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Due to Federal Law, VA Won’t Research Effects of Marijuana on PTSD and Chronic Pain

medical maryjane

By Debbie Gregory.

Due to federal restrictions, the Department of Veterans Affairs will not conduct research on the effectiveness of medical cannabis on post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

Although doing so would not be illegal, there would be a lot of red tape to cut through.

The announcement is a huge setback for those who have advocated for medical cannabis to be a potential alternative to narcotic and opioid-heavy treatment plans that many VA patients are enrolled in.

There is a plethora of scientific research establishing medical marijuana as a safe and effective alternative to pharmaceuticals. Perhaps that has contributed to the majority of Americans supporting the legalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Included in that majority are U.S. military veterans and veteran caregivers. According to a recent American Legion poll,  82% of respondents supported the legalization of medical cannabis, and 92% supported expanding research into the medical benefits of the drug.

Additionally, a number of veterans organizations have been pushing for research into the drug as a possible treatment option for many of the ailments that affect veterans, most notably PTSD and chronic pain.

Twenty-nine states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam have legalized medical cannabis programs

The news that the VA will not conduct research into medical cannabis comes just after the department broadened its guidelines for patients to openly discuss their cannabis use with VA physicians. While it is unlawful for VA doctors to prescribe marijuana as it is a Schedule 1 substance, in states where medical marijuana is legal, VA providers are allowed to discuss marijuana use with veterans and adjust treatment plans as necessary.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

VA Allows Doctors to Discuss Medical Marijuana with Patients

medical mj

By Debbie Gregory.

Advocates of medicinal marijuana use for veterans believe in its effectiveness in treating chronic pain. Now the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has authorizes its physicians and care teams to speak openly with veteran patients about their marijuana use.

Currently, VA doctors cannot prescribe medical cannabis, but thanks to VHA Directive 1315, in states where medical marijuana is legal, VA providers can discuss marijuana use with veterans as part of comprehensive care planning, and adjust treatment plans as necessary.

Veterans enrolled in a state-approved medical cannabis program can discuss their marijuana use so that their doctor can make adjustments to the treatment plan.

The new policy is likened to the VA removing its proverbial head from the sand.

“It not only encourages, but really mandates that their physicians and primary care teams have healthy and in-depth knowledge-based conversations with veterans about cannabis use for whatever ailment their suffering from,” said Lou Celli, the director of national veterans affairs and rehabilitation division at American Legion.

Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 substance — “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Veterans groups say the fastest and most effective way to help veterans get access to treatment is to simply reschedule the drug. That would automatically lift the most onerous barriers to research and allow VA health care providers to immediately prescribe marijuana in states where it is legal.

“We’ve got young men and women with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries coming to us and saying that cannabis works,” said Joe Plenzler, a spokesman for the American Legion.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Poll Finds Most Veterans and Military Support Legalization of Medical Marijuana

medical mara

By Debbie Gregory.

Attitudes towards the use of medical marijuana have been undergoing rapid changes. For many people who are in pain, medical marijuana is the only medicine that relieves pain and suffering, or treats symptoms of their medical condition, without debilitating side effects.

There is a plethora of scientific research establishing medical marijuana as a safe and effective alternative to pharmaceuticals. Perhaps that has contributed to the majority of Americans supporting the legalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Included in that majority are U.S. military veterans and veteran caregivers. A recent poll conducted on behalf of the American Legion found that while 82% of respondents supported the legalization of medical cannabis, 92% supported expanded research into the medical benefits of the drug.

It has been argued that medical marijuana can be used to treat or manage the symptoms of a variety of ailments that affect veterans, including chronic pain, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. It has also been thought that cannabis can be helpful in addressing the serious epidemic of veteran suicide.

While it is unlawful for VA doctors to prescribe marijuana as it is a Schedule 1 substance, in states where medical marijuana is legal, VA providers are allowed to discuss marijuana use with veterans as part of comprehensive care planning, and adjust treatment plans as necessary.

Additionally, there is a push to reschedule the drug to a Schedule II or III. That would automatically lift the barriers to research, and allow VA health care providers to immediately prescribe marijuana in states where it is legal.

According to the American Legion’s poll, one in five veterans surveyed consume marijuana “to alleviate a medical or physical condition.”

And it no longer needs to be smoked… medical marijuana is often administered to patients in alternative ways, including inhalers, pills, and even edible baked goods. These means of dispensation have proven to be healthier and sometimes more effective in relieving patients’ pain or discomfort.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

How Veterans & Their Doctors Are Getting Around VA’s Medical Marijuana Policy

medical maryjane

By Debbie Gregory.

Whether medicinal cannabis is legal varies depending on what state you’re in, what medical issue you have, and what form you’re using.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, medicinal marijuana is a Schedule One substance, a drug that has no “accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

As long as the Food and Drug Administration classifies marijuana as a Schedule One, Veterans Affairs (VA) health care providers may not recommend it or assist veterans in obtaining it. With that said, while its use is not permitted on VA grounds, veterans on federal property in a federal rehab program are able to test positive for its use without penalty.  This is an unusual loophole in the VA’s approach to medical marijuana.

Currently, VA doctors cannot prescribe medical cannabis, but in states where medical marijuana is legal, but VA providers can and do discuss marijuana use with veterans as part of comprehensive care planning, and adjust treatment plans as necessary.

Advocates of medicinal marijuana use for veterans believe in its effectiveness in treating chronic pain. And with President Trump declaring the U.S. war on opioids, it makes perfect sense for it to be an alternative. In fact, the president campaigned in support of medical marijuana.

But his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is asking congressional leaders to undo the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment,  the federal medical-marijuana protections that have been in place since 2014.

Veterans groups say the fastest and most effective way to help veterans get access to treatment is to simply reschedule the drug. That would automatically lift the most onerous barriers to research and allow VA health care providers to immediately prescribe marijuana in states where it is legal.

“We’ve got young men and women with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries coming to us and saying that cannabis works,” said Joe Plenzler, a spokesman for the American Legion.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance Providing Free Medical Marijuana to CA Vets

santa cruz

By Debbie Gregory.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called U.S. abuse of prescription narcotics the worst drug addiction epidemic in the country’s history. To mitigate this problem, a strong case has been made for medical marijuana as an alternative.

“Plants, not pills,” said Aaron Newsom, co-founder and vice president of Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance. The group’s goal is to provide qualified California military veterans with top quality lab tested medical cannabis grown by fellow veterans, as well as providing a community and support network for veterans.

On the first and third Monday of each month, the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance meets behind the VFW building in Live Oak to dispense small brown bags containing an alternative pain reliever to an army of veterans with PTSD and chronic pain.

Newsom, who served in the Marine Corps from 2002 to 2008, and fellow co-founder Jason Sweatt, are not just leaders in the burgeoning medical marijuana industry, they also use the medicine to treat their own combat-inflicted PTSD.

“What veterans need, what everyone needs, is alternatives to prescription medications. Not just narcotics, but also the wide range of antidepressants and their negative side effects,” Newsom said.

The Veterans Alliance has developed a unique business model, where they grow the marijuana, donate a percentage of the yield to medical card-holding members for free and then sell the remainder to general medical cannabis dispensaries.

Marcel Bonn-Miller, a principal investigator at the Department of Veterans Affair’s Substance and Anxiety Intervention Laboratory in Menlo Park, and his team have donated their time and resources to perform a six-month study of members of the Veterans Alliance to analyze the effects of medical marijuana on PTSD symptoms

“We’re using written questionnaires to assess their PTSD and sleep over time. We’re also having the marijuana that the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance distributes tested by SC Labs,” Bonn-Miller said.

To join the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance, you must be a military veteran, California resident and have a state medical marijuana recommendation from a doctor. For more information, visit scveteransalliance.com.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Alaska Groups Give Away Cannabis to Veterans in Need

medmari

By Debbie Gregory.

While Alaskans technically gained the right to use medical marijuana 18 years ago, there are no state-licensed dispensaries, and only six qualifying illnesses for medical marijuana use, according to NORML. In a bold move to help the state’s veterans, private residents in Alaska are providing cannabis to veterans, free of charge.

Alaska Green Angels has been giving away cannabis for the past year. While they may appear to be a disconnected, non-cohesive group, the Angels all share a common thread- pain, and the treatment of their pain with cannabis.

Researchers in the United States and several other countries have found evidence that medical marijuana can help treat post-traumatic stress disorder, pain and anxiety.

After Alaska voted to commercialize recreational marijuana use in 2014, numerous businesses claimed that they were giving away marijuana, but they asked people to make a “donation” for the product. The Green Angels began, partially in response to what co-founder Don “DC” McKenzie called “predatory” practices against medical marijuana users, on Facebook.

The premise is a simple request/fulfillment arrangement. Post your need for cannabis and one of the members with marijuana will respond. Alaska state law says that one can legally give one ounce of marijuana to another person over the age of 21. However, under federal law it remains a crime.

The Green Angels have roughly 10 people growing cannabis, while others provide the equipment or raw materials for edibles.

Also providing cannabis products to veterans is the Alaska Veterans Cannabis Relief Organization. It began as a chapter of the national group Weed for Warriors Project, and has since become its own organization.

In addition to supplying cannabis to a couple hundred veterans, the group also helps veterans set up their own home growing operation.

CannaCare joins the Green Angels an Alaska Veterans Cannabis Relief Organization in supplying the state’s veterans with free cannabis.

Going forward, Alaska Green Angels hopes to become a non-profit organization. The plan is to continue providing free cannabis in whatever capacity possible.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Should the VA Advocate the Use of Medical Marijuana?

medicalmarijuana

By Debbie Gregory.

Attitudes towards the use of medical marijuana have been undergoing rapid changes. It has been argued that medical marijuana can be used to treat or manage the symptoms of a variety of ailments that affect veterans, including chronic pain, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. It has also been thought that cannabis can be helpful in addressing the serious epidemic of veteran suicide.

The House and the Senate no longer see medical marijuana policy as a hot-button issue. Instead, medical marijuana has become a health care issue.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has voted in favor of legislation that would allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients in states where it is legal.

Sponsored by Sens. Steve Daines, R-Montana, and Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, the Veterans Equal Access Amendment allows veterans to discuss all options that are legally available in their state with their VA doctor.”

For veterans dealing with mental health and physical ailments, the opportunity to learn about marijuana treatment would be a game changer. While research about the impact of medical marijuana on mental health is almost non-existent, many believe it can reduce certain PTSD symptoms, including anxiety and flashbacks. Neuroscientists also believe that medical marijuana can assist with depression

While most doctors acknowledge that they would prescribe cannabis to their patients as needed, VA physicians have not been able to discuss the option.

The provision was inserted into the Military and Veterans Construction bill, which the upper chamber unanimously passed. Similar language was included in legislation introduced in the House of Representatives in February by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, but it has stalled in committee.

The VA concedes that some veterans use medical marijuana to relieve PTSD symptoms but questions its effectiveness and suggests the practice might actually be harmful.

Where do you sit on this hot-button issue? Do you think veterans should have access, and do you think it will help or hinder them?

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Washington Vets Switch from Pharmaceuticals to Pot: Military Connection

Military Connection: medical marijuana

By Debbie Gregory.

There is no denying that veterans who are battling PTSD are finding resources to manage their symptoms. But more often than not, these resources include medications that ultimately increase in dosages as their efficacy wanes.

US Army combat veteran Andrew Collins was frustrated with taking 17 prescriptions daily, and chose to seek an alternative.   His trauma had left him filled with aggression and, at times, contemplating suicide. Collins found that with medical marijuana, he has been able to stop most of his other prescription drugs. He admitted that he was overmedicated, and hopes that other veterans might realize there are alternatives as well.

Recent statistics from the US Department of Veterans Affairs reveal that on average, 22 veterans commit suicide every day due to PTSD symptoms, totaling nearly 8,000 veteran suicides each year. With this in mind, Collins founded the support group Twenty22Many. (twenty two too many), focused on reducing suicide rates among military veterans.

Twenty22Many meets twice monthly at the medical marijuana dispensary Rainier Xpress in Olympia, WA. Owner Patrick Seifert advocates for those who have benefitted from cannabis use, and is proud of the veterans he has helped at his dispensary, numbering some 2,000, by featuring a Wall of Honor for his veteran patrons.

Research shows mixed outcomes surrounding the use of cannabis for PTSD. While some studies indicate positive results of medical marijuana use, others expose risks. Research conducted by the American Journal of Public Health cites that in states where medical marijuana has been legalized, suicides in men ages 20-39 were reduced by 10.8 percent. In contrast, a report by Addition Science and Clinical Practice warns that those with PTSD may be at greater risk of cannabis use disorder. Other studies reveal continued use can be attributed to sleep disturbances and reduction in prefrontal cortex activity.

Are some willing to accept the risks? Apparently, many veterans are. Rainier Xpress’s Seifert continues to act on behalf of those who want alternatives to prescription drugs by lobbying the Legislature to reform laws.

“To me, the 22 a day is absolutely unacceptable,” Seifert said of the veteran suicide rate. “Every one of those women and men who die have a belly full of pharmaceuticals that they got from the VA.”

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their families. We are the go-to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go-to site.

Washington Vets Switch from Pharmaceuticals to Pot: Military Connection: by Debbie Gregory

The Move Away from Pharmaceuticals : Military Connection

Military Connection: medical

By Debbie Gregory.

It is becoming increasingly more wide spread for veterans battling post-traumatic stress disorder to opt for alternative treatments, including medical marijuana.

The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that “PTSD has been found to be a risk factor” for suicidal thoughts, which are often triggered by combat-related guilt that “can often overpower the emotional coping capacities of veterans.”

No one collects data on the number of veterans participating in medical-marijuana programs in the states where it is legal. But many veterans say those who have served are turning to cannabis more and more to deal with the disabling symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and chronic physical pain.

But the federal government has sent mixed messages about its stance on the issue, with law enforcement opposing states’ programs and VA medical staff allowing participation. Medical experts disagree on whether the drug helps or hurts veterans.

Some academic studies suggest a link between medical marijuana and a reduction in suicide rates and PTSD symptoms. In 2013, the American Journal of Public Health reported that suicides among men ages 20-39 were reduced by an average of 10.8 percent in states that have legalized medical marijuana compared to states that have not. In addition, a 2014 study by New Mexico psychiatrist Dr. George Greer concluded that marijuana provided relief for PTSD symptoms in 75 percent of patients in a controlled study.

There are potential drawbacks to treating PTSD with cannabis. For example, an individual could build up a tolerance to the drug’s sleep-inducing effects, leading to increased use.

But for many veterans, the positives outweigh the negatives. Across the nation, veterans are urging the White House and Congress to legalize marijuana for veterans at the federal level. Michael Krawitz, executive director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access in Virginia, said veterans are “mercilessly being denied treatment” because they cannot access medical marijuana in all 50 states. “Veterans found cannabis long before states started passing these laws,” he said “By a long shot, it’s better than the drugs they get at the VA.”

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their families. We are the go-to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go-to site.

The Move Away from Pharmaceuticals : Military Connection: by Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Is Pot a Viable Alternative Pain Treatment?

pot

By Debbie Gregory.

Do you think pot should be legalized to manage pain? A group of Veterans in North Carolina think so, and are pushing for the state to legalize its use. The retired noncommissioned officers and officers are at the core of the growing North Carolina Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, or N.C. RAMP.

Edwin McClannan, one of the members of N.C. RAMP, is a retired Army first sergeant who injured his spine during a parachute accident, and now lives in constant pain. His doctor prescribed a long list of medications, none of which eliminated his pain like the marijuana cupcake he accidently ate.

McClannan is part of a growing group of Veterans who have found marijuana to be a relief from pain, post-traumatic stress and depression. The group’s president, David Hargitt, said they don’t fit the old marijuana advocate stereotypes; something he hopes will help the cause of legalization.

By promoting medical marijuana every Tuesday, Hargitt has become a regular face at the state legislature. House Bill 78, was introduced last month by Rep. Kelly Alexander, a Mecklenburg County Democrat. This bill marks Alexander’s fourth attempt at legalizing medical marijuana.

For the first time, it has attracted more than a dozen co-sponsors, including Rep. Garland E. Pierce, a Democrat who represents Scotland, Hoke, Richmond, and Robeson counties. But what the bill lacks is bipartisan support in a Republican-controlled legislature. None of the co-sponsors are Republican.

Hargitt hopes a similar bill will be introduced by a Republican, as the issue is becoming more attractive to Republicans for more than just the medicinal uses. According to reports, legal medical marijuana could bring in an additional $100 million in tax revenue in North Carolina alone. Additionally, it would eliminate border violence, unnecessary criminal records, and could help injured Veterans and civilians alike.

A recent survey of North Carolina voters by Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling found 69% of those asked thought a doctor should be allowed to prescribe marijuana for medical use. Another 10% were “not sure.”

However, as marijuana remains illegal under federal law, this means veterans who receive their care from the Department of Veterans Affairs could be prohibited from using it.

A bill sponsored by Sens. Rand Paul, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand could end a federal ban on medical marijuana, proposing it is left to each particular state to decide to legalize or illegalize it. This bill would allow VA doctors to prescribe medical marijuana, and would reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug, defined as one with no medical value, to a Schedule II drug. A separate bill, introduced in the U.S. House in February, would allow VA physicians to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to their patients.

Which begs the question, what do you think? Should marijuana be legalized?

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Is Pot a Viable Alternative Pain Treatment?: By Debbie Gregory