Veterans — Heroes of Cannabis Reform

Higher Education
November 10, 2021

Veterans have long been leading the fight to bring recognition to medical marijuana as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other combat-related injuries. It’s been a long slog, thanks in part to cannabis being a Schedule I prohibited substance. But as more veterans from all wars and conflicts are using marijuana to relieve their symptoms and veteran’s groups are becoming cannabis advocates, we want to acknowledge their leadership in helping to end prohibition.

The American Legion, a well-known veteran’s organization, has been advocating for cannabis research since 2017 and has been very public about moving the issue forward. The Legion, which has more than 13,000 Posts across the United States, polled its members and found that 92 percent of its members want more research on cannabis and 82 percent favor outright legalization. The Legion has repeatedly asked Congress “to amend legislation to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act and reclassify it, at a minimum, as a drug with potential medical value.”

The Disabled American Veterans—another advocacy group, has also called on the VA for additional cannabis research. In addition, the Veterans Cannabis Project has been advocating for cannabis reform and rallying veterans and allies to help make changes in cannabis access.

Cannabis and PTSD

Part of what veteran advocates are seeking is additional research on the link between the symptoms of PTSD: inability to sleep, nightmares and hyperarousal (reaction to sounds and images) and cannabis in decreasing those symptoms.

The heart of the issue is there have been just a few large-scale, controlled studies regarding this specific connection. Studies on lab animals show evidence that cannabis and cannabinoids can help prevent the effects of stress on memory and emotion, two of the markers of PTSD. The known anti-anxiety effect of certain strains of cannabis can also help with removing deep seeded traumatic fear.

One Veteran’s Cannabis Story

Cannabis shows promise for veterans (and others) with traumatic brain injuries. In a moving op-ed piece in the New York Times, Thomas James Brennan, a Marine veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, writes about how cannabis saved him, moving him from a cocktail of prescription drugs that required more pills and higher dosages that became ineffective as time passed. A friend gave him a joint and urged him to smoke it before bed.

“I hesitated to light it up because I’d always bought into the theory of weed as a “gateway drug.” But after a few tokes, I stretched out and fell asleep. I slept 10 hours instead of my usual five or six. I woke up feeling energized and well-rested. I didn’t have nightmares or remember tossing or turning throughout the night, as I usually did,” he wrote.

“While marijuana isn’t for all veterans, it worked well for Brennan. “If I hadn’t begun self-medicating with it, I would have killed myself… it’s the only thing that takes the sharpest edges off my symptoms. Because of cannabis, I’m more hopeful, less woeful,” he said.

Anecdotal evidence like this for cannabis helping for PTSD is mounting. Every day in New Standard stores across Michigan, we listen to veterans talk about the effectiveness of cannabis. We believe veterans—it helps.

Veterans, the VA, and Cannabis

Standing between access to cannabis and veterans is the health system that many men and women rely on—the Veterans Administration. Many veterans advocate for additional research and making marijuana an option through the VA healthcare system, but change is difficult to achieve. Although the VA acknowledges that veterans use cannabis and its physicians may discuss medical marijuana with patients, they are prohibited from helping veterans complete paperwork to obtain a medical marijuana card or recommending its use. The VA is resistant to large-scale clinical cannabis trials, too. This roadblock is keeping veterans from exploring cannabis in a safe and structured healthcare environment.

On this Veterans Day, thank the veterans in your community not only for their service but for their activism and in ending cannabis prohibition.

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