Medical Cannabis Access for Veterans On the Rise

A dark fact in America, and the world, has raged on for far too long. In the U.S. alone, millions of returning veterans who saw combat from World War I to Iraq and Afghanistan, need proper treatment. Countless continue to face a litany of severe medical conditions caused while in service. These conditions affect their ability to perform day to day functions, driving a staggering rate to end their lives. Many continue to live without a solution today.

Countless patients now seek alternatives to what government officials are allowed to recommend. Instead of opting for the treatment that can do just as much harm to the body, patients are turning towards another option. Today, the movement to provide medical cannabis for veterans is well underway. In fact, recent moves on Capitol Hill could significantly sway the landscape soon enough.  


The Conditions Facing Veterans

Many American veterans struggle with terrible post-combat effects, and the numbers continue to rise. A 2014 census showed that the U.S. has 21.8 veterans in the country today. California is home to the most veterans with 2 million. Florida and Texas are the next closest with 1.6 million veterans. Meanwhile, the census listed towns across the country having veteran populations of near or more than 25% of its community.

With so many in need, medical cannabis for veterans suffering from the following conditions could be the answer.

Chronic Pain

conditions for veterans

Combat presents countless ways in which a veteran’s body can endure significant pain, physically and mentally. From being wounded in battle to the everyday trials, chronic physical pain effects numerous veterans. These numbers include 50,450 wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq alone.  

Opioid therapy is the most recommended treatment. However, patients often do not like the risks associated with opioids. Addiction and nausea are prime concerns as therapy pains can become so severe that patients cancel their treatment altogether. Instead, medical cannabis is championed for its abilities to manage pain without the risks of addiction, nausea, and discomfort of other methods. Mirroring the success of other illnesses we’ll detail below, patients are starting to consider cannabis more.

Cancer and Other Conditions Developed from Chemical Exposure

Through the decades, troops have been exposed to several cancers and disease-causing elements including Agent Orange in Vietnam, nuclear tests, and possibly tainted water supplies in areas like Camp Lejeune. Exposure has led to the development of cancers and other painful poisonings all over their bodies.

Building off the points in the previous section, medical cannabis for veterans’ severe pains and cancer is an intriguing area for medical professionals. The few clinical trials into the subject have revealed promising findings, including cannabis’s ability to provide pain treatment where opioids couldn’t. Despite the need for additional studies, research from at least the past two decades show findings that support medical marijuana’s promise in treating cancer, chemotherapy side effects and other severe pains developed from wartime chemical exposures.

Neurological Conditions and Traumatic Brain Disorders

veterans and mmj

Neurological conditions including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease develop in veterans at significantly higher rates than the general American public. The Department of Defense reported over 379,000 cases of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in active service members between 2000 and 2017. The effects of TBI range from common seizures to neurological disorders like epilepsy and can be sustained from an attack to a concussion playing sports on the base.

Studies into movement disorders and epilepsy treatments show cannabis’s potential as a treatment for both. The belief is that a range of brain injuries and conditions, including Huntington’s disease, can have their effects altered when even a small dose of cannabis is introduced. Soon, studies into cannabinoids and neurodegenerative diseases could determine if medical cannabis for veterans is, indeed, the most effective option.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, or the VA, reports that it treats more than 28,000 veterans for MS each year. A 2004 study found a “service-connected” link between MS and 5,345 veterans. Further analysis revealed startling incidence rates between the immune system disease and nearly 13 out of every 100,000 veterans – the highest disease rate ever posted for MS.

The disease can ravage a person’s central nervous system as well as causing pain, spasms, fatigue, incontinence and more. To that point, the cannabis community has long rallied around cannabis as a treatment for those living with the disease. Notable public figures like Montel Williams, a MS sufferer himself, continue to advocate for cannabis-based treatments. Today, Williams, numerous veterans and others voice their support for cannabis as a treatment instead of the recommended options that are linked with adverse side effects.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

veterans and ptsdOf all the debilitating conditions facing veterans, PTSD may be the most common we hear about today. The cause can range from a traumatic experience to a range TBI incidents. Untreated PTSD can lead to disorders affecting the patient’s ability to handle anxiety, social situations and countless other everyday interactions.

Often, state medical marijuana programs include PTSD as a cornerstone to emphasize treating veterans. When it hasn’t, in states like New York for example, the veteran and public opinion is often made clear. Today, it is rare to find a state’s medical program that does not include PTSD coverage, though some, like Texas, do exist.

For a further look at these conditions and more on medical cannabis and veterans, visit Americans for Safe Access.

Medical Cannabis and the VA’s Evolving Stance

The VA does not recommend cannabis as long as it remains a Schedule One controlled substance. However, veterans can use medical cannabis in legalized states and not risk their VA care eligibility. While the patient cannot receive cannabis from a VA physician, their provider will discuss marijuana as part of their treatment plans.

The VA’s shift began in 2017 with the directive to discuss cannabis in treatment plans. That stance could soon change much more, bringing medical cannabis for veterans and the VA closer in tandem to treating veterans.

In April 2018, a bipartisan bill was introduced in the House of Representatives that would grant the VA the authority to research medical cannabis’s ability to treat patients. Rep. Tim Walz, who introduced the bill with Rep. Phil Roe, noted in a press release that “22 percent of veterans report using cannabis as a safer and more effective alternative to opioids and drug cocktails currently prescribed by the VA for medical conditions such as [post-traumatic stress disorder] and chronic pain.”

With the VA facing years of scrutiny for its handling of veterans’ care, the proposed bill could be the first step in improving veterans’ treatment access. Still, studies would take time, making any determination appear unlikely for the short-term. However, with politicians siding with cannabis and veteran care needing improvement, we may see a resolution involving medical cannabis and the VA sooner than later. While medical marijuana alone cannot resolve the woes of the department, it could be a start inadequately treating millions in need.