On a day America gives thanks to the 19 million veterans who have served their country, in addition to the millions who have fought and died protecting it, we struggle to properly help these warriors recover from both physical and mental injuries.
Veterans return home battling many health issues. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain caused by a variety of medical conditions and injuries are two of the most common afflictions that veterans must endure.
Unfortunately, prescription opioid addiction has become rampant among veterans trying to cope with their pain, something that has also affected the general population to epidemic proportions. Even though doctors at the Veteran’s Administration have changed their prescribing practices to reduce the rates of addiction, there are very few alternatives that will treat acute, chronic pain aside from opioids. “The reality is we lose more than 50 vets a day now to prescription drug overdose and suicide,” said Roger Martin, an Army veteran and founder of Grow for Vets USA, a nonprofit that provides medical marijuana to veterans free of charge. “We have vets coming to us taking 25, 30, 40 different prescription meds a day — the record so far is 87. They pass out deadly drugs to vets like giving candy to kids on Halloween night, it’s absolutely obscene.”
Conventional PTSD treatments have many shortcomings. Just like many mental illnesses, PTSD varies from patient to patient, and treatments may work on one patient and be completely ineffective on another. The options for prescription drug therapies tend to have a heavy-tranquilizing effect, causing the patient to cease taking the drug and prolonging their suffering.
Studies have shown that medical marijuana is effective in treating chronic pain and newer studies show that it also has the possibility to treat PTSD. But it’s status as a Schedule I narcotic means it is prohibited at the federal level. As a government agency, the Veteran’s Administration is forced to adhere to federal drug policy, more so than the rest of the population. So when veterans have requested medical marijuana treatments, they have been denied and have risked losing their VA benefits as a result.
But veterans are starting to come forward, sharing their experience with medical marijuana’s ability to treat their conditions and calling for legal access to it. “Many young vets tell me that cannabis is the only thing that has ever helped them with PTSD,” said Martin.
The American Legion recently contacted the Trump administration, asking that the government review the current data on medical marijuana and reconsider offering it to veterans. So far, there has been no response.
Veterans who have become medical marijuana advocates agree that there are many prejudices to overcome among government officials and the medical community. “The reality is, if cannabis was socially acceptable, we’d have a lot more people choosing it and a lot more people saved,” said Sean Kiernan, a veteran of the U.S. Army Airborne Infantry and president of Weed for Warriors.
More veteran’s groups are forming to fight for access to medical marijuana, including the following.
The Battlefield Foundation is a newer California nonprofit helps veterans and their families cope, provides guidance about medical marijuana and helps veterans find opportunities in the growing cannabis business. The foundation was launched by Roberto Pickering, a former sniper in the Marines who struggled with substance abuse and found relief from cannabis. Medical guidance is supported by Dr. Sue Sisley, who is operating one of the few federally-supervised studies regarding medical marijuana for treating PTSD in veterans.
Grow for Vets
Grow for Vets is a group helps save veterans in California, Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon and Washington from suicide and prescription drug addiction and overdose. Founder and veteran Roger Martin used medical marijuana to fight his addiction to prescription opioid painkillers and sleep aids. It’s estimated that they’ve provided $1.2 million worth of medical marijuana to veterans, and have plans to expand to other locations as legalization efforts continue.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), is one of the leading national organizations who pursue cannabis legalization and has dedicated local chapters for veterans. They have been working to legalize cannabis since 1970 and are focused on eliminating the stigma of marijuana as an illicit drug.
Veteran’s Cannabis Group
Veteran’s Cannabis Group (VCG) was founded by Nick Etten, a former Navy SEAL, who launched VCG to provide veterans with medical marijuana. The organization also helps veterans find careers within the legal marijuana industry.
Veterans Cannabis Project
Veteran’s Cannabis Project (VCP) is a national organization that works collaboratively with other groups who are committed to supporting veterans by offering medical marijuana education and access to employment opportunities in the medical marijuana industry. Founder Nick Etten is a former Navy Seal and graduate of Annapolis.
Weed for Warriors
This nonprofit based in California, Weed for Warriors, has chapters in Florida, New Jersey, Tennessee, Washington, D.C. and Wisconsin, as well as Great Britain and Australia. They aim to educated veterans about medical marijuana and provide free medicine as well. Sean Kiernan is the current president of the organization and a former U.S. Army Airborne infantryman. After an attempted suicide, he turned to cannabis to treat his PTSD, setting him on the road to recovery.