Thoughts from The Grateful Veteran by Jeff DeMond
CANNABIS: THE EXIT DRUG
Cannabis is medicine and has saved my life. However, for some veterans it can be a battle to even think about using medical cannabis. After serving in the military for 20 years, under the zero-tolerance drug policy, I can tell you it can be a mental struggle. The stigma surrounding medical cannabis and its use for a veteran is based on what they were taught in the military about street drugs and drug use and abuse. So, for them, seeking an alternative medicine can make them feel like a drug abuser. In my case, the Navy was my entrance to opioid use, and cannabis was my exit drug. When I retired from the Navy, I was dependent on opioids, and I was able to break that cycle with medical cannabis. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. A veteran considering medical cannabis may struggle with many issues like the stigma of marijuana use, accessibility of medicine, cannabis being federally Illegal, and cost compared to pharmaceuticals. The stigma of medical cannabis being a joke or just a way for someone to legally get “high” is enough for some veterans to turn away. Truth be told, it is much easier for the veteran to continue whatever their current line of treatment is than to try medical cannabis. Most veterans respect the opinion the civilian public has of them. So, the feeling of doing something that is not considered part of the norm is troubling. Honestly, when I first started my medical cannabis journey, I hid my cannabis use and didn’t celebrate my successful exit from opioids. I didn’t want people judging me based on what I used to get well. I hid the fact that I was able to come off of seven other pharmaceutical medications because of the stigma surrounding marijuana. When I got my MMJ recommendation, my pain management doctor that had be prescribing me opioids made me feel like a drug seeker. I refused opioids from him and was subsequently released as a patient a week later. Currently, within a one-hour drive, I have three Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MMTC). Many times, there is a long line of an hour or more. In addition, your wait may be for naught because they may not have the particular strain or type of product you need to treat your condition. The Board of Commissions for several counties in Florida have upheld a moratorium on MMTCs in their counties which restricts 30
patients to deliveries only. Deliveries work great for some; however, you have to make yourself available for a span of 2 to 4 hours. Also, some MMTCs do not deliver next day and some don’t deliver at all, so you are extremely limited in the access and availability of your medicine. Marijuana is still federally illegal, and although it is medically legal in some states, veterans will worry about their VA benefits, medical treatment, retirements, and disability ratings. The question is always asked what about my VA benefits: will I lose them or my retirement? The VA's stance from the www.va.gov is if you are a veteran in a state that has passed laws regarding medical cannabis, you can communicate your use to your doctor, but they cannot advise you on medical cannabis use. You will not lose any benefits, and they cannot release you from care. Knowing this, you cannot go to another state with your medical cannabis because you’re crossing state lines, which is federally illegal. This type of antiquated thinking hardens the edge of the marijuana stigma while decreasing the ease of use. As a veteran, I am privileged to have excellent healthcare and access to treatments, mental healthcare, and pharmaceuticals. My pharmaceutical medications either come to me in the mail for free, or I go to the local pharmacy and pay a few bucks for anything prescribed. Medical cannabis is not covered by insurance or the VA. Depending on your condition, the cost could be very expensive. For those who are most sick, they may not be in a position to afford the best medicine for them. Education is key to break the stigma surrounding marijuana. Cannabis is medicine. Patients need to stand up for their rights and testify on how medical cannabis helped them. Doctors are now being taught about the endocannabinoid system and the benefits of THC and CBD to the human body. The general populations should educate themselves about medical cannabis. Educated opinions are constructive, whereas judgment is destructive. Medical cannabis is the only medicine that truly helps with some issues particular to our veterans, and if we are a truly patriotic country, we would look at every possible solution to their issues. It really saddens me to think how many service members, especially those dependent on opioids, we have lost because they did not have the opportunity to use medical cannabis as an exit drug.