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.”

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