Study: Veteran medical cannabis patients report using weed to substitute alcohol, prescription drugs

The results of this study on cannabis-use among veterans revealed how self-reporting servicemen and women used 5-8 grams of weed on a weekly basis with a frequency of four times per day

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Cannabis use among veterans is on the rise and a recent study published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse proves it.

A group of researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia, and California-based educational institutions Harvard University and Palo Alto University explored cannabis consumption trends among veteran participants of a medical cannabis collective. The team used a sample of 93 U.S. Military veterans in an attempt to figure out – amidst the emergence of medical cannabis treatment options for ex-servicemen and women – if illicit drugs and other licit substances are being substituted with pot.

Over 40 million servicemen and women have fought for the United States since the country was born more than 200 years ago. A significant portion of veterans will lose their lives after serving in times of conflict, whether it’s as a result of opioid overdose or suicide.

Thankfully, cannabis is emerging as a substitute for alternative substances that veterans may use in a desperate attempt to feel better. Now, with medical cannabis having been legalized in 33 U.S. states and a further 11 for recreational purposes, the consumer demographic is rapidly inflating.

A sample of self-report data from a predominantly male (84.9 percent) group of U.S. military veterans was analyzed and cross-sectioned by the researchers. Patient records were analyzed by the team, who, after reviewing each consumer’s cannabis consumption habits, determined veterans’ reasons for using the plant as a medicine. Each veteran was receiving free access to regulated weed during the time of reporting when the researchers also reviewed the potency/composition of the cannabinoids being consumed by veterans.

The majority of cannabis-consuming veterans claimed to have been using it as a method of substituting tobacco, alcohol, over-the-counter (OTC) prescription meds and/or illicit substances listed under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

Almost 80 percent of veterans used weed “to treat both physical and mental health symptoms”

The results of this study on cannabis-use among veterans revealed how self-reporting servicemen and women used 5-8 grams of weed on a weekly basis with a frequency of four times per day. Most of the time, the cannabis formulations used by veterans were highly potent in THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and low in CBD (cannabidiol).

According to the U.S. Department of Affairs, approximately 12 percent of Gulf War Veterans are diagnosed with PTSD every year. However, most of the study subjects reported using state-regulated free cannabis to relieve the symptoms of more than one physical and/or mental health condition/symptom.

Highlighted below are the most commonly reported reasons why veterans used cannabis:

  • Chronic pain – 69 percent
  • Anxiety – 66 percent
  • PTSD – 59 percent
  • Depression – 56 percent

The percentage of study respondents who admitted to substituting other licit and/or illicit substances with cannabis rested at 60, with almost half of the veterans self-reporting that they had completely replaced OTC prescription meds with weed.

Based on the outcome of this study on cannabis-use among veterans, simplifying cannabis access for veterans may positively contribute to the quality of life for former servicemen and women. Cannabis could be used as a safer alternative to other substances, both licit and illicit.

“The current study also confirms the findings of previous studies that have documented a trend in substitution behavior, where cannabis is substituted for other drugs, which, if associated with reduced harm, could be beneficial for overall health,” concluded the authors.

Further research is needed to fully determine whether or not military veterans deserve increased access to cannabis and suitability as a treatment, as well as the long-term effects of treating the aforementioned conditions with high-THC concentrations of the plant.