Casey Robinson of Santa Cruz, California was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps after completing three tours in Iraq, due to injuries. As per the usual military process, he was referred to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for treatment, which consisted of a cocktail of pharmaceutical drugs. The drugs ended up making him feel “like a zombie” –– numb to all feeling. At the suggestion of fellow veterans, Robinson eventually weaned himself off of the prescription pills and began self-medicating with marijuana. He found it to be so helpful that he worked to start a patient collective called California Veterans Medicine, that focused on connecting veterans with marijuana. Since the military strictly prohibits all marijuana use, and –– like the US government –– doesn’t recognize the herb’s medical uses, Robinson knowingly risked losing all of his service-related benefits when he switched to cannabis. He has since become a vocal member of a global movement by vets, to increase awareness and access to the alternative medicine.
Veterans commonly experience war-related PSTD, severe anxiety and pain due to injury –– all of which marijuana has shown to effectively mitigate. However, even in states that have legalized medical marijuana programs, veterans risk losing their military benefits and honors if caught using the herb. Even VA doctors are forbidden from consulting with patients about medical marijuana use.
A new federal bill called the Veterans Equal Access Act seeks to loosen those rules. It was introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this week by Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.). If passed, it will allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to vets in the states with active medical marijuana programs already in place.
At least 22 veterans take their own lives every day in the U.S. according to VA statistics, and many of those suicides have been connected to the overprescription of pharmaceutical medications (which commonly create the isolating “zombie effect” that Robinson described). As Blumenauer said in the statement, more than 20 percent of the 2.8 million U.S. veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD and depression. He said it makes little sense not to allow veterans “access to the medicines that will help them survive and thrive, including medical marijuana.”
Rep. Blumenauer’s statement noted a recent study, which found that of almost one million vets who use opioid prescriptions to treat pain, more than half continue to consume those pills chronically (beyond 90 days). As the Washington Post reported, “another study found that the death rate from opiate overdoses among VA patients is nearly double the national average.”
While the federal government continues to classify marijuana as an illegal drug with no known medical use, 23 states (and Washington D.C.) allow its medical use with a doctor’s recommendation. A recent poll showed the majority of American medical doctors support legalizing marijuana and studying it as a medicine, and hundreds of thousands –– if not millions –– of medical cannabis patients (official and otherwise) experience and report profound beneficial medicinal effects. Research conducted around the world is increasingly corroborating that human experience, showing marijuana’s ability to treat PTSD, pain, and many other conditions.
Blumenauer said keeping medical marijuana off-limits “forces veterans into the black market to self-medicate. It prevents doctors from giving their best and honest advice and recommendations. And it pushes both doctors and their patients toward drugs that are potentially more harmful and more addictive. It’s insane, and it has to stop.”