Medical Cannabis for Vets
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The organization Mental Health America set out to raise awareness of mental illness and mental health resources 70 years ago when it recognized May as Mental Health Awareness Month. Since then, the initiative has been recognized by countless groups and individuals. And for good reason. Let’s look at a few key facts:
- One in 5 adults in the U.S. lives with a mental health condition.- One in 25 (10 million) adults in the U.S. lives with a serious mental illness.- 43.8 million adults in the U.S. face the day-to-day reality of living with a mental illness.- Half of all lifetime mental health conditions begin by age 14 and 75% by age 24.
Bashon, Chris and I are military veterans here at ProVisionAdvisors, and we are extremely sensitive to this issue in the veteran community. I have personally lost sailors to mental illness and suicide. It hurts. While mental health and suicide are two different and independent issues, there is often a correlation between military service…resultant post-traumatic stress and depression…decreasing mental health…and then suicide.
20 percent of the 2.7 million military veterans who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan will experience post-traumatic stress or depression, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). And veterans commit suicide at a rate of more than 20 per day. TWENTY. Just this week, a veteran committed suicide in a VA clinic in Cleveland. We have to do something.
Against that sobering and disturbing backdrop, The VA testified this week in front of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs subpanel on health. On the table was proposed legislation for the VA to research medical marijuana and its benefits for veterans struggling with mental health issues, post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, chronic pain and other myriad issues.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore, proposed the legislation. “One of great tragedies of our time is the failure to adequately address the needs of veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “We sent more than 2 million brave men and women to fight under very difficult circumstances. We can all agree the need to provide the care to veterans when they return home with wounds both visible and unseen.”
He said VA opioid overdoes are almost twice the national average, and evidence shows medical marijuana could be a less addictive solution to pain management for veterans. He noted that more than one million patients across the country use medical marijuana on recommendation of their physicians to treat conditions such as chronic pain, nausea, seizures, anxiety and PTSD.
Medical cannabis is a proven, safe and common-sense treatment option—one that is free of the devastating side effects of opiate-based drugs. And I believe we are on the cusp of a great wave of de-regulation and legalization of cannabis. The hearing on Capitol Hill this week is just part of the early stanzas of what will be a constant conversation until legalization happens.
How will the VA – who opposes the proposed legislation to research cannabis and prescribe it to patients – communicate about this issue when it is clear an overwhelming majority of people (including Congress) believe in the benefits of medical marijuana? Further, how will cannabis companies and dispensaries act on this wave and specifically communicate to veterans about the medical benefits of the product? Veterans are generally uniformed about marijuana, and many my age came up in an era when the drug was a source of stigma and considered one of the worst evils out there.
“It’s overwhelmingly clear amongst the American people and amongst the veterans across the country that this is an issue that they are keenly interested in and want to have access to,” said Rep. Julia Brownley, the chairwoman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs subpanel on health.
So, here we are. I encourage education about cannabis and further communication in the veterans ranks and among the Veteran Support Organizations (VSOs) about the benefits of cannabis and the need for the VA to research it more. We have to start doing some provocative things to address mental health issues for veterans and everyone.
If you are reading this blog and feel like you are struggling with mental illness, please know help is available.
For immediate help with suicide or suicidal thoughts, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255, or get more information at SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.
By John Schofield