Old World. Mainstream medicine recognized and began marketing cannabis after it was added to the US Pharmacopeia in 1850. It would come to be known as a medicine for veterans after the Civil War. In fact, an early cannabis-remedy advertisement quoted the former commanders of the Union and Confederate armies, Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, endorsing Hasheesh Candy, a product made available through an importer on Beekman Street in New York City.

According to the ad, Grant stated that cannabis was “of great value for the wounded and feeble” as well as being “harmless.” Lee said: “I wish it was in my power to place a dollar box of the Hasheesh Candy in the pocket of every Confederate soldier; because I am convinced that it speedily relieves debility, fatigue and suffering.”



Ironically, history books often identify morphine addiction as the “soldiers’ disease” that afflicted veterans of the Civil War, and the first national drug-prohibition laws were passed as a result. Could it be that the medical system set up for veterans in the 1800s was leaning too heavily on opiates and not relying enough on cannabis—just as it is today?

There is now ample evidence that the wide-scale application of cannabis therapeutics can dramatically lower both suicide and overdose deaths. One of the most consistent trends since California voters passed Proposition 215, the state’s historic medical marijuana law, has been cannabis use replacing prescription pharmaceuticals. This has led to fewer overdose deaths and lessened the dangerous side effects of these pills.

The US military studied cannabis use among soldiers in the Panama Canal Zone from 1916 to 1929 and concluded: “No mental or physical deterioration effects of smoking marihuana could be demonstrated. But with this statement should be considered the fact that the soldiers observed were all young men who had smoked marihuana for an average of less than two years.” The study also found that there were fewer problems from cannabis use than from alcohol.

In 1918, World War I veterans returned home and found pharmacy shelves well stocked with cannabis products. But by the end of World War II, cannabis medicine had disappeared: The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 outlawed the plant. Unless their doctors had attended medical school before the war, this new generation of veterans never learned of cannabis as a medicine.

The Outlawed Plant Returns

The Northern California pot scene owes a lot to veterans. Following the Vietnam War, many flocked to rugged NorCal in a search for cheap land and solitude—and to escape authority.

Part of the Vietnam experience was exposure to phenomenal strains of cannabis. Many vets returned to the States with the seeds of the cannabis future stuffed inside their duffel bags.

One of the most iconic images from the Vietnam era is a photo of soldiers toking up through a shotgun barrel. It became a powerful statement for peace, and, not surprisingly, the cannabis leaf was often drafted into service as a protest symbol against the war. But this came with a high price: Cannabis use was somehow tied to the US failure in Vietnam, and marijuana became the target of a devastating backlash from conservative America.



Even so, the rise of the modern hemp and medical marijuana movements shares an important connection with veterans. Jack Herer, known as the “Hemperor” for his tireless promotion of the cannabis plant, was an Army vet. Dennis Peron, the driving force behind Prop. 215, served in the Air Force. However, it was the passage of the US Department of Veterans Affairs’ medical marijuana policy in 2010—updated in 2011—that really opened the door for pro-cannabis veterans’ groups. In the past five years, dozens of cannabis-oriented service organizations run by and for veterans have emerged on the national scene.

The VA’s medical marijuana policy (VHA Directive 2011-004) expired in January 2016. But the clinical practices it set forth officially remain in force until the directive is rescinded or replaced. The policy, which has three parts, decrees that medical marijuana should be treated like any other medicine and that doctors should look for any contraindications on a case-by-case basis under a treatment plan based on the patient’s particular needs.

The second part of the policy reiterates the DEA warnings issued throughout the VA system by the VA’s general counsel. Many VA doctors are still convinced that they’re subject to prosecution merely for writing a cannabis recommendation or filling out forms for patients to qualify for treatment under state medical marijuana laws. That threat was lifted outside the VA long ago.

Finally, VA policy reiterates that cannabis possession is still a federal crime and that VA property isfederal. Thus veterans, like anyone else, are still subject to arrest for possession on the grounds of VA facilities.

Time for a Change

Federal employees lack free speech, and the VA lacks the courage to challenge the DEA. The Walters v. Conant decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals clarified to doctors across the country that it was safe to write recommendations—though not prescriptions—for cannabis. The Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to that decision. But the law never compelled the DEA to clarify that the agency wouldn’t prosecute doctors for writing recommendations.

Representative Sam Farr (D-CA), who will retire from Congress in early 2017, was the first lawmaker to author a federal bill to create free-speech rights for VA doctors, allowing them to recommend cannabis if they choose. More recently, this effort was taken up by Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who introduced the Veterans Equal Access Amendment. It was duplicated in the Senate as part of a larger bill called the CARERS Act. As a result, the Senate has had a meaningful dialogue with the DEA and the Department of Veterans Affairs on this issue, and it’s now true that, at some level, the VA knows that its doctors can safely recommend cannabis to their patients in medical marijuana states.

How this will manifest itself in future policy is still unclear. Veterans’ advocates have been waiting nearly a year for word on the VA’s much-anticipated updated policy on cannabis. It’s important to note that the Veterans Equal Access Amendment was passed by both houses of Congress as part of the budget process in 2016—but the language was stripped from the final version of the bill by a conference committee, just before President Obama signed it into law.

Since 2012, veterans have also led an effort to add PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana, which has resulted in more than a dozen updated state laws. This effort was based in part on the experience of nurse practitioner Bryan Krumm and others in New Mexico, the first state to allow PTSD as a qualifying condition, as well as on a mountain of scientific research conducted in other countries. In Arizona, attorney Ken Sobel and nurse Heather Manus of the Arizona Cannabis Nurses Association presented this research to a judge, who ruled that a “preponderance of evidence support cannabis as a treatment for PTSD.”

Although countries like Israel, Canada and Croatia have acted upon this evidence and created programs that deliver cannabis to veterans as part of their benefits, the United States refuses to acknowledge this research. Instead, federal law still officially maintains that cannabis has no medical value whatsoever.

As a result, when the VA enabled veterans who live in medical marijuana states to use cannabis, it created a conflict. The US Constitution requires that all citizens must be treated the same under the law. “Treatment by geography” is inherently unconstitutional: All vets should feel secure that they will not lose compensation or pension benefits merely for using cannabis—legal or not. Financial benefits are suspended only in the case of felony incarceration, but they can be reinstated upon release. However, there are still far too many veterans living in states where access to medical cannabis is limited or nonexistent.

The fact that so many of our veterans are not able to use a proven therapy—one that thousands of Canadian veterans currently benefit from—is a disgrace. As long as the VA fails to embrace this valuable medicine nationwide, while continuing to dispense enormous amounts of pharmaceuticals—a number of which have been tied to high rates of addiction, suicide and overdose deaths—there’s plenty of reason for America to be profoundly ashamed!



No Pot Casualties

In more than six years of clinical experience with medical cannabis, the Veterans Health Administration has never identified a problem with its use as a therapeutic agent—and the VHA is the largest medical system in the world. We should assume that an agency created to provide the best possible medical care to all US veterans would tell us if it had identified real or potential harm from cannabis used medicinally. The VHA hasn’t done so because, when it comes to harm, there’s nothing to report.

We hope two things are true: first, that the VHA, recognizing a historic medical opportunity, is collecting and analyzing the results from tens of thousands of cannabis patients; and second, that doctors and nurses working in the system are doing likewise by charting cannabis use and the various maladies it’s used to control.

Since July 2010, when the Veterans Health Administration published a directive defining cannabis as a medicine, the option opened for tens of thousands of vets to use it medicinally and become involved with the VHA’s treatment protocols in all of the “legal” cannabis states and territories. The VHA’s leadership has backed veterans as much as it’s able and should be recognized for its compassionate, science-driven policy of using cannabis medicinally wherever possible.

The 2016 election saw eight more states legalize medical or recreational use. I believe the veteran population was a large piece of each state’s decision. —Al Byrne, lieutenant commander, US Navy (ret.); co-founder, Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access

Healing in the Ranks



I was stationed in Baumholder, Germany, and El Paso, Texas, and medically discharged from the Army in November 2013 to return home to South Jersey. After sustaining physical injuries, I was put on narcotics and muscle relaxers for anxiety, depression, PTSD, etc. The Army and VA tried every antidepressant, mood stabilizer and anxiety medication known to man on me. But marijuana saved my life. I was able to put down the narcotics and continue to live. I wasn’t a walking zombie anymore. Marijuana is the best medicine out there, and it needs to be recognized as such. —Therese Carrozzino, specialist E-4, US Army

When you witness the worst the world has to offer, it’s very hard to find the beauty in anything. Being a prescription zombie is like being trapped in a pitch-black room. As soon as I smoked my first joint, it was as if someone flipped the light switch on: I saw everything from a whole new perspective. Life was beautiful again. I was able to heal. I was able to process my trauma. I was able to smile. As we discover how cannabis treats our psychological wounds, we also begin to rebuild that camaraderie with other veterans that we so desperately miss from our military service. Along with fellow veteran Barry Richardson, we’ve made it our mission to grow and provide quality medicine to suffering veterans. We hope to single out specific strains that help veterans better cope with the symptoms of PTSD. —Dakota Blue Serna, lance corporal, US Marine Corps



Five years ago, I was sitting on the couch in my South Philadelphia living room taking handfuls of pills and drooling on myself. Nodding in and out of consciousness, I didn’t care whether I lived or died. I honestly hoped on most days that I would fall asleep and not wake up. Today, I’m a successful photographer and outspoken advocate for veterans to have safe access to medical cannabis, and I attribute much of my own recovery to it. PTSD held me down, and the pills prescribed by the VA put even more of a weight on me, pushing me further down. Cannabis helped me get off of the pills and regain a sense of self, something that I’d lost after knowing nothing but being a Marine for nearly 11 years of my life. Cannabis, in conjunction with weekly therapy sessions, helped me get to know myself as Mike again. PTSD and pharmaceutical treatments would have killed me. Cannabis saved my life. —Mike Whiter, staff sergeant, US Marine Corps

When I returned home from Iraq in 2005, I was faced with difficulties I never would have imagined. I didn’t think I was capable of succumbing to some of the demons I battled either. At this phase of my life, I feel blessed to be alive, free of institutionalization or incarceration—and freed from the bondage of opiate addiction. The outcomes would have been drastically different had it not been for the unconditional love from my family and peers, and finding access to the cannabis plant. I was able to overcome years of PTSD-driven misery, fueled by drug abuse and ineffective pharmaceuticals. Cannabis was an exit drug for me, providing a better quality of life with far less harmful side effects. I like the fact that I can treat a multitude of issues or symptoms with cannabis simultaneously through various delivery methods. More than 22 veterans, plus one active-duty service member, are killing themselves each day. The growing opiate epidemic in our population is heartbreaking. We need to give cannabis a chance to contend in modern medicine. It will save a great deal of lives. —Sean Judge, specialist, US Army

I was deployed to Iraq from 2004–5, and performed a wide variety of missions including support, escort, quick reaction, route reconnaissance/clearance and civil-affairs operations. Diagnosed with severe PTSD and other service-connected issues in 2006, I went through multiple treatment/therapy programs, evaluations and in-patient stays at the Veterans Affairs hospital. For three years, I ran the gauntlet of “traditional” treatment methods, including a steady prescription of pharmaceutical narcotics. In 2009, I decided to wean myself off of the prescription cocktail provided by the VA and rely solely on cannabis—a decision I credit with helping me move on with life. As an advocate for cannabis-law and public-health reform, I’m determined to continue speaking out for those who needlessly suffer. I am wholeheartedly committed to ending cannabis prohibition so Americans can access cannabis without fear. —Ricardo Pereyda, specialist, US Army Military Police

I served 14 months on the Great Lakes as a seaman. Then I went to school to become an electrician’s mate. I was assigned to Station Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard, California. While stationed there, I started having episodes of depression. Naval doctors started me on a cocktail of pills for headaches, depression and anxiety. Before I was discharged, I had pill addictions and a drinking problem. Within months of my discharge, I was fired twice and began to have family issues. I was on a downward spiral and started to believe suicide was my only option. Then Michigan legalized medical cannabis. My outside therapist pointed me in the direction of cannabis and helped me obtain my card and become a grower. With his therapy and cannabis, I was able to kick the prescription drugs and the booze. I broke through. I realized there is therapy in helping others with cannabis. It was then that I began to heal. Cannabis saved my life. It gave me purpose and a means to help other veterans. —Barry Richardson, petty officer third class, US Coast Guard



I served my country from 1993–97 in the 82nd Airborne Division. While serving as a medical specialist, I was exposed to and trained to treat all levels of injures, both on and off the battlefield, from PTSD to bullet wounds. During service, I sustained injury and was prescribed large doses of opioids, making me a heartless, lifeless zombie. Cannabis replaced them all within one year. It’s my experience that cannabis creates community and that community can save lives. I encourage people to create cannabis-friendly community centers in their hometowns and bring a healthy, healing community together. —Steven Jacob Lull, specialist E-4, US Army

At 23 years old, I walked out of the VA hospital with prescriptions for Percocet, Klonopin and Ambien: Percocet for back pain, Klonopin for anxiety and Ambien for sleep. Little did I know it would mark the beginning of an entirely new kind of battle—one with an enemy I was completely unprepared to fight: prescription-drug addiction. It didn’t take long to develop an all-consuming dependence on opiates, benzodiazepines and sleeping medication. At 28, I made the decision to take my life back and detox off all the meds that had enslaved me. I tried desperately to get into the VA’s inpatient rehab, but after repeatedly being turned away, I knew I was on my own. I locked myself in my apartment, stocked up on food, water and marijuana, and gave my girlfriend my car keys. Seizures, sleepless nights and severe flu-like symptoms lasted over a month. It was one of the hardest experiences of my life. The only substance I allowed myself during that time was marijuana. It gave me the ability to eat, get a bit of sleep, and served to alleviate my back pain and anxiety. It’s been nearly three years since I’ve had a drug prescribed to me, and I have marijuana to thank for turning my life around. I use marijuana almost daily to combat pain, anxiety and sleeplessness. If only the VA had been willing and able to prescribe marijuana from the start, how many lives would be different, better or even saved? It’s “high time” for a change. —Pearson Crosby, staff sergeant, US Marine Corps

Michael Krawitz is executive director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access.

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Cut off: How Veterans Affairs’ clawback on medical marijuana threw a community off-kilter

More than a dozen veterans with PTSD interviewed by The Globe in Oromocto, N.B., say their lives have been upended in the year since VAC instituted its new daily limits on cannabis. Jessica Leeder reports on the devastating fallout

Veteran Chris Reid pauses in the rain before beginning a walk in Oromocto, N.B. (Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail)
It’s 2:30 a.m. and former soldier Chris Reid is walking briskly through torrential rain, down the main commercial strip of Oromocto, past the dormant Tim Hortons, the empty Legion parking lot and a bank of darkened windows at Veterans Affairs.

He sets a quick pace for a man with no place to be. Mr. Reid suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and spends the early hours of most mornings walking these streets lined, in pockets, with unmistakably military cookie-cutter houses.

This town in southwestern New Brunswick draws its lifeblood from the 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown. Although Oromocto is home to only about 10,000 residents, most have a military connection in the tightly bound community known for its strength and grit.

That tenacity has shown itself in the battle over veterans’ access to medical cannabis, a battle that has deepened here in recent months, to particularly dark effect.

A few years back, a small group of veterans with PTSD led the transformation of Oromocto into the global ground zero of government-funded marijuana. In 2015, former soldiers here were ordering more medical cannabis than any other veterans in Canada: $2.3-million of it, all paid for by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC). At the time, it was the only government department using tax dollars to fund marijuana, even though there was a lack of science to support its use as a medical treatment.

Veterans’ embrace of high daily doses had a ripple effect: New Brunswick vets, who make up fewer than 5 per cent of the country’s former soldiers, billed VAC for nearly $8-million of marijuana that year, almost 40 per cent of the national total.

Now, amid a government effort, which went into full effect last May, to rein in that ballooning medical-marijuana program, Oromocto has morphed into a new ground zero – for the desperate fallout that has unfurled in the wake of that policy change: In 2017, VAC slashed the daily limit of medical cannabis it pays for by 70 per cent.

The impact was swift.

National program costs dropped by more than $12-million that fiscal year, despite a 63-per-cent increase in the number of patients. But in Oromocto, scores of veterans – who had seen their PTSD symptoms stabilize on high daily doses of marijuana – were sent reeling.

In interviews with The Globe and Mail, many said they tried to take their own lives in order to end the painful spiral into relapse. Some followed through, including one veteran who killed himself with a steak knife after just one week on a lowered dose. Many of those who persevered, however, found themselves thrust back onto a mental battlefield fraught with seemingly uncontrollable symptoms.

Mr. Reid duels with his while stalking the sleeping streets of Oromocto. Once an elite solider tapped for such high-risk jobs as protecting senior officials in conflict zones, he is a husk of his former self. The 49-year-old struggles to make eye contact. He leaves home only to grocery-shop or exercise, and hides knives around the house, he says, in case he needs to protect himself. Mr. Reid logs thousands of steps on his fitness counter in the wee hours. When daylight breaks, he retreats into isolation.

“I just haven’t been able to function,” he says, “other than just staying alive.”

Pot replaces the pills
Most soldiers who suffer from PTSD say there was not a single trigger. Instead, as their personal ledger of traumatic exposures grew, so did the realization that a mental wound had, too.

“I basically told them I feel like there’s something wrong with my head,” said Cory Pike. A father of four who was diagnosed with chronic pain and PTSD, Mr. Pike served one official tour in Afghanistan and later returned to the region for classified duties. Back home at Base Gagetown, he began contemplating suicide.

“I put myself into a hole and wouldn’t leave my house,” he said. “I just wanted to die. When you start seeing nothing but black, you don’t realize you have your children, you don’t realize you have anybody who loves you. You can only ever see negative, and then every little thing that comes up – from a hangnail to battle scars – was a problem, a big issue.”

Cory Pike, centre with beard, is seen in a photo display at the Veterans For Healing building in Oromocto, N.B.
More than 14,000 veterans receiving disability benefits from VAC have PTSD, according to numbers published by the department in late 2017. Most served abroad, as soldiers or peacekeepers, everywhere from Croatia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Haiti to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria. There are also veterans with PTSD who sustained their mental injuries while working in Canada.

While for many of them recovery from PTSD is possible, the pathway is imprecise – and rife with setbacks. There is no dedicated pill to treat PTSD. Most doctors attack it with a cocktail of sleeping pills, antidepressants, anti-anxiety agents, antipsychotics, tranquillizers, benzodiazepines and so-called off-label medications designed to treat other conditions entirely. And what works for one patient may not provide relief for the next.

The goal is to stabilize symptoms, so the patient can move on to other forms of therapy.

Greg Passey is a Vancouver-based military veteran turned private-practice psychiatrist who specializes in treating PTSD. “If a person is consistently suicidal,” he said, “you’re going to use an anti-depressant. You might add a second. They need something for sleep. So right away, I’ve got three things. If they have overwhelming anxiety, I may add … Ativan. Now all of a sudden I’ve got somebody on four meds. Is that ideal? No.”

About half of his PTSD patients also suffer from chronic physical pain, which usually requires other drugs.

“That’s one of the reasons we sometimes switch over to marijuana,” Dr. Passey said. “It will often take the place of all those medications.”

Veterans commonly complain that pill regimens do not provide relief of their symptoms, or have side effects, such as impotence, that they find intolerable.

“None of the pills worked,” said Mr. Pike. “I had two handfuls of things I would take just so I could leave the house.” He began to abuse opiates, crack and cocaine, all to numb himself.

Then one day he tried smoking a joint. “I was able to function normally,” he says. “That’s how I felt. Normal.”

‘Cannabis coaches’ to the rescue

Fabian Henry smoking a dab of marijuana while medicating at the Veterans For Healing lounge in Oromocto, N.B.
A former combat engineer, Fabian Henry developed PTSD after a 2007 deployment to Afghanistan in which his actions were responsible for the deaths of two comrades. By the time he got home to Oromocto from another deployment, this one to post-quake Haiti in 2010, he was mid-morph into an ugly, angry iteration of himself. While on nine pills a day to combat his symptoms, Mr. Henry was arrested for drunk driving and for threatening to kill the local fire chief; his marriage imploded, and custody of his kids was restricted; he attempted to choke a rescue dog he was tasked with walking; at work, he slapped a teen.

Weary and worried, Mr. Henry decided to buy marijuana on the street. After smoking his first joint, he, too, felt “normal” for the first time in years. His body relaxed. He slept that night – without nightmares.

Before long, he had spent $37,000 on something called Bubba Kush, the best marijuana he could find on the street. “I didn’t care what it cost. I’d go empty the bank,” he said. “I couldn’t get by with subpar weed.”

And, midway through 2014, he would no longer have to try. That’s when Health Canada, which regulates access to medical cannabis, instituted new rules to allow any physician, not just specialists, to prescribe – or, more technically, authorize – marijuana, and for a new, wider variety of conditions. As well, the department stopped supplying cannabis, and opened the market to commercial licensed producers.

Per-gram prices soared, from $5 to upward of $14. It was not long before VAC, which was reimbursing veterans for up to 10 grams a day, and sometimes more, saw its costs dramatically outpace its projections.

“We were taken a bit by surprise,” Michel Doiron, VAC’s assistant deputy minister overseeing the drug-benefit program, told The Globe in a recent interview. The department had not anticipated the flood of veterans newly authorized for cannabis use, and had not established spending limits, Mr. Doiron said.

A $381,000 expenditure in 2013 became $3.4-million the following year. In 2015, it was $20-million; and by 2016, nearly $60-million, making cannabis the highest-cost item in VAC’s drug-benefit program. Midway through that year, the federal auditor general slammed the department for spending such vast sums, not least because there was an absence of supporting medical evidence.

Absent from that report was one huge factor that fuelled the uptake of medical marijuana during that frenzied period: the work of Fabian Henry. The Afghanistan veteran had made a pivotal move of his own in 2014 when he co-founded the Oromocto-based Marijuana for Trauma, which helps connect veterans with doctors who prescribe cannabis and offers marijuana education as well. A subsidiary of the publicly traded Canada House Wellness Group Inc., MFT now has locations across the country, and it profits from fees paid to it by cannabis producers.

Determined to ensure veterans had access to medical marijuana, Mr. Henry and other veterans with PTSD also staffed MFT clinics as “cannabis coaches” adept at navigating VAC policies and paperwork.

Soon, pain and PTSD sufferers – Mr. Pike was among them – were coming from all over New Brunswick for high-dose authorizations. “It was saving their lives. Their wives were coming here and saying it,” Mr. Henry recalled. “People that never would have thought of cannabis were like, ‘Get my husband on that.’”

Creating a new therapeutic system
A significant number of billings originated from Fredericton-area doctor Paul Smith who, after finishing a stint on base at Gagetown, began prescribing cannabis in order to stem the number of veterans taking their own lives.

“If the pills didn’t work, many were basically on their own to find solutions … drugs and alcohol most commonly,” he said. “There are many people who don’t do well on pharmaceuticals … either it decreases their quality of life, sex drive … or they just don’t feel right.”

In 2014, Dr. Smith aligned his practice with Marijuana for Trauma (he is no longer affiliated with MFT, which expanded nationally while Dr. Smith built a new local treatment facility). MFT did not pay him – provincial rules prohibit that – but it did funnel many sick veterans through his office. Dr. Smith likely accounted for 30 per cent of all veterans’ cannabis authorizations in fiscal 2014-15.

In his early prescribing years, Dr. Smith commonly authorized veterans for a “ceiling dose” of eight or 10 daily grams. “We did that initially because we had no idea what dose worked. We were just figuring our own way out.”

A tray offering marijuana to those who need it at the Veterans For Healing lounge in Oromocto, N.B. (Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail)
There are three distinct classes of cannabis: indica, sativa and hybrid strains. Indicas are known to be sedating. Sativas tend to be energizing. There are substrains as well. Some have high amounts of THC (which gives the euphoric “high”) and combat nausea. Others have larger proportions of CBD (which has no psychoactive effect) and control pain. The way cannabis is ingested also matters. But converting the dried cannabis that VAC pays for into edible forms, that produce longer effects, requires more volume and thus, a higher prescription.

Dr. Smith said he did not take advantage of the system; rather, he felt he was creating one.

Ed Schollenberg, registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick, confirmed that VAC had raised concerns about the volume of Dr. Smith’s cannabis authorizations. Dr. Schollenberg’s office investigated and found nothing amiss.

In Vancouver, Dr. Passey, the psychiatrist, found that most patients to whom he prescribed cannabis were able to take fewer pharmaceuticals.

In fact, treatment data collected by VAC and obtained by The Globe and Mail show that the department spent about $91.5-million on prescription drugs in 2012-13, when medical marijuana cost just $284,000. By 2015-16, marijuana costs rang up at $20.5-million, but prescription-drug costs dropped by a similar amount, to a total of $71-million.

‘They’re running a double standard here’
As veterans’ medical-marijuana use – and VAC’s costs – climbed, so did concerns among department staff who believed the program had grown too elastic.

When VAC began paying for cannabis in 2008, the move drew worldwide attention; demand for cannabis treatment was on the rise. And courts had already compelled Health Canada to provide reasonable access to marijuana for medical purposes. But the lack of supporting science – the Canadian Medical Association, for one, says there is “insufficient evidence on risks and benefits”’ – had been taken as grounds in most countries not to loosen restrictions or, by extension, devote tax dollars to fund it.

At Veterans Affairs itself, according to internal documents examined by the federal auditor general, the decision to adopt medical marijuana was taken “at the senior management level,” although the auditor general was “unable to determine” why.

Meanwhile, hundreds of internal documents and e-mails obtained by The Globe through Access to Information requests show that VAC’s top doctor raised red flags during the years that costs rose most quickly.

“The scientific medical literature reveals that there is no relevant evidence to support the use of dried cannabis for medical treatment of any condition,” Cyd Courchesne, VAC’s chief medical officer, wrote in a 2015 briefing note labelled “Advice to Minister.” She went on to say that the department’s policy of paying for 10 daily grams was made with “no medical input,” and she flagged studies associating cannabis with memory loss, lung cancer and even psychosis. “Medical treatments and benefits should follow the principles of evidence-based medicine,” she wrote.

In an interview with The Globe last fall, Mr. Doiron, the assistant deputy minister, said VAC was aware that funding medical marijuana made it an outlier among government departments that pay for health services. “We’ve been told we’re blazing a trail, and a lot of people are looking at Veterans Affairs – for good or for bad,” he acknowledged.

But, he said, the department’s “primary focus is on the health of the veteran. If this gets you on your feet, or out of your basement … and gets you back as an employed person of society … we want the veteran to get better.” Added Mr. Doiron: “You have to remember, at VAC, we are really only a payer. It is the responsibility of the … family doctor, specialist … to do the diagnostics and the prescribing.”

It has yet to be scientifically determined if cannabis is an effective treatment for PTSD. Both Canada and the United States have recently announced plans for studies on the subject. But Zach Walsh, the lead researcher in Canada’s first randomized controlled trial, taking place at UBC in partnership with cannabis producer Tilray, argues that “we need to listen to the patients. They’re saying that it’s having extremely positive effects. I agree that we want the best evidence,” but important, as well, is “a compassionate approach to treating patients.”

That appeal has not been enough to convince most doctors, including those who work inside the national network of Operational Stress Injury clinics that treat military, defence and police workers.

Anthony Njoku, a psychiatrist at the Fredericton OSI clinic, said that, in agreeing to pay for cannabis, VAC put an unfair onus on doctors who experienced pressure from their patients to authorize a treatment most knew little about. “It’s not how we’re trained – the point is, above all, do no harm,” Dr. Njoku said, adding that doctors also have no way to know what dosage or strain to use.

Although the team Dr. Njoku works with did briefly issue some authorizations for cannabis – “I really have nothing against the veterans who are reaching out for anything that may be the next salvation” – he says they ceased doing so in early 2017. “The demand,” he said, “far outstripped the rationale.”

Still, in the 10 years since VAC began paying for cannabis, more than 7,000 veterans have turned to the treatment.

And yet Dr. Njoku feels the medical-marijuana program has always been troubled. “There was no well-thought-out strategy to it,” he said. “It was mishandled from the get-go.”

By the time VAC’s bill for marijuana hit $60-million in 2016 – almost 60-per-cent more than projected – the auditor general had already admonished it for mismanagement. A cost-containment strategy was recommended in the spring of that year, and by late fall a new policy was in place for new medical-cannabis patients, who were told VAC would cover just three daily grams.

At the time, more than half of the veterans in the program were authorized for higher doses. They were notified by VAC that they, too, would be cut to three grams as of May, 2017. Exemptions would require visits to a specialist, and long waits.

Mr. Doiron said the changes have shored up VAC’s “credibility” – and that they were not about money. “The first driver is: What is the science saying when it comes to the use of cannabis for medical purposes? You hear it has helped people, but that’s anecdotally.”

That explanation angers Vancouver’s Dr. Passey. “People say, ‘Oh, it’s anecdotal’ as a way of diminishing exactly what’s being observed. But with medicine, everything starts with a test case.” He added: “There are a number of medications that are used … where there has been no research to support the use of that type of medication with PTSD. Veterans Affairs has no problem funding those … So they’re running a double standard here.”

He does not disagree with the idea of employing greater caution, but points to the effects on patients and families when veterans who are stable on high doses are forced to endure sudden cuts. More than 2,500 veterans were affected by the reduction.

“Can you imagine,” he asked, “being on 10 mg of morphine every day and then being told we’re going to cold-turkey you down to 3 mg, not for any medical reason but for a financial one? It was an absolutely asinine decision.”

Dr. Smith, who has more than 2,000 active files, describes what he sees as “a bias toward cutting back on something that was politically unpopular” yet is “a significant stabilizing therapy to allow other therapies to take place.”

He added: “If there’s a quality of life, there’s a reason to live.”

‘Every day I want to die’
George Martin did not leave a note.

In the hours before the retired warrant officer slipped unnoticed from his rural Geary, N.B., house one evening last May, carrying a kitchen steak knife, he phoned each of his three sons. He told his boys, grown men in the midst of their own military careers, that he loved them.

To his son Todd, who lived just down the road, the call did not raise any alarms. Both men had suffered from PTSD, and his father’s moods had grown more volatile over the previous month as he worried about the impact of having his daily 10 grams of cannabis cut down to three.

The prescription pills George tried before marijuana had failed: He was left with anger so overwhelming that he once nearly ripped a car door off its hinge. He ended up in the hospital for psychiatric observation. The switch to cannabis, Todd Martin said, levelled his father out, relaxed his clenched jaw, and removed the lines of fury from his face.

When word of the cuts came, the elder Martin warned his family and close friends that he would “rather be dead than back on pills.”

He tried to manage on a reduced dosage of cannabis for a week, noticeably isolating himself from loved ones, before he began making those final calls to his sons.

“He’s like, ‘I love ya,’ ” Todd said. “Didn’t think nothin’ of it.”

Then, after dark, Todd’s mother called. She’d gone to get a piece of fish to cook for dinner and returned to find her husband gone. Todd spent most of the night combing the woods behind their house, calling out for his dad.

The next morning, exactly one week after Veterans Affairs had fully implemented its new policy, George’s body was found – as it turns out, in his own back yard. He had stabbed himself in the chest and neck.

Veterans Affairs ruled that his death was due to “factors associated with” PTSD.

In an e-mailed statement, VAC said the department “cannot corroborate” links between any suicides and the marijuana policy change. “Suicide is a complex issue and rarely is it attributable to one factor only,” it read.

More than a dozen veterans interviewed by The Globe in Oromocto said their lives have been damaged in the year since VAC instituted its new daily limits on medical cannabis.

Mr. Pike, the Afghanistan veteran, told The Globe that “coming off of 10 grams … almost killed me,” and he has made at least one additional attempt on his life. The plan was thwarted, and, in fact, Mr. Pike later had his 10-gram authorization reinstated. But he is still reeling from the psychological trough in which he found himself.

“Most of the time, when I look in the mirror, I am covered in blood,” he said in an earlier interview. “And every day I want to die.”

Dr. Njoku acknowledges there have been several deaths in the community since the policy change, but does not believe lower doses of marijuana are to blame.

“We certainly have had a higher number of veterans being admitted to hospital involuntarily – people who have to be forcibly kept in hospital because they have become so much more unwell,” said Dr. Njoku, of the Fredericton OSI clinic. He believes it was the higher doses that did the harm.

When asked recently about the department’s new policy, VAC’s Dr. Courchesne told The Globe: “The position we have taken is the responsible one. We’ve done our due diligence by reviewing our policy and following the best guidelines that are out there right now.”

About 1,200 vets have received exemptions to use more than three grams per day again. More than 400 have had their applications rejected.

However, the doctors who specialize in authorizing cannabis for PTSD sufferers say that the way VAC lessened access to the amounts of cannabis on which many grew stable threw an entire community painfully off-kilter.

Ron Forrest opens a package of his cannabis medication that was just delivered to his home in Geary, N.B. (Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail)

Ron Forrest, a 62-year-old grandfather with 28 years of military service, had been feeling psychologically stable on a 10-gram-a-day cannabis regimen for about 18 months when he was cut down to three grams last May. Suffering both PTSD and chronic pain, Mr. Forrest had used three to four grams’ worth of his allotment to treat pain in his back and knees. The remaining allotment was split between strains he smoked for sleep and for daytime energy.

Under the three-gram limit, he was forced each day to choose which ailments to treat – and which to endure. “I had to get up in the morning and decide if it was pain or brain. What do I feed today? It was devastating,” he said. “It increased my anxiety and I was back down again to three or four hours’ sleep a night. I was very, very short-tempered.”

His marriage ended.

After five difficult months, Mr. Forrest received the special exemption allowing him to revert to 10 grams a day. As he sees it, the potential long-term health effects pale when compared to the reality of life without enough cannabis.

“I’d be dead,” he said. “I would have killed myself by now.”
Our vets are one step closer to being able to use cannabis....

U.S. Senate Votes 86 to 5 to Allow Medical Marijuana for Veterans
The full United States Senate has passed a bill that allows physicians at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recommend medical marijuana to veterans living in states where the medicine is legal.

The Senate voted 86 to 5 on a spending bill that includes a provision to finally allow veterans living in medical marijuana states to receive recommendations from their physicians at the VA.

The measure states that “None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available to the Department of Veterans Affairs in this Act may be used in a manner that would —

(1) interfere with the ability of a veteran to participate in a medicinal marijuana program approved by a State;

(2) deny any services from the Department to a veteran who is participating in such a program; or

(3) limit or interfere with the ability of a health care provider of the Department to make appropriate recommendations, fill out forms, or take steps to comply with such a program.

The House of Representatives must now approve the measure before it can be sent to President Trump for consideration.
Our vets are one step closer to being able to use cannabis....

U.S. Senate Votes 86 to 5 to Allow Medical Marijuana for Veterans
The full United States Senate has passed a bill that allows physicians at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recommend medical marijuana to veterans living in states where the medicine is legal.

The Senate voted 86 to 5 on a spending bill that includes a provision to finally allow veterans living in medical marijuana states to receive recommendations from their physicians at the VA.

The measure states that “None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available to the Department of Veterans Affairs in this Act may be used in a manner that would —

(1) interfere with the ability of a veteran to participate in a medicinal marijuana program approved by a State;

(2) deny any services from the Department to a veteran who is participating in such a program; or

(3) limit or interfere with the ability of a health care provider of the Department to make appropriate recommendations, fill out forms, or take steps to comply with such a program.

The House of Representatives must now approve the measure before it can be sent to President Trump for consideration.
Sessions (well, both of them) is SO on the wrong side of this....when was the last time the Senate passed anything with this level of consensus agreement? Maybe 1956! haha
V.A. Shuns Medical Marijuana, Leaving Vets to Improvise

Veterans gathered earlier this month outside the old veterans’ hall in Santa Cruz, Calif. A local nonprofit group distributes medical marijuana to veterans who cannot get it through the V.A. health system.CreditJim Wilson/The New York Times

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — Some of the local growers along the coast here see it as an act of medical compassion: Donating part of their crop of high-potency medical marijuana to ailing veterans, who line up by the dozens each month in the echoing auditorium of the city’s old veterans’ hall to get a ticket they can exchange for a free bag.

One Vietnam veteran in the line said he was using marijuana-infused oil to treat pancreatic cancer. Another said that smoking cannabis eased the pain from a recent hip replacement better than prescription pills did. Several said that a few puffs temper the anxiety and nightmares of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I never touched the stuff in Vietnam,” said William Horne, 76, a retired firefighter. “It was only a few years ago I realized how useful it could be.”

The monthly giveaway bags often contain marijuana lotions, pills, candies and hemp oils, as well as potent strains of smokable flower with names like Combat Cookies and Kosher Kush. But the veterans do not get any medical guidance on which product might help with which ailment, how much to use, or how marijuana might interact with other medications.

Ordinarily, their first stop for advice like that would be the Department of Veterans Affairs health system, with its thousands of doctors and hundreds of hospitals and clinics across the country dedicated to caring for veterans.

But the department has largely said no to medical marijuana, citing federal law. It won’t recommend cannabis products for patients, and for the most part it has declined even to study their potential benefits. That puts the department out of step with most of the country, where at least 30 states now have laws that allow the use of medical marijuana in some form.


“I never touched the stuff in Vietnam,” William Horne, 76, a retired firefighter, said of marijuana. “It was only a few years ago I realized how useful it could be.”CreditJim Wilson/The New York Times
A department survey suggests that nearly a million veterans may be using medical marijuana anyway. But doctors in the veterans’ health system say the department’s lack of research has left them without much good advice to give veterans.

“We have a disconnect in care,” said Marcel Bonn-Miller, a psychologist who worked for years at the veterans’ hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., and now teaches at the University of Pennsylvania medical school. “The V.A. has funded lots of marijuana studies, but not of therapeutic potential. All the work has been related to problems of use.”

Mr. Bonn-Miller said that in 2016, he wanted to study the health outcomes of the veterans who were getting cannabis from the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance, but he did not seek funding from Veterans Affairs because of the department’s lack of interest in therapeutic use.

Congress is now considering changing that. A bipartisan bill introduced in the House of Representatives this spring would order the department to study the safety and efficacy of marijuana for treating chronic pain and PTSD. If the bill passes, the department could not only develop expertise about a drug that many veterans have turned to on their own — it may also start down the road toward eventually allowing its doctors and clinics to prescribe cannabis.

“I talk to so many vets who claim they get benefits, but we need research,” said Representative Tim Walz, Democrat of Minnesota, who introduced the bill along with Phil Roe, Republican of Tennessee, who is a physician.

“You may be a big advocate of medical marijuana, you may feel it has no value,” Mr. Walz said. “Either way, you should want the evidence to prove it, and there is no better system to do that research than the V.A.”


After a monthly meeting, veterans in Santa Cruz receive tickets that they can exchange for a free bag of cannabis products at a local dispensary.CreditJim Wilson/The New York Times

A spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs said Congress would need to do more than pass the current House bill. The spokesman, Curt Cashour, said that because cannabis is classified as a Schedule 1 drug under federal law, researchers would need to secure approval from five separate agencies to conduct studies.

“The opportunities for V.A. to conduct marijuana research are limited because of the restrictions imposed by federal law,” Mr. Cashour said. “If Congress wants to facilitate more federal research into Schedule 1 controlled substances such as marijuana, it can always choose to eliminate these restrictions.”

San Diego, looks at whether cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive component of cannabis, can help patients during PTSD therapy; it is scheduled to continue through 2023. The other, planned for South Carolina, would examine the palliative effects of cannabis in hospice patients.

“In a system as big as ours, that’s not much, certainly not enough,” said Dr. David J. Shulkin, who was President Trump’s first secretary of veterans affairs before being fired in March.

During his tenure as secretary, Dr. Shulkin eased some rules, allowing the department’s doctors to start talking to veterans about medical marijuana. But many veterans faulted him for not going further.

Dr. Shulkin said that the tangle of red tape surrounding Schedule 1 drug studies should no longer be an excuse not to conduct them. “We have an opioid crisis, a mental health crisis, and we have limited options with how to address them, so we should be looking at everything possible,” he said.


Part of the crop grown by the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance in a warehouse south of the city is earmarked for donation to veterans.CreditJim Wilson/The New York Times

The push for more research and for access to medical marijuana in the veterans’ health system is not coming just from liberal areas of California. The generally conservative American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars both favor expanded research. And some of the most vocal advocates are products of the nation’s strict military academies.

“Cannabis is the safe, responsible choice,” said Nick Etten, an Annapolis graduate and former Navy SEAL who runs an advocacy group called the Veterans Cannabis Project. “It helps with the Big Three we struggle with after combat — pain, sleep and anxiety — and it is safer than many medications.”

Veterans are not waiting for a green light from Washington. A department survey in 2017 found that nearly 9 percent of veterans reported using cannabis in the last year, and almost half of those were using it for medical purposes.

The growing use of medical marijuana among veterans is not without risks, though. Cannabis can interact with some prescription medications. Frequent use can lead to dependency and abuse. New forms of concentrated cannabis that are inhaled as vapor can compound both of those problems. And cannabis’s therapeutic value in treating chronic pain, PTSD and other ailments is far from clear.

Veterans who look for information about medical marijuana online find a proliferation of marketing claims and testimonials, many of them dubious. Several companies sell non-psychoactive hemp oil for as much as $150 an ounce that they say is rich in cannabidiol, also known as CBD; the Food and Drug Administration has gone after marketers whose claims for cannabidiol as a treatment for PTSD violate its rules.

A 2017 report by the National Institutes of Health found evidence of a number of therapeutic benefits of cannabis and its various components but said there had been little research relating specifically to post-traumatic stress.


Aaron Newsom, a Marine veteran, inspected some of the thousands of plants that he and his colleagues grow in a 17,000-square-foot warehouse.CreditJim Wilson/The New York Times

“CBD may be of huge benefit, THC may be of huge benefit, but there are also risks of abuse and bad outcomes,” said Mr. Bonn-Miller, who is conducting several cannabis studies now without financial backing from the department. “We’d like to know more, so we can figure out what works and what doesn’t.”

Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance, the growers who conduct the monthly giveaway, said they felt compelled to step in where Veterans Affairs had not. They are veterans themselves who found that marijuana helped them after combat.

“I was part of a lot of bloody scenarios over there,” said Aaron Newsom, who deployed to Afghanistan as a Marine. “When I came home, I couldn’t turn things off. I was losing friends, losing jobs. Nothing really mattered after being confronted with life and death.”

He and Jason Sweatt, an Army veteran, now grow thousands of marijuana plants in a 17,000-square-foot warehouse south of Santa Cruz and sell most of their crop in the state’s dispensaries.

One of the alliance’s workers, Jake Scallan, was sent to Iraq with Air Force security forces and came back with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. He said Veterans Affairs doctors put him on five different drugs for anxiety, depression, pain and sleeplessness.

“Honestly, there was no healing,” said Mr. Scallan, 30. “I was in such a fog I couldn’t deal with anything.”

After a suicide attempt and hospital stay in 2013, Mr. Scallan was persuaded by a friend to try marijuana for his anxiety and depression. “It was like I could suddenly breathe again,” he said.

He now uses a highly potent concentrate that he said has helped him put his life back together, hold down a job and get married, which he did in July. “I was really lost, and now I can function,” he said.
In honor of Veteran's Day, I thought these testimonies would be fitting. Some really moving stuff here....
There is a short video at the beginning of the article that could not be downloaded.

‘Cannabis Saved My Life’: Veterans Share Stories of Healing and Recovery


Once a week, a handful of military veterans gather at the Seattle Vet Center to practice the art of writing and the process of healing. Some write fiction. Others reveal themselves in memoir.

'This is easily the most rewarding work I've ever done.'
Warren Etheredge, Writer and teacher, the Red Badge Project
“We help people find tools to tell their own stories,” says Warren Etheredge, who teaches and leads the sessions. “I’ve been a teacher at every grade level for 30 years, and this is easily the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.”

Etheredge, a nationally known film critic, curator, and founder of The Warren Report, is one of eight writers who work with dozens of veterans in The Red Badge Project, a nonprofit group that helps wounded warriors “rebuild their individual sense of purpose and unique individuality” through the creative process of storytelling.

The group was created six years ago by Tom Skerritt, the actor, director, and Air Force veteran; and Evan Bailey, a former US Army captain. Red Badge groups now meet in Vet Centers around the Pacific Northwest, from Spokane to Walla Walla, Everett, and Federal Way.

7 Veterans, 7 Stories
To mark Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11, this year Leafly is partnering with the Red Badge Project to bring some of those stories to life. Etheredge recently asked writers in his group to create a story that touched in some way on cannabis—a common topic of conversation among those managing PTSD.

“For the younger vets, it’s easier to talk about cannabis,” Etheredge recently told Leafly. “But for some older folks, from the Vietnam generation, it’s still something that’s not talked about a lot. Those who use it, swear by it. For some writers, their reaction was: ‘Oh please, let me spread the word.’”

While the rest of society is breaking down taboos around cannabis, it’s still a difficult topic in the military. A number of Red Badge writers, in fact, felt the need to use authorial pseudonyms because of the risk to their careers or VA benefits.

We’ve provided a few opening lines from each story, below. Click on the link to read the full piece.

We’ve also recorded the stories, and collected them in a short audiobook:
To listen to this link, follow title link to original story. It could not be downloaded.

Aaron Patrick

Aaron Patrick is a social worker and dad from Washington state. He served in the Washington Army National Guard from 2002 to 2010, including a deployment to Iraq during “The Troop Surge”. Aaron began his enlistment as an Avionics Equipment Repairer but reclassified to Military Police and deployed as a Military Police sergeant. His favorite strain is Sugar Plum.

Bringing Back the Feelings
I can’t sleep unless I drink myself unconscious. It seems I can’t do much of anything without a drink. They say alcohol is an anesthetic, but I’m not drinking to numb any pain. I’m drinking because I can’t feel anything at all. I’ve cauterized my feelings.

Click here for the rest of the story.

J. Brad Wilke

J. Brad Wilke is a co-founder and principal of Smarthouse Creative. Brad holds an MBA from the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, a Master of Communication in Digital Media from the University of Washington’s Department of Communication, and a Bachelor of Science from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He received an Honorable Discharge from the U.S. Army in 2003, having attained the rank of captain.

Just Follow Orders
As a non-combat veteran of the U.S. Army, I’ve never had the need to use cannabis to alleviate or minimize the effects of PTSD. My cannabis use has always been purely recreational and didn’t begin until well after I transitioned out of the service. My military experience was more Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H than Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. I hated people telling me what to do and I loathed the lack of agency that began as a cadet at West Point and lasted until I finally transitioned out of the service in late 2003.

Shortly thereafter, I took my first hit off a joint.

Click here for the rest of the story.

Sam Arrington
Sam Arrington grew up on the east coast and enlisted in the US Army after the attacks on September 11, 2001. He served eight years, including combat tours in Iraq and deployments as a combat advisor in Lebanon and Yemen. He now lives in Washington with his wife and two sons and spends his days teaching, writing, and coaching baseball.

A Time To Be Still
“This doesn’t kill kids. It kills adults, but not kids.”

Early on a doctor had told him that. Now he just repeated it whenever the silence took him to some place he didn’t want to be.

A small girl was sleeping on the bed in front of him. Her frame was overwhelmed by the bulk of the large bed. She was asleep and the last of the daylight was fading on the mountains outside the window of her hospital room. It cast a beautiful rose glow on her skin.

A nurse entered the room.

“Take a break. I will come get you if I need to.”

Click here for the rest of the story.

Maggie S.

Maggie S. spent six years in the active duty Army as a public affairs specialist and broadcast journalist. She met her husband while stationed in Germany and they have been married for over 20 years. She has three children, Timothy, Madison and Aidan.
Try the Home Grown
When everything got really bad, Mom thought it would help. I was, of course, hesitant since I didn’t really have a decent track record with anything beyond say Tylenol. But, Mom decided, after it had been brought up that we would try it together. She, at 62 and I at 35 would have some cannabis together in an attempt to calm my mind, and my body from 6 years of service that wrecked havoc on both.

While I had certainly tried it once before – it was before, before everything. I was 18, and in Amsterdam, then Denmark, then Norway, and finally what was previously East Germany. The last of my cousin’s stash was imbibed at the top of a cathedral where my sister, cousin and I all had to huddle together and block the wind so the makeshift wooden pipe bought in desperation in Amsterdam could be lit.

Click here for the rest of the story.

Skip Nichols

Skip Nichols is a Marine combat veteran who served in Vietnam from 1967-68. He and his wife, Paula, live in Walla Walla, Wash. They have two daughters and two grandsons. Nichols’ hobbies include writing and scuba diving. He has a degree in wildlife biology and worked as a newspaper editor for 40 years.

Introduction to War
Six black body bags lay in a row, splattered with the red mud that stained everything on top of the small hill south of the DMZ in Vietnam.

Fred Cleary whistled while Bobby Erl Baker remained silent as they struggled to pick up the bodies, Marines killed at nearby Con Thien during a massive bombing siege by the North Vietnamese Army. When they finished loading the bodies on a UH-34 helicopter, Baker was visibly shaking.

“What’s the matter?” Cleary asked. “At least it wasn’t you.”

Baker didn’t answer, but he wondered if someday someone would one day load his body on a chopper. The war suddenly seemed very real.

Click here for the rest of the story.

Reg Doty

Reg Doty was born in 1947 and went to war in 1967. He married his wife Jenise in 1971, graduated from Washington State University in 1976, the same year their son was born. He has been diagnosed with severe PTSD from his war years. “I have great difficulty talking to people,” he says, “but I try to make up for that through writing.”

Redneck Buffet
After two tours partaking in the great “Asian vacation” I was looking forward to starting my life over as an expatriate in a place far away from the insanity that hijacked my dreams and left my spirit weary: a place where I might find my way to moral redemption? Fate intervened, though, when I met a young woman with whom I shared much in common. So as it happened we became expatriates together, not on the far side of the world, however, but in the community where she was born and raised, deep within the confines of eastern Washington State.

We all know that it takes faith to move mountains, but coupled with love and kindness you just might be able to save souls too. I was a hard case, to be sure, but here was someone who wasn’t about to give up on me. Persistence and perseverance is a motto we should all live by and my beautiful friend put meaning and action into those words. Perhaps even a half-wit like me could get swept-up in a campaign to salvage himself.

Click here for the rest of the story.

L.J. is a U.S. Air Force Veteran and stand-up comedian. He comes from a tribal community in Minnesota and now lives in Seattle with his two kids.

Secret Cigarette Lighter
In the late 90’s I bought a ragged old 1987 Toyota pickup truck to drive around base and get me in to town.

This was when I was stationed at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave desert.

At one time this base was considered a remote location and the military gave personnel living there a small stipend for having to be in the middle of nowhere. Somewhere along the way, the powers that be in the defense department decided to move the checkpoint gate five miles closer to town in order to deny the stipend and be able to say the base had easy access to civilization even though the junior enlisted dormitories and other base housing did not move five miles closer to town.

Click here for the rest of the story.
How Cannabis Prohibition Is Harming Veterans Suffering From PTSD And Other Ailments


The scientific blacklisting of cannabis hurts veterans especially hard.

Cannabis research

Studying cannabis is really, really, difficult in the United States.

Just ask Dr. Sue Sisley, who has spent the last ten years trying to complete the first clinical trial of cannabis use for PTSD in veterans. The study, sponsored by the non-profit Multidisciplinary Associations for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), finished its groundbreaking research earlier this year after it was approved by the FDA all the way back in 2011. Dr. Sisley overcame multiple obstacles to complete the study, including being fired from her job at the University of Arizona.

“We are immensely grateful to all of the study’s supporters,” Dr. Sisley wrote in a press release announcing the study’s completion, “especially the veteran service organizations who helped us with patient recruitment. We are proud to have persevered through these regulatory hurdles independently of hospitals, universities, or the VA system.”

Dr. Sisley’s study represents an outlier for cannabis research, in part because it happened, and in part, because it was geared towards veterans using cannabis as a treatment—not as a disorder.

Last year, Rolling Stone laid out how absurdly difficult it is to do any research with cannabis, in spite of the DEA claiming they were “streamlining” the research application process. The DEA essentially changed the application from mail-based to electronic, but, as Rolling Stone lays out, all of the other obstacles remain for researchers: approval from three agencies (the DEA, FDA, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse) and extra barriers to procurement.

While various federal agencies hem-and-haw about a substance that over 60%of Americans support legalizing, veterans struggle every day and other countries like Canada and Israel are taking the lead on medicinal cannabis research. Even though dozens of states have legalized marijuana, and ten have gone as far as legalizing recreational adult use marijuana, veterans looking for care through the V.A. are being hamstrung by federal prohibition.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs states on its informational page for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that “Marijuana use for medical conditions is an issue of growing concern […] There is no evidence at this time that marijuana is an effective treatment for PTSD. In fact, research suggests that marijuana can be harmful to individuals with PTSD.”

At face value, the V.A.’s stance may seem like a well-intentioned, if entirely over-protective, approach to medical marijuana. Beneath the surface, though, the V.A.’s reason for objecting fails under scrutiny. A 2018 review of five studies around veteran PTSD and medical marijuana use found that three of the five studies found—shocker—that “conflicting data exist for the use of marijuana for PTSD,” in large part, because, “current evidence is limited to anecdotal experiences, case reports, and observational studies.” Unless the V.A. can see into the future to read Dr. Sisley’s report, their argument that “there is no evidence” for medical marijuana use for PTSD patients is only true because there is so little U.S.-based research into medical marijuana.

As The Washington Post reported a few years ago, the dearth of methodologically-sound marijuana science is in large part because “scientists must rely heavily on self-reporting from patients, making it extremely difficult to know how much, how often or through what means subjects use marijuana — let alone what type of chemicals they’re ingesting alongside the drug.”

The bulk of the attention on veteran’s health centers around PTSD, but veterans suffer from disproportionately higher rates of other diseases, as well. Statistically, veterans had higher rates of cancer between 2015 and 2016, perhaps due to the exposure to carcinogenic and radioactive materials like “Agent Orange” in Vietnam and nuclear weapons. Furthermore, almost two-thirds of U.S. military veterans report chronic pain. Medical marijuana has a long history of helping treat these diseases, and it can provide a much safer approach to treatment than high-powered pharmaceuticals like opioids.

When it comes to mental health issues like PTSD and depression, the V.A.’s current go-to-treatment is known as the “combat cocktail,” a mix of anti-depressants that can have dire side effects if not administered correctly. The V.A.’s prohibition stance and reliance on antidepressants and opioids, however, is out of step with many veterans’ experiences and desires for treatment.

“More than two million veterans report using cannabis to treat their service-connected injuries according to surveys; anecdotally, hundreds of veterans have publicly testified that cannabis access has saved their lives after being driven to near-suicide under a pharmaceutical load of dozens of pills a day,” Eric Goepel, CEO and Founder of Veterans Cannabis Coalition told me. “Current research supports the potential efficacy of cannabis in dozens of different applications, all of which could have direct positive impacts on overall veteran health. Whether for pain relief, as a sleep aid, or for help in overcoming stress and anxiety, so many veterans find relief in cannabis because it provides an alternative way to manage their conditions far better than a slew of toxic pharmaceuticals.”


Veterans Cannabis Coalition

Speaking with The New York Times, Marcel Bonn-Miller, a psychologist who worked for years at the veterans’ hospital, highlighted the fundamental ironyof the V.A.’s relationship to marijuana research: “We have a disconnect in care. The V.A. has funded lots of marijuana studies, but not of therapeutic potential. All the work has been related to problems of use.”

By working from the assumption that cannabis use is a disorder, the V.A. is ultimately creating another fracture in a broken system: the millions of veterans use cannabis are not able to integrate their cannabis use into their overall care plan with their doctors. As a result, the V.A.’s prohibition is driving a wedge between veterans who prefer cannabis to psychotropic pharmaceuticals and doctors who are not allowed to recommend or prescribe cannabis.

To illustrate how out-of-step the V.A. is with veterans, consider this recent survey from the American Legion: among veterans, 92% support research into medical cannabis and 83% support legalizing medical cannabis—a much higher rate than the broader populace.

When I spoke with Dr. John S. Abrams of Fireflower Technologies, Inc., he emphasized the importance of the DoD as a potential future partner for developing medicinal marijuana research: “When it comes to the medicinal application of cannabis, I think the Department of Defense has been very interesting pathways and opportunities compared to the civilian side. Things can go faster potentially within the context of the military for deployment. I'm a big proponent of making sure that we keep the Department of Defense and their protocols and platforms in place as we push for medicinal cannabis development.”

Veterans don’t just stand to benefit from the use of cannabis, but also from investing and working in the industry itself.

Dr. Abrams also sees the military’s training as a fantastic foundation for the burgeoning cannabis industry. “The military has this theme of train, train, train and replace. And I think that that's immediately suited for the cannabis industry and for some of these processes that we need within the context of good manufacturing practice. Veterans already have a basis for good manufacturing practices that the marijuana industry needs.”

However, it seems that military personnel even being tangentially related to cannabis is a no-no, according to the Department of Defense. In March, the DoD began circulating notices that informed military officials that the “DoD Central Adjudication Facility [CAF] negatively views personal investment (i.e. stock purchases) in companies that manufacture/sell/distribute marijuana. This means your security clearance may be negatively affected if you own stock in such companies.” This stance creates an extra financial barrier for military officials who may not know whether the market index funds, mutual funds, and ETFs that they invested in contain cannabis stocks. (They probably do—cannabis stocks are exploding right now.)

For the veterans who have left the military health and finance system behind, these barriers can be more easily overcome. But for the millions of active duty and reserve troops and officials, the scientific blacklisting and broader cannabis prohibition in the lives of veterans has already wrought damage that will have repercussions for generations to come.

“The bottom line is that cannabis prohibition is killing veterans,” Goepel said, “through the stigma that prevents veterans from exploring cannabis as an alternative, through denying the medical value of cannabis and blocking research, and through criminalizing basic self-care. We need more than empty rhetoric—we need action now.”

Companies like Emerald Scientific are helping facilitate this charter in bringing the topic front-and-center at its prestigious Emerald Science Conference. The company issued $10,000 in funding from proceeds of its 1st annual Emerald Classic Charity Golf Tournament to the Veterans Cannabis Project (VCP).


$10,000 Donation to the Veterans Cannabis Project, Emerald Science Conference 2019 | (left to right) Doug Distaso, Veterans Cannabis Project; Wes Burk, Emerald Scientific; Andre Bourque, Forbes

"Science has proven that cannabis has a wide array of medical benefits that can directly improve the lives of our veterans, however, we recognize the obstacles they face in accessing cannabis as a viable treatment," Emerald Scientific President, Wes Burk told me. "Organizations like the Veterans Cannabis Project (VCP) take veterans to Capitol Hill to tell their stories, they educate them on how to navigate the VA when using cannabis, and they have introduced a protocol to the VA to treat traumatic brain injury in the field."

Long overdue

Hopefully, one of the many marijuana reform bills that have been introduced in Congress will make its way through both houses in a bipartisan approval and change the way the V.A. treats cannabis use and open up researcher’s access to cannabis.

"Scientists, doctors, and your military veterans are screaming for leadership on this subject, in hopes that this plant might be taken seriously and given the deep scientific research it deserves," Doug Distaso, executive director of the Veterans Cannabis Project said. "We hope that happens. Veteran lives depend on it. We are literally dying for it."
It's a shameful thing that we ask people to risk their lives to protect us, and the government won't help them in every way they can to recover from the horrors of war. Not even allowing research into a plant that many feel will help, is cruel. It's not as if a better treatment is on offer. I've got PTSD, and cannabis helps immensely. I fully understand scientific research if preferable to anecdotal evidence, so let's get some science up in here so our veterans can get the help they deserve.
@Moses Baca - Overall is can be a fulfilling, and demanding, career choice. Many people get banged up, let alone mental issues that can come from service. Canadian veterans are fortunate in that when a court case decided that cannabis should be a medication choice a group of veterans successfully lobbied to have Veterans Affairs cover the cost. We're now the largest group of patients in Canada, and include both military and RCMP veterans in our group. And thanks - it was a great start :)

@Madri-Gal If it were only about the science. It's more about ostrich politicians, working hard to maintain the status quo (and invariably their investment portfolio).
here are a couple of edumacation links for your surfing pleasure:
http://blogs.ubc.ca/walshlab/zach-walsh/ , who is responsible for the following study:
And my favourite site: www.projectcbd.org

There are a ton of others. Like this one:
Veterans concerned about benefits hesitant to use, discuss cannabis

Some veterans are often hesitant to discuss their cannabis usage with their VA care providers, in case it could jeopardize their benefits. (Getty Images)

Federal and state legislation often clashes in terms of acceptable usage of cannabis for medical and recreational use.

This uncertainty also has moved into the veteran community, where those who served and now want to indulge for fun or for their health are unsure whether they can light up.

Many veterans have turned to marijuana to relieve symptoms of PTSD and other service-connected medical issues, including certain types anxiety and inflammation and other debilitating conditions like chronic pain. Some studies believe that as many as 1 in 4 veterans report that they are consuming cannabis for therapeutic purposes, but some veterans are often hesitant to discuss their cannabis usage with their VA care providers, in case it could jeopardize their benefits.

Although a number of states have legalized its use, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs continues to clearly state that it follows all federal laws, including classifying marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. This means the VA providers are unable to recommend or assist veterans in obtaining marijuana. However, they also generally tell veterans they will not be denied benefits or lose care or services because of using marijuana.

Some veterans have reported that they are denied jobs or benefits because of marijuana use or work in the cannabis industry.

Veterans who work in the legal cannabis industry have also reported challenges to accessing benefits. A VA home loan could be denied since the cannabis industry isn’t considered a reliable or stable form of employment. There have also been reports of lost pensions due to industry work.

Veterans who seek positions involving federal contacts also must pass a drug test, which also could disqualify them if cannabis is present in their system.

With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill last December by Congress, hemp and hemp-based CBD are now federally legal and no longer classified as a Schedule 1 substance, so veterans could have access to some products that have potential health benefits without the psychoactive effects of cannabis.

Unfortunately, a number of bills that attempted to improve veteran access were withdrawn from the House Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing in May 2019, including:

The VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2018: H.R.5520, first introduced in June 2018, would have authorized the Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct and support medical marijuana research.

The Veterans Equal Access Act: This bill, over two years old, would have directed the VA to authorize VA health care providers to provide veterans with recommendations and opinions regarding participation in their state’s marijuana programs and complete forms reflecting those recommendations and opinions.

The Veterans Cannabis Use for Safe Healing Act: House Bill 2191 was introduced in April 2019 to prohibit the Secretary of Veterans Affairs from denying a veteran benefits because they use medical marijuana in legalized states. The legislation also allowed physicians at the VA to recommend medical cannabis to their patients.

Veterans Medical Safe Harbor Act: Introduced in February 2019, this bill is still sitting idle in the Senate Judiciary Committee. If passed, it would allow veterans to use, possess, or transport medical marijuana and to discuss the use of medical marijuana with physicians at the VA.

We will all have to wait and see what bills, if any, move forward in Congress to protect our veterans around marijuana in 2020. What is known is that members of Congress from 30 over legal-use states can use their federally-subsidized health insurance to discuss the benefits of medical cannabis with their doctor, while veterans who have served our country are not afforded those same rights.

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