Research suggests that medical cannabis could be a viable solution for relieving post-military woes

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Should all veterans be prescribed medical cannabis? According to a handful of studies, yes. For many years, there has been deliberation regarding the medicinal potential of cannabis for veterans; many of whom are known to suffer from post-combat mental health problems. The good news is that discussions surrounding the use of cannabis among veterans are beginning to emerge more frequently in recent times. 

Numerous organizations like the Veterans Cannabis Project, Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and Veterans for Cannabis are actively pushing to improve access to the green plant, which has shown promise in fighting the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — one of the most common reasons why former military men seek out cannabis treatments.

Unfortunately, federal restrictions have made it difficult for U.S.-based veterans to obtain plant-based medicines as a treatment for PTSD symptoms, such as anxiety, stress, paranoia and depression. As a result, many veterans venture across borders to legal states. Conversely, a large portion of veterans depend on opioids, which are a leading cause of death in the U.S.

This harsh truth is worrying, considering the fact that Research from the Department of Veterans Affairs Health System showed that VA patients die of accidental overdoses at nearly twice the rate of the population. Since cannabis has never caused a fatal overdose, there’s good reason to believe that the plant could be a safer alternative for veterans.

Survey claims 75 percent of veterans are keen to try cannabis

Based on a 2019 survey carried out by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), 75 percent of military veterans say they would think about trying either “cannabis or cannabinoid products as a treatment option.” Furthermore, 83 percent of respondents confirmed their support for medical cannabis, while 63 percent of survey participants said that they believe research into cannabis as a treatment option should be granted by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Currently, physicians who are affiliated with the Department are not legally allowed to recommend medical cannabis use for veterans. In the event that a veteran goes against federal law and uses the plant to ease PTSD symptoms, they risk having their benefits withdrawn. Nonetheless, the Department advises veterans to consult with their doctor or healthcare practitioner about potential treatment options.

Low doses of THC could help treat the symptoms of PTSD psychoactive cannabis compound THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) has earned an unjust reputation for its mind-altering properties. Although the cannabinoid can cause impairment, an emerging field of evidence points to its therapeutic qualities.

This study from researchers at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan is a prime example. Published in June of 2020, the randomized, double-blind placebo study found that low doses of THC may help regulate anxiety and trauma-related stress responses. 

A separate study conducted by Washington State University and published in the Journal of Affective Disorders discovered that THC-rich cannabis may reduce thoughts of a traumatic event by about 62 percent; flashbacks by 51 percent; irritability by 67 percent; anxiety by 57 percent. 

Cannabis-related legislation is helping veterans to access medical cannabis

Perhaps one of the most powerful cannabis reform bills to be introduced by Congress was the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, which initially emerged in February 2019. Sponsored by Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) and former Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), the Bill granted veterans the right to consume, possess and transport the cannabis plant based on their personal needs; if they reside in a state that has legalized the plant. Furthermore, the bill safeguarded their rights to discuss cannabis consumption with their physician. 

“Chronic pain affects the veteran population, with almost 60 percent of veterans returning from serving in the Armed Forces in the Middle East, and more than 50 percent of older veterans, who are using the health care system of the Department of Veterans Affairs living with some form of chronic pain,” reads a portion of Congress’ bill text.

Then there’s the Veterans Equal Access Act, which was approved by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee in March of this year. Sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), the Bill would allow doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recommend medical cannabis for patients in states where it’s legal. Hopefully, as more studies are carried out into the potential of cannabis for veterans, we will begin to see laws loosen; thus enabling ex-servicemen to freely use the plant.