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Cannabis and Veterans

VA Facing Increased Pressure from Veterans to Adopt Cannabis as Treatment Strategy

Amy Rising has served as a senior official in Air Force. As a matter of routine, she starts her day by preparing breakfast for her second-grade child and driving him to school. The very next thing is to prepare medicine for her anxiety.

She is a victim of anxiety disorder and the very cause of her mental abnormality is 4-year service in global command center at Scott Air Force Base in the state of Illinois. Her assignment was concerned with carrying out missions, like bombing, during the war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

To address severe anxiety, she has discovered an effective treatment measure for herself. As her medicine is nothing other than a marijuana cigarette, she cannot get it from her local Veterans Affairs hospital.

Dozens of states in the US have already legalized cannabis for medicinal or recreational usage while the others are on their way to this end. Amid such developments, the people suffering from wounds of war, like Amy, want the legal recognition of the drug for medical purposes. The former military servicemen have come to realize the effectiveness of marijuana for the treatment of different physiological and mental disorders resulting from war. They give preference to the use of this substance over other painkillers derived from opium. Such military service related disorders include insomnia, panic attacks, neuropathic abnormalities, chronic back pain, and so on.

Through various research works in the US and many other countries of the world, it has been discovered that the conditions, like PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) and intense pain can effectively be treated with cannabis. However, still there is a dire need for further development in the field.

As 23 states and the District have already decriminalized marijuana, the ex-military personnel are contributing their part to inspire more states in the country for such steps. However, their major focus lies on the federal government, specifically, the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Along with LSD and heroin, cannabis is classified as Schedule 1 drug by the federal government, which means the substance involves high potential for abuse and cannot be used for medical purposes. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) controls the most extensive network of health centers and hospitals across the country. Owing to strict rules of the federal policy, VA is not authorized to recommend the use of cannabis to veterans even in those states of the country where the drug has already been legalized.

As reported by VA, the doctors and health specialist working in the department are not allowed to prescribe cannabis for stress disorders, panic attacks or other such conditions. Gina Jackson, a Veteran Affairs spokesperson says that, being federal employees, the medical professionals in VA are even restricted from carrying out paperwork to facilitate the patients for enrolment in the state programs.

An increasing number of veterans have great concern over the conflict between the federal and state laws regarding the legalization of medical marijuana. They have been deprived of harvesting the great medical benefits of the substance.

A large number of veterans advocating legalization policy, like Amy Rising, are urging the federal government to permit the use of cannabis in the treatment of disorders as soon as possible.

Rising says that, though she was not posted in Afghanistan or Iraq during the years of war, she remained under considerable stress owing to the nature of her duties. She says that, while working in command center, the most distressful thing comes from ignorance to the damage that is being carried out on ground. While launching an attack on civilians, the most painful thing is the thought of the widows and orphans.

She expresses her concern that if the treatment for PTSD is not carried out through pot, there is very likelihood that her nerves will suffer an irreparable damage.

When on a morning some days ago, she came back after driving her son to school, she prepared a couple of cannabis cigarettes and made her way to a backyard in the outskirts of the city to smoke the blunts. While doing so, she seemed relaxed and relieved from all the painful mental stress.

In the locality of Rising, the medical use of marijuana is already legal for certain diseases. While responding to a question about her specific area of residence, she only said that it was in the Mid-Atlantic.

She says that there shouldn’t be a legal restriction in the beneficial use of cannabis and the VA has to take steps to give the patients access to as much quantity of the drug as they really need.

Rising emphasize the need for the legalization of pot and, according to her, the primary focus of the veterans should be to convince the government and put as much pressure as possible for bringing amendments in the federal drug regulatory laws.

Michael Krawits is a former Air Force serviceman and the director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access. He says that, in case veterans are living in a state where the use of cannabis is illegal and the VA finds them using the drugs, they will be charged with criminal acts. That is why the trend of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is gradually getting momentum.

The professionals working under the head of VA have expressed their serious concern over the spread of the culture of “don’t ask, don’t tell” as this can lead to a troublesome situation, primarily because the doctors are not informed by the patients about the kind of medicines they may be using. As a matter of routine, the patients are not subjected to drug tests except the ones recommended significantly large quantities of opioids. It would be surprising for the doctors to find such patients using marijuana without a medical prescription.

It is to be noted that in 2011, the Department for Veteran Affairs issued a statement saying that the beneficiaries of VA would not be deprived of medical benefits even if they were found advocating for the legalization of medical marijuana. It was also said that the veterans have liberty to consult their physicians and device an appropriate treatment strategy accordingly.

It has also been found out that some VA physicians have left it up to their patients to go for either cannabis or the drugs prescribed by them. Krawitz says that it is a mere misconception among the medical staff that the combined intake of opioids and pot could be dangerous for health.

The JAMA Internal Medicine journal, a month ago, published research findings revealing that, if used in combination with cannabis, even low quantity of opiates can prove to be equally effective. In this way, the risk of overdose can significantly be reduced. Marcus A. Bachhuber, the author of the study, is a researcher at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center. He and his coworkers discovered that it is primarily because of the cannabis laws that the number of deaths, resulting from overdose of opiates, is considerably lower at the state level.

Scott Murphy is an ex-military personnel and one of the staunch advocates of medical marijuana program. He is heading Veterans for Safe Access and Compassionate Care and has been making efforts on legal front for the exclusion of medical cannabis from the list of Schedule 1 drugs. In a petition, Murphy states that owing to the logical fear of being deprived of the VA benefits, the veterans from the states with no legal provision for the drug have to tell a lie to their doctors regarding the use of marijuana.

While lobbying, whether in his home state of Massachusetts or on Capitol Hill, Murphy prefers to put on a suit, so that widespread perceptions about pot users could be countered. It is to be noted that certain uses of cannabis have been provided legal cover in the state of Massachusetts.

For more than a year, Murphy has been posted in Iraq to render services in field artillery and Iraqi police training programs. He says that owing to continued work with heavy military equipment, he had to face a lot of physical stress. Consequently, he developed degenerative arthritis, and bone pain in wrist, hip and leg. As a treatment, he started taking Oxycontin, morphine and muscle relaxers.

He says that such medications could be of no use to him, thus making him desperate to the extent that he just wanted to get rid of the leg.

Finally, Murphy decided to consider a liquid form of marijuana about two years ago and the results were so exciting. As he himself says, with the use of this substance, he felt totally relieved of pain for as long as 8 hours without using any other medicine.

A number of pain and PTSD specialists from VA expressed their desire to conduct further studies on the medical potential of cannabis. Owing to restrictions imposed by Veteran Affairs Department, they discussed the drug on condition of anonymity. The physicians said that they were in great frustration as the medications they prescribed to their patients were not effective.

A VA PTSD specialist, leading a big East Coast VA pain center, said that many studies have revealed the immense medical potential of cannabis but they, being the employees of federal government, are not permitted to contribute their part in such developments.

Alexander Neumeister is a professor at New York University and has led three drug trials. He says that research is being carried out at the university’s Langone Medical Center for the development of the 1st generation of marijuana-related drugs that will help in the treatment of PTSD. Through studies, it has been suggested that, in the brains of the PTSD patients, the unregulated receptors (called CB1) are at lower levels. With the intake of cannabis, such receptors are put to action.

Neumeister rejects such an assumption altogether and says such things are causing only misconceptions among masses. He seems greatly disturbed and calls it an unfortunate situation.

He is trying to convince the people that still a laborious research work is needed to explore the 100% potential of the drug. Meanwhile, the most beneficial components and the adequate doses are also to be found out.

He says that, till this time, they do not have thorough knowledge of the short-term and long-term adverse effects of the drug.

It has been noticed that some experts are too impatient to wait for the finding of further research and are drawing premature conclusions.

Mark DiPasquale, aged 39, has served in the US Marine Corps and was posted in Iraq from the period from 2005 through 2007. He considers cannabis to be his ‘exit drug’.

Giving further explanation, he says that he had to try as many as 22 different types of medicines, including opiates and anti-anxiety drugs, for the treatment of back and bone injuries. The use of many different pharmaceutical products could prove to be of no help to him.

While in desperate search for alternative treatment measures, he struck upon the idea of using cannabis. He started inhaling the drug in vapor form; quitted the use of alcohol; and made vegetables the major constituent of his routine diet. It gave him wonderful results but at the expense of a considerable amount of money and time. In New York, where DiPasquale lives, medical marijuana has already been decriminalized though voting. He wants Veteran Affairs Department to approve the medical use of the drug.

He says that people suffering from such conditions feel much relieved after smoking marijuana cigarette. So, they should be given legal cover for such a practice.

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