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A Guide to THC, CBD, and Treatment Options for Vets

It’s with pride and courage that veterans put themselves in constant danger as they represent and serve the United States. These veterans, both men and women, come back to the U.S. with traumatic memories of what they experienced overseas. Many of them have mental and physical issues as a result of this trauma. To find relief from their mental and physical problems, and to avoid using addictive opioids, many veterans are seeking out medical marijuana as an alternative.

In this guide, veterans will find everything they need to know about using medical marijuana to treat their symptoms of trauma.

Despite research that supports the safe use of medical marijuana and now CBD to treat pain, the federal government and some U.S. states continue to fight back against its legalization. This means that veterans who have medical coverage from a federal agency, such as the Veterans Association (VA), have a hard time seeking treatment using cannabis.

veterans ptsd cannabis 4 - MMJ

To complicate matters, because they’re concerned about losing any VA benefits, they avoid using legal medical cannabis. It’s important that veterans know the VA fully supports their choice for cannabis treatment to the full extent that is allowed by federal law. Even though the VA itself doesn’t prescribe or sanction medical cannabis, veterans are able to have legal access to cannabis, without any consequences to their benefits, in those states that legally allow the use of medical marijuana.

Before using medical cannabis for treatment, it’s important that you know all the risks involved. You also need to have an understanding of the differences in cannabis strains and types of treatment available. Cannabis contains different types of chemical compounds known as cannabinoids. These compounds not only have different effects when used, they also fall under their own category of proposed legislation. Let’s look at the pros and cons of two of the most researched cannabinoids, cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

CBD vs. THC

Cannabis has 104 different chemical compounds. The two most important compounds are CBD and THC. There’s been a lot of research done on CBD and THC about using them in medical cannabis treatment. What’s the difference between CBD and THC?

CBD

  • Research shows that CBD may be better than THC in treating physical pain and PTSD, as it affects more of the receptors in the brain.
  • Doesn’t get you high as it has no psychoactive effect on the brain. There is increasing interest in legalizing CBD products because of this.
  • Less is known about CBD than THC, however funds have been allocated for more research.

THC

  • THC is a psychoactive compound that can get you high; it’s the active ingredient in many cannabis products.
  • THC cannabis products are more common than those using CBD.
  • More research has been done on THC and it’s psychological and physical effects on the body.
  • THC is under more scrutiny because of its psychoactive properties and how it affects us psychologically.

Cannabis Legislation

With each election, the legalization of medical marijuana is showing up more and more often on ballots. However, legalizing cannabis is a continuous debate. Both federal and state jurisdictions have opinions about whether or not cannabis should be legalized.

Even though there have been a few attempts to legalize medical cannabis for veterans, federal laws have yet to be passed. In 2018 the Veterans Equal Access Amendment was brought forward to Congress. The amendment protects the rights of veterans when they’re looking for treatment using medical marijuana. The amendment was blocked by Congress lawmakers. The reason for this is unclear, but it could be because there’s insufficient data about the benefits of using medical cannabis and the importance of research. There continues to be a lot of misinformation about cannabis, which may also be a reason for the opposition from Congress.

veterans ptsd cannabis 2 - federal vs state

Federal Marijuana Legislation

The United States Congress has yet to legalize the use of medical or recreational cannabis. The federal government has a schedule in place, classifying drugs as I to V, with Schedule I having the most potential for abuse. Cannabis is considered to be a Schedule I drug. These drugs have been labeled with the potential for high abuse. Drugs listed on Schedule II include cocaine and meth and are considered less dangerous than cannabis.

Because of the high classification of cannabis, it’s difficult to get the funding and clearance needed to do any extensive research on medical cannabis. Researchers are in a difficult position – without the backing of the federal government ,they risk repercussions if they go ahead with research.

Even in states where cannabis is legal, many businesses are reluctant to become involved with cannabis because of the federal opposition, using a clause in employment contracts to maintain a cannabis-free workplace. It’s important to note that active members of the U.S. military fall under federal jurisdiction and are not legally allowed to use medical cannabis. The rules are different for U.S. military veterans, who fall under state laws unless there’s another government agency involved, such as the VA.

State Marijuana Legislation

Cannabis is becoming legal in more and more states. Since the last election, 13 states have decriminalized cannabis without legalizing medical cannabis. What this means is that if you’re found with a small amount of weed in one of these states, you’re not liable for a criminal offense. In other states the sale of medical cannabis is legal, while in other states weed in all forms is illegal.

As mentioned previously, veterans fall under state laws except in the case of the VA, which is a federal agency. Therefore, veterans won’t receive coverage from the VA for medical marijuana even in those states where weed is legal.

History of Veterans and Cannabis

Veterans have been using cannabis for years. Even though using weed when on active duty isn’t sanctioned by the military, many veterans claim that using cannabis when on duty helped them relax from all the stress they were under.

Many veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s reported that more than 270,000 Vietnam vets have PTSD. The figures are quite alarming with the number of veterans who have PTSD: 31% veterans from the Vietnam war, 10% from the Gulf War, and 11% from Afghanistan.

There’s been significant steps taken to provide veterans with medical cannabis. They have more access to medical weed than ever before as cannabis is decriminalized and legalized around the country. Those states that have legalized medical cannabis, as well as several organizations, are working hard to give veterans access.

veterans ptsd cannabis 1 - VA policy

Cannabis and the US Department of Veterans Affairs

The VA (Veterans Affairs) is there to support the needs of veterans and supports veterans using weed for treatment as much as they can. However, when it comes to medical cannabis, the VA falls under federal law and so follows those laws regarding the use of medical marijuana. This means the VA is unable to fully approve cannabis for medical purposes or have VA physicians recommend using medical cannabis. What the VA can do is encourage veterans to talk to their own doctors about using weed for treatment.

Veterans who are using medical cannabis that is state approved are eligible for coverage by the VA. These vets using the VA services won’t lose their VA coverage when they start using medical cannabis that is approved by the state.

Veterans Affairs Policy for Discussing Medical Cannabis Treatment

VA doctors aren’t able to recommend medical cannabis, but under the HIPPA act they’ll keep any discussion with veterans about cannabis confidential. Medical records that show medical cannabis use by veterans are protected under the privacy law and can’t be disclosed by VA doctors. What does this mean? Veterans can openly talk to their doctor about using cannabis for treatment.

Veterans Affairs Policy on Medical Cannabis Cards

States that have legalized medical cannabis may require veterans to have a card issued by their doctor certifying that they’ll benefit from medical weed. VA doctors are unable to issue these cards but can refer veterans to a doctor who can.

Veterans Affairs Policy on Prescriptions

As CBD and THC products aren’t approved by the FDA, the VA is unable to prescribe medical cannabis to veterans or cover any of the costs related to medical weed. Veterans will need to pay for medical cannabis on their own or through one of the organizations that assist vets with medical marijuana treatment.

Veterans Affairs Policy on the Employment of Medical Cannabis Users

As with any federal government agency, the VA is unable to hire anyone who tests positive for drugs. Veterans employed by the VA are required to undergo random drug testing, with termination to their employment if a test is positive.

How Cannabis Helps Veterans

Results of research in 2017 show that 22% of veterans are using medical marijuana to relieve and treat depression, chronic pain, and PTSD. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, prescriptions for opioids are a leading cause for 115 deaths each day. Cannabis accounts for zero deaths.

As well as the medical benefits of using weed, the growing cannabis industry is a productive employment opportunity for veterans. This includes sales, entrepreneurship, and business management.

veterans ptsd cannabis 3 - ptsd stats

PTSD

PTSD is far too common in veterans. PTSD can happen at any time, but most vets experience the onset of symptoms about three to four months after being deployed. Depression is one of the most common symptoms of PTSD. It’s important to seek treatment as soon as PTSD symptoms appear. This includes changes in mood, isolation, flashbacks, and any thoughts or feelings that are out of character.

Many vets with PTSD have symptoms that negatively impact their personal and social life. Treatment for PTSD is important for all members of the veteran’s family. Along with therapy, many veterans find relief from PTSD symptoms by using medical cannabis. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is useful as it helps vets to confront their problems and change their thoughts about a traumatic experience.

There’s been a lot of research showing that medical cannabis is a successful treatment for PTSD. Research in the New Mexico Cannabis Program shows that the majority of people in a study from 2009 to 2011 had a significant reduction of 75% their PTSD symptoms when using weed as compared when not using cannabis.

Cannabis and Pain Management

Chronic pain related to combat is common in veterans. This chronic pain affects all areas of their life. Some doctors will immediately prescribe opioids for pain. Opioids come with many side effects, including changes in mood, constipation, and anxiety. As well, opioids are highly addictive, with the VA reporting treatment for 66,000 vets in 2016 for opioid addiction.

Research shows that medical weed is an effective non-toxic and non-addicting treatment for pain as it blocks those receptors that cause chronic pain.

Cannabis for Depression

Depression is one of the most common problems affecting veterans. Each day 20 vets take their own life, making depression a serious problem. The underlying cases of depression need to be dealt with as well as any other symptoms. Depression in veterans is often caused by trauma related to combat and their time in service. Unfortunately, many veterans don’t seek treatment for depression because of the social shame about mental health in this country. They worry about what other people will say about their depression. As well, there are long wait times for veterans seeking treatment for depression.

A good resource for veterans suffering from depression is the Veteran Crisis Line. Medical cannabis is used to treat depression in vets, helping to ease feelings of sadness. There’s been positive results in research done using medical marijuana to treat depression in veterans.

Cannabis Organizations Supporting Veterans

There are several organizations working to help provide veterans with access to medical cannabis treatment. The following organizations help support vets to get the best medical treatment that’s available:

Additional Veterans Resources

As well as the organizations above, here are other resources for veterans:

 

The Future of Cannabis for Veterans

As of the last election, Washington DC and 32 states have legalized cannabis. There are currently 37 bills in the hands of Congress for legalizing cannabis and ensuring people have safe access to weed. One bill, the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, would decriminalize cannabis in the next two years.

There are many online sources for veterans to stay current with medical cannabis news. Vets can also find information online about cannabis studies, such as this one about how medical marijuana affects veterans with PTSD.

Being able to provide veterans with medical cannabis is on the rise, but more needs to be done. If you’re a veteran looking for treatment options, talk to your doctor about the different cannabis strains available and what they can do for you. As well as your doctor, reach out to the numerous communities and networks that are available for vets in the support of equal access for medical weed.

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