The GOP-controlled House has barely rejected a bid by supporters of medical marijuana to permit veterans to receive information about the drug from their government doctors. The 213-210 vote came on a failed amendment to a bill funding the budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The proposal by Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer would have lifted a rule blocking VA doctors from discussing the pros or cons of medical pot. Even if the restriction were lifted VA doctors still would not have been able to make recommendations for medical marijuana for vets.
Making matters worse
Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with debilitating injuries are often prescribed highly addictive opioid painkillers with severe side effects, particularly for long-term use. Marijuana poses significantly less risk of dependence, along with fewer and less severe side effects. What’s more, studies have shown marijuana can be an effective supplemental therapy by reducing patients’ reliance on opioids, or even acting as a “reverse gateway” by replacing narcotic painkillers altogether. Other research shows states where medical marijuana is legal have a 25 percent lower rate of fatal overdoses from opioids.
Medical marijuana and PTSD
It is not just the wounds we can see that medical marijuana might help treat. No one knows better than our vets that PTSD is a notoriously difficult condition to treat, with the most common current regimen involving some combination of anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and counseling. The success rate with this cocktail is not particularly encouraging. Many vets instead opt to self-medicate with alcohol and other drugs. And the suicide rate for veterans is alarming—22 per day according to a recent VA analysis. Meanwhile, research has shown a 10 percent reduction in suicide rates in states with medical marijuana laws following passage of those laws.
According to research published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, the administering of synthetic cannabinoids to rats after a traumatic event can prevent behavioral and physiological symptoms of PTSD by triggering changes in brain centers associated with the formation and holding of traumatic memories. The study adds to a growing body of research that “contributes to the understanding of the brain basis of the positive effect cannabis has on PTSD,” the researchers note.
“The findings of our study suggest that the connectivity within the brain’s fear circuit changes following trauma, and the administration of cannabinoids prevents this change from happening,” the researchers concluded. “This study can lead to future trials in humans regarding possible ways to prevent the development of PTSD and anxiety disorders in response to a traumatic event.”
Resources for veterans who want to use medical marijuana
With a patchwork of marijuana laws now on the books across the country, 23 states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes (with varying restrictions on eligibility) and four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Though many veterans are finding relief from pain and trauma through cannabis, most that do so do not have safe access to their medicine, because even in states that have medical marijuana laws on the books conditions such as PTSD might not even be recognized as a qualifying condition.
Thus, many veterans are left to find a way to medicate outside of the law. Most are forced to buy their marijuana on the street, while others are finding resources in legal states that are willing to ship medicine to them, but this just compounds the number of felonies the patient is forced to commit in order to medicate.
Many veterans now choose to grow their own medicine, thereby reducing the chance of being caught driving to or from a clandestine marijuana deal. Because almost everything can now be purchased online to grow marijuana – from grow equipment on Amazon to seeds at Zambeza – more and more patients have learned how easy it is grow their own medical marijuana in a small, unused space in their home. On the downside, most states where medical marijuana has not yet been legalized punish their citizens heavily for cultivating marijuana and typically assume anyone growing must be a drug dealer.
It is cruel to deny access to any medication for any patient when his or her doctor decides the benefits outweigh the risks and recommends it, but that’s particularly true for veterans and medical marijuana. Our men and women in uniform make incredible sacrifices for our country, and the least we could do is make every possible treatment option available to them when they come home.