I recently attended a powerful forum on Capitol Hill, “What Medical Cannabis Could Look Like for Our Veterans,” about veteran use of medical cannabis held at the Rayburn Congressional Representatives building on September 13.
The forum included representatives from the Hoosier Veterans for Medical Cannabis, the Veterans Cannabis Group, Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access and others.
Jeff Staker, the host of the forum, is a Gulf War veteran and founder of Hoosier Veterans for Medical Cannabis. He described this forum as geared toward fighting against the forces keeping medical marijuana away from vets, and employing a methodology soldiers engage in when assessing their foes. “We need to have a clear picture of the battlefield,” he said. “Know your enemy, why we fight, and the type of ground that we are fighting from. The enemy is destroying our ranks with nothing more than lies and deceit from the top down. We cannot stay idle. So let’s get on that battlefield like champion warriors and fight.”
What followed was a discussion of the medical side of the issue by two doctors, a nurse and two medical marijuana researchers – discussing why cannabis should be a preferred treatment for veterans, especially those suffering from PTSD – and testimony from four veterans of both the Vietnam and Afghanistan wars about why cannabis works for them, how it has changed their lives and why the Veterans’ Administration should come to a better understanding of the plant for treatment of chronic pain and PTSD.
The program was moderated by Brandon Wyatt, who had a long recovery from trauma he suffered in combat as a soldier in Afghanistan. Wyatt eventually weaned himself off of the opioids he was being treated with, and began using cannabis to help realign his life with new post-recovery goals.
He is now an attorney advocating for cannabis availability for all veterans, working with Patients Out of Time, a veterans-founded cannabis educational organization dedicated to educating healthcare professionals, organizations, and the general public about the therapeutic use of cannabis and the endocannabinoid system.
The first speaker (via video) was Dr. Donald Abrams, chief of hematology and oncology division at the San Francisco General Hospital, and a professor of clinical medicine at the University of California-San Francisco. In 1997, he got funding from the National Institute of Drug Abuse to conduct clinical trials of the short-term safety of cannabanoids in HIV infection. He was also granted funding to continue studies of the effectiveness of cannabis in a number of clinical conditions. He now works in an National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded trial investigating vaporized cannabis use for patients with sickle cell disease.
“There should be funding and support for a national cannabis research agenda, to include clinical research and public health and safety research,” Abrams said. Organizations like the NIH and the CDC should jointly fund a workshop to develop a set of research standards, he said. “These organizations should also fund research tasked to produce an evidence-based report that characterizes the effects of regulatory barriers to cannabis research, and the proposed strategies for supporting the resources and infrastructure necessary for a comprehensive cannabis research agenda,” Abrams said. He added that Veterans Affairs should also be involved in these important meetings so that the organization’s leaders could better understand the true benefits and potential harms of cannabis as medicine.
Aaron Augustis, who started the Veterans Cannabis Group, an advocacy group of veterans for veterans, returned from Afghanistan and found that he was not ready for school after an incident on the college campus he was attending triggered flashbacks to a bad war moment. “There are veterans out there that are lost, that don’t know what they are doing with their lives,” he said. “We are here to mobilize the veterans and give them a purpose. We are encouraging them to fight for their right to pursue happiness.”
Another speaker at the forum, researcher Dr. Darryl Hudson, talked about his work in Veterans for Healing, an organization created and run by Canadian veterans to assist other veterans, their families and caregivers. He cited research that found that out of 2,000 veteran patients treated with cannabis, there was a 90 percent reduction in suicide rates. “Cannabis is the most effective drug on the planet that we have found for treating PTSD,” Hudson says. “But cannabis is not a cure for PTSD. It’s more of a reset switch for these vets that allows them to come home, relax and forget a few things. It’s a tool that helps them focus on healing.”
Staker concluded with the following: “Are we not a government of the people by the people for the people in the pursuit and conquest of a more perfect union?,” he says. “To our commander in chief – are you listening? Do you really want to know the art of the deal to make America great again? Here and now we have provided the truth and knowledge to tear down those walls blocking understanding. So in your own words Mr. President, what in the hell do you have to lose? Let’s return this plant to the life-saving medicine that it is.”