Veterans and cannabis: It’s all in the family.
America’s short history of legal cannabis has proved this much: Veterans are one of the groups that benefit most from the plant, from managing aches and pains to PTSD symptoms, and often avoiding synthetic opiates along the way.
But another, more inconvenient truth has also become apparent. Decades of prohibition left a dearth of serious, formal research into how the plant is used, and by whom.
This creates a moment of unique opportunity, according to those behind a new initiative called the Veterans and Veterans Family Member Research Study. The survey is spearheaded by the Cannabis Community Care and Research Network (C3RN) as part of a larger, ongoing study of cannabis use being conducted in partnership with the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
The Veterans and Veterans Family Member Research Study formally launched earlier this year in Boston at the first of six events C3RN is producing this year, alongside a Massachusetts advocacy group called Alternative Treatment for Veterans.
Organizers are thinking big — really big. They hope this look at veterans, their families, and cannabis will help lead to fundamental change in how former soldiers access medicine.
“What I’d like to do is really show what the burden is on the veteran population and show what their spending pattern looks like so we can start to make an argument for health insurance coverage,” says Dr. Marion McNabb, who has a deep background in public health and currently serves as CEO of C3RN.
‘A lifesaving substance’
In recent years, veterans across America have reported cannabis helping treat a variety of physical and psychological symptoms. Many have even used the plant to wean themselves off pharmaceutical painkillers, which can bring debilitating side effects and cause intense physical addiction.
Government-provided health insurance gives veterans virtually unlimited access to pharmaceuticals. Yet, even in states where cannabis is medically or recreationally legal, veterans must pay out-of-pocket or rely on donations for herbal relief. This gets at a core issue McNabb and others hope to address through their study.
“It’s complicated when you’re working with addiction, and opioid addiction specifically, but we really believe cannabis could be a viable harm-reduction strategy,” she says.
Before starting the non-profit Veterans Alternative Healing, Stephen Mandile (also president of President of Alternative Treatment for Veterans) was one of an untold number of former servicemen and servicewomen unable to find effective treatment through prescription medications.
Cannabis changed everything.
“For me this was definitely a lifesaving substance,” Mandile told CBS Boston last November, when he became one of the first people in Massachusetts to purchase newly legalized recreational cannabis.
Veterans from coast to coast recount similar personal experiences. The Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance, Operation Evac, Weed for Warriors and the Veterans Cannabis Group are just a sampling of the organizations that help connect former military personnel with marijuana’s potential for healing.
Meanwhile, a first-of-its-kind clinical study led by Arizona scientist Dr. Sue Sisley to analyze cannabis as a treatment for veterans with PTSD is nearing completion.
All of which helps explain why McNabb, Mandile and others believe now is the perfect time for their Veterans and Veterans Family Member Research Study. Veterans across the country are welcome to participate, but organizers are focusing initial outreach in Massachusetts, home to both C3RN and Veterans Alternative Healing. Massachusetts last year became the first state on the East Coast to open recreational cannabis stores.
Study organizers are currently recruiting state cannabis shops to offer discounts to veterans who complete the survey. It consists of 80 questions about consumption habits, spending, medical conditions, prescriptions and more.
The study also includes questions about family members. McNabb says the challenges and solutions experienced by veterans are deeply shared with their families and caregivers — who may themselves be cannabis consumers as well.
A recent Eaze Insights report on general cannabis trends found veterans are more than twice as likely as non-veterans to consume with family members. The C3RN survey aims to drill down further on the topic.
‘A new industry is only created once’
“We’d love to be able to compare different states as well as sub-localities here in Massachusetts,” McNabb says. “We want to reach a policy-level analysis where we can really advocate for changing the paradigm of how veterans access cannabis.”
Cannabis’ emergence from the shadows continues to open new opportunities in business and adult recreation across America. That’s all well and good. But McNabb and others hope their study can help benefit those who most deserve support.
“A new industry is only created once,” McNabb says. “We should use this opportunity to fight for research and justice and rights—not just make it about money and profit, but to really think about how we handle some of the bigger issues around cannabis.”