A group of cannabis growers in northern California is donating part of their crop to veterans in the area.
Scores of veterans in Santa Cruz lined up recently at the Veterans Memorial building for the giveaway sponsored by the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance.
The group provides medical marijuana to veterans at their monthly giveaway which includes lotions, pills, oils, and candies, as well as smokable flower.
The alliance, founded by veterans Aaron Newsom and Jason Sweatt, grows cannabis and funds the giveaway out of sales to cannabis dispensaries. They view medical marijuana as a better alternative than addictive opioids that are typically are prescribed for pain or PTSD.
One Vietnam veteran said he used marijuana infused oil to treat pancreatic cancer, another said that smoking it eased the pain from recent hip replacement surgery. Several swear by it for the affects of PTSD.
Does Medical Marijuana Work For Veterans?
The verdict is hazy...
If you believe what you read, cannabis has been touted to cure everything from hemorrhoids to brain cancer, and not have the side effects that many drugs carry.
THC, the chemical in marijuana that gets you high, and CBD, the one that makes you mellow have been studied in the civilian world, and shown promise in treating chronic pain, and myriad other medical conditions.
Their affect on PTSD is not as well known though.
Many veterans who self-medicate say that it helps them far more than the drugs they are given by the VA, has no bad side-effects, and is not addicting.
However, critics say there is no scientific evidence of this, and doctors point out the risk for abuse of the drug exists as well.
Cannabis - Legal, But Not From the VA
A recent VA survey suggests that nearly 1 million veterans may be using medical marijuana.
On their website VA says that "veterans will not be denied VA benefits because of marijuana use," and that "veterans are encouraged to discuss marijuana use with their VA providers."
Anecdotal evidence suggests that this may not always be the case. Some doctors have been reported to withhold other medications or stop treatments if the veteran reports marijuana use. Other doctors, though will discuss possible interactions with prescribed medications and the veteran's overall well being.
Legislation On The Horizon?
Despite being legal for medical use in 30 states, and recreational use in nine states, VA doctors are still prevented by federal law from even discussing cannabis with their patients.
House Bill 5520 which is sponsored by Rep Tim Walz (D-MN) and Rep Phil Roe (R-TN), who is a physician, seeks to end that prohibition.
The VA says that even if that bill becomes law, studying the medical effects of cannabis would be difficult since cannabis remains a Schedule 1 drug. As such VA would need the approval of five separate agencies just to conduct studies.
When times were different, VA did many studies on cannabis but they were done to see how harmful the drug was, not how helpful it may be.
Until the federal government makes up its mind, veterans with limited financial means will still have to depend on the kindness of strangers, like those in California, to get affordable or free medical marijuana.