Before they joined the armed forces, US veterans identified a need to relieve pain. Cannabis — or herbal or recreational cannabis — has been used for decades for that purpose. Cannabis is a known analgesic. And all medical marijuana has a THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) component.
In 1990, veterans asked a federal judge in California to strike down a federal ban on medicinal marijuana, because it was harming veterans and their families. The veteran’s court case finally helped legalize cannabis in California in 1996. A similar federal ruling in Oregon in 1999 led to the re-legalization of cannabis in that state in 2004.
For many veterans, cannabis brought significant relief from the pervasive post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) they experienced from military service.
For decades, lawmakers were slow to act on the pleas of veterans. Lawmakers did not even have medical records in determining whether cannabis was an effective treatment for PTSD or other debilitating conditions. Only recently have medical professionals become more willing to engage the veterans’ perspectives on the topic.
Two respected veterans’ organizations — the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) — have issued a joint position statement endorsing medical cannabis to treat PTSD and a host of other conditions.
Members of Congress have heard from service members, veterans and their supporters urging them to strike down the remaining major federal prohibition on cannabis. With a more mainstream approach and less stigma, cannabis is slowly becoming a popular alternative to opioids. At least one million veterans have chronic pain. Many have suffered intractable chronic pain that worsens with repeated days of yoga or aerobics workouts, stretching and eventually leads to disability or prison.
In 2016, more than 645,000 Americans over the age of 12 used medical marijuana for anxiety, sleep problems, muscle and joint pain, depression, cancer relief and pain, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that 20% of its patients have self-identified with cannabis as a primary or secondary pain relief alternative, and that cannabis use will continue to grow as science develops and delivers positive benefits.
In 2016, more than 745,000 Americans over the age of 12 used medical marijuana for anxiety, sleep problems, muscle and joint pain, depression, cancer relief and pain, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.
There are those who continue to promote the harms of pot. Legalization hurts law enforcement, led by the Marijuana Policy Project. Military veterans who were deployed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were recruited to protect the US from the enemy’s use of drugs; they were under the impression that in waging war the enemy was using deadly narcotics — marijuana, heroin and other opioid painkillers.
Marijuana continues to be used to make tens of thousands of veterans and their families suffer the consequences of taking part in wars they signed up to avoid. This presents a legitimate challenge to lawmakers, and to those who are still inclined to lock up more warriors for taking over-the-counter medicine to alleviate their pain.