Grass Roots_ Veterans and Cannabis

Mar 15, 2021

Veterans and Cannabis: An Ongoing Battle for Relief

For veterans who have dutifully served our country, medication options to manage lasting side effects of PTSD and chronic pain can seem limiting, especially when it comes to CBD use and medical cannabis. 

Currently, healthcare providers through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health system cannot prescribe or recommend CBD or other cannabis products to patients. While healthcare providers can’t refuse service to patients who may use CBD or cannabis, the stigma around cannabis use remains. Similarly, in states where medical marijuana has been legalized, VA clinicians may not complete paperwork or forms required for veteran patients to participate in state-approved programs, according to the VA

“The current legislation disproportionately affects veterans in states with legalized medical cannabis,” says Grass Roots Health Founder Elisha Millan. “If you’re a veteran using VA health services, physicians can’t prescribe state-allowed cannabis. These veterans would have to pay additional out-of-pocket expenses to be evaluated for medical cannabis. That significantly impacts a veteran’s access to these healing therapies.”

Cannabis, including federally legal CBD products with less than 0.3% THC, has great potential to provide a plant-based alternative to traditional pain relievers, such as opioids, without the damaging side effects. As many veterans live with chronic pain, opioid use and addiction are unfortunately quite common. Veterans Cannabis Project, an advocacy group, paints a stark picture, stating, “Upwards of 20% of the 2.7 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans will experience post-traumatic stress or depression, according to the VA.” 

Legislation to Expand Access

By gaining access to medical cannabis, veterans have the potential to use plant-based therapies from plants grown in the U.S. that don’t have harmful side effects like opioids. As the Veterans Cannabis Project affirms, medical cannabis is an effective tool for managing symptoms and a safer alternative to opiates.

National legislators are taking note. In 2020, legislators attempted to expand access to medical cannabis for the veteran population and increase research into the plant’s specific therapeutic benefits, according to this March 2020 article. Early this year, however, legislators again moved to prevent veterans from losing their health benefits through the VA, but this bill lost wording that would enable VA physicians to recommend medical cannabis to patients. 

“It’s important to differentiate that medical cannabis access is supported for veterans, not active duty military,” Millan says. “These veterans have given years of service to our country and have been denied some of the most earth-friendly medical products. Instead, they only have access to manufactured, highly addictive opiates. Veterans have limited access to medical cannabis compared with civilians. Opening the door for other avenues for pain relief and treatment for PTSD is the right thing to do for veterans.”

If you are a veteran looking for an alternative to opioids, please stop by one of our stores, or give us a call at (423) 713-9229. We’d be happy to discuss your options.

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