Political publication The Hill recently reported that veterans advocacy groups are pushing for easier restrictions on medical marijuana for military vets. While the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) won’t strip the benefits of vets who use medical marijuana, it prohibits VA healthcare providers from recommending the substance. This is because cannabis is still not recognized by federal law as a possible treatment option. It’s legal in only 33 states.
So why are these groups rallying for better access to medical cannabis? It’s because marijuana may be effective in treating the mental and physical scars that vets get in the field.
Despite not being on the battlefield anymore, many veterans still feel the weight of war. Up to 24.4% of returning service members have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a 2014 study published in the National Academies Press. This disorder is only the beginning, too. A recent report on military member mental health by the American Psychological Association stated that about 77% of soldiers hospitalized for PTSD had other conditions like alcohol dependence.
Fieldwork takes a physical toll, too. About a quarter of young adults (ages 25-34) who have served in the military report having chronic pain. It’s pushing vets to either take addictive opioids like painkillers to ease their mental and physical pain or to take their own lives.
With these terrifying possibilities, there has to be an alternative treatment. And some veterans are finding it in their local dispensary in Missouri.
Medical cannabis, though still in its early days of research, may have the potential to treat the physical and mental wounds that vets face after their tour. Here are some of its benefits.
- PTSD Treatment – PTSD is characterized by flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety about an event that the individual went through. A lot of veterans already self-medicate with cannabis to ease their PTSD. However, a recent Canadian study may legitimize the substance’s use for this condition. It involved looking into Canada’s mental health data to find possible relationships between PTSD and medical cannabis use. It found that moderate medical marijuana users were less likely to develop major depressive episodes or have suicidal thoughts than those who didn’t take the substance.
The researchers theorized that patients with PTSD often had more cannabinoid receptors in their brain, but don’t produce enough endocannabinoids to lock onto them, creating an imbalance. Cannabinoids found in marijuana may restore the balance and cause the brain to process things more clearly and normally.
- Chronic Pain – Chronic pain in the muscles, bones, and joints are the most common physical illnesses that soldiers go home with. With all the repetitive movements they have to do and combat situations they have to go through, it’s no surprise that they ache even after their service. Cannabis stimulates the brain to release hormones related to feelings of reward and relaxation.
Studies with self-reported data show positive opinions on marijuana’s effect on chronic pain. Some trials also show that medical cannabis may improve a person’s mental health.
It’ll take more research and a larger shift in public opinion for cannabis to be recognized as a supplement to antidepressants and possibly addictive opioids that veterans take for their physical and mental illnesses. But with veteran advocacy groups consistently lobbying for better medical cannabis access, the future seems bright for those looking for a greener and more natural alternative.
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