There are a lot of negative stigma surrounding psychedelic drugs. A large portion of the population and the government condemn these substances to be dangerous, addictive, and illegal. Although, that may be true when it comes to opiates or stimulants (such as heroin or cocaine). As they are, indeed, physiologically toxic and addictive. Psychedelics, on […]
Natasha Singh is no stranger to trauma. The henna artist and cannabis advocate, who has been rising to fame on Instagram with her incredibly ornate designs and vulnerable confessions in her captions, has witnessed a darkness that she cannot seem to shake.
“Life has led me to be the first responder to complete strangers and family members attempting or succeeding in taking their life,” Singh says. “As a result, I have suffered from anxiety and PTSD. I decided to start using cannabis and to this day, it’s the only thing that works for me and my body.”
Singh’s story is unfortunately not unique; but many people are now finding relief from a myriad of mental health conditions through the use of cannabis. What is remarkable about Singh are her efforts to not only remove mental health stigmas but also to break down cultural stigmas regarding the use of medical marijuana. Singh is from Fiji and of Indian descent, and says she has become one of the first cannabis advocates within her community.
The Los Angeles-born mother of an 18-month-old daughter recently went public with her medical cannabis use in an effort to show that there are patients of all ages, races and cultures benefiting from the plant. However, if you would have asked Singh if she thought she would be an acclaimed henna artist and cannabis activist someday, she more than likely would have laughed.
Natasha Singh says she took years to go public about her cannabis use because of conservative attitudes in the Indian American community.
In 2009, Singh tried cannabis recreationally for the first time. She immediately noticed it had a profound effect on her creative side. Simple doodles on notebook pages soon turned into elaborate drawings on her friends’ hands and feet.
“Before I started smoking, I wasn’t an artist — I never even drew,” says Singh. “In fact, I remember skipping art class in high school.”
Soon, Singh had quit her job in banking and enrolled in cosmetology school. Her talent for intricate and ornate henna tattoos (as well as lash extensions and traditional make-up) developed quickly. However, in 2010, Singh began to develop symptoms of PTSD after bearing witness to several suicides.
“While in cosmetology school, my life experiences caused my anxiety and PTSD to manifest severely, so I decided to visit a psychiatrist,” Singh says. “As a result, I was prescribed several medications to help combat these issues. After just two office visits, I knew prescription drugs were not for me; they actually worsened my condition.”
Despite the fact that Singh began consuming marijuana in 2012, it wasn’t until recently that she decided to go public with her use. She credits her hesitation to the conservative nature of Indian culture, but says that her move has since inspired others in the Indian community to learn more about the potential benefits of cannabis.
“[In late 2017,] I openly shared my cannabis experience and how I finally was brave enough to share my usage of this miracle plant with my Indian parents,” she says. “There’s a lot of stigma created around cannabis within the Indian community. Cannabis is labeled as a ‘hard drug,’ and I’m working hard every day to combat this false information.”
Today, Singh runs a henna and lash business called My Shanti Bar, which has locations in both Los Angeles and Seattle. She says she designed the bars to offer a relaxing environment with individualized beauty services available, with the goal of leaving clients refreshed and feeling their best.
“The ability to be a woman and an entrepreneur, and make other women feel amazing every day, all day long, is truly a gift that I do not take for granted,” Singh says. “I feel like cannabis not only saved my life, but in a way built it. I don’t claim to be a cannabis expert — experience is all I have to share — but I am so enlightened and encouraged that it’s gotten me this far, and if I’m able to help even one person by telling my story, I’ve done my job. Advocacy was a pure fluke, and is just my life.”
Originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE
The U.S. House of Representatives on July 20 voted 336 to 71 to approve a package of amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act—including one that would allow military personnel to consume CBD and other hemp-derived products.
“The Secretary of Defense may not prohibit, on the basis of a product containing hemp or any ingredient derived from hemp, the possession, use, or consumption of such product by a member of the Armed Forces,” reads the amendment, sponsored by Hawaii’s controversial Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat.
A related measure would allow the heads of the four branches of the military to issue reenlistment waivers for those who admit to having used cannabis or were convicted of a misdemeanor marijuana offense. That measure, introduced by Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona, would allow waivers to be granted on a case-by-case basis, Newsweek reports.
As Marijuana Moment points out, it remains to be seen whether either amendment will make it into the Senate version of the NDAA. But a bipartisan group of senators is trying to attach a cannabis research provision into the defense spending bill. That measure, a rider unrelated to the military, is called the Cannabidiol & Marihuana Research Expansion Act.
Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) are pushing the bill, an effort which may be indicative of hope in the upper House for passing measures corresponding to those introduced by Gabbard and Gallego.
Response to Pentagon Intolerance
Gabbard’s move comes in response to a CBD crackdown by Pentagon brass. As Military.com reports, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel & Readiness Matthew Donovan in February directed all four branches to issue general orders or regulations prohibiting the use of cannabis-derived products.
Donovan’s memo cited the supposed threat to “the integrity of the drug testing program” posed by CBD use (a dubious proposition, as legal CBD products contain little to no THC), and indicated that the regulations must be enforceable under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This is the article that imposes court-martial for failure to obey an order.
The Army and Air Force both issued such regulations last year. But members of the Navy and Marine Corps were allowed under Department of the Navy regulations to use topical products such as shampoo, lotions and creams.
Donovan’s memo did carve out certain exceptions, including ingestion unawares and use of FDA-approved medications such as Epidiolex, Marinol and Syndros.
Gabbard’s amendment is especially significant in light of the potential shown by cannabinoids for treatment of post-traumatic stress syndrome, or PTSD—clearly a question of concern to service members.
There was a positive response from figures in the cannabis industry who have been exploring the use of preparations to treat PTSD.
“This is a long overdue, but an exciting opportunity for our active military to have access to state-of-the-art CBD products to help them manage chronic pain as well as anxiety and PTSD challenges,” Ed Donnelly, founder of AmourCBD, told Newsweek.
His Illinois-based company markets CBD oils, edibles and creams to first responders and veterans. “CBD and hemp products can help our valued warriors enjoy the quality of life they deserve.”
The percentage of military veterans facing challenges from PTSD is staggering, but the Department of Veterans Affairs remains intransigent on allowing access to cannabis—the only treatment that provides relief for many. And there has been little progress on efforts in Congress to remedy the situation.
As a retired Marine Corps Officer, Steve Danyluk is one of the last people you would expect to embrace cannabis. However, after spending time working with some of the most severely wounded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, he saw many veterans using the plant as a natural alternative to opioids for treating pain management and PTSD symptoms.
“I saw with my own eyes how effective cannabis was, but many
of these guys were getting it from untrustworthy sources,” said Danyluk.
He realized that there was a need for a company to cater specifically to the needs of veterans, particularly those who have been to war and come home with both physical and mental wounds to provide holistic and natural alternatives to prescribes opioids.
This insight inspired him to found Warfighter Hemp and help scores of veterans become opioid-free and get their lives back.
“CBD, at least
anecdotally, has proven to be extremely effective in helping alleviate some
fairly intense stressors, particularly in our combat veterans,” said Danyluk.
Tragically, Danyluk has seen first-hand the devastating
effects of opioid addiction and over-prescription amongst the veteran
“One of the wounded Marines who I got to know quite well was being treated by the VA for a traumatic brain injury. He was on a wide array of medications, many of which he could not even tell you what they were for. He died in his sleep one night, not from his wounds, but because of the prescription medications that our government fed him.”
Danyluk believes that the risk of overdose and accidental
death from prescribed opioids is “a national tragedy that no one seems to care
“Overdose and suicide are common results. The VA has sent
out thousands of Noxolone kits to veterans who they fear are in danger of
overdosing on opioids — opioids that the veterans became addicted to in the
first place because that is what the VA prescribed them.
“I have never heard of a veteran, or anyone for that matter,
who overdosed on cannabis.”
Earlier this year, the Department of Defense announced a ban on CBD because of the risk of troops testing positive for cannabis. While Danyluk agrees with the zero-tolerance stance that the DoD has towards recreational cannabis, he thinks “it makes no sense when it comes to CBD, particularly when it comes to CBD isolate products that contain no THC.”
Danyluk believes that the stigma surrounding cannabis — and to a lesser degree CBD — within the veteran community has shifted dramatically in just the last year.
“Last summer, Warfighter Hemp was the first-ever cannabis sponsor of the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) national convention, which signifies a significant step forward in my opinion in terms of a broader acceptance of CBD by the general public.” What impressed Danyluk the most was “the level of awareness that the attendees had at the convention and the thoughtfulness of the questions that they asked.”
The main reasons customers turn to Warfighter Hemp,
according to Danyluk, are anxiety, PTSD and pain management.
“At the higher doses, many of our severely wounded veterans
have reported that it is extremely effective in their pain management — as effective
as the opioids they were being prescribed without any of the negative side
The general rule of thumb for those new to CBD and medical marijuana products is to start dosing slow and low. But Danyluk believes that this could result in customers not seeing results and giving up after just a few tries. He recommends that Warfighter customers “dose high for the first two weeks, and then decrease your daily dose to a level where you find you can maintain consistent results.”
For this reason, Warfighter Hemp offers a 50% discount on
first orders when using the promo code NEW2CBD. “We want people to take
advantage of that and get something stronger than they otherwise might not have
chosen initially,” said Danyluk.
Veterans, like athletes, are very health conscious and
thoughtful about what they put into their bodies. Warfighter only uses hemp
that is organically grown in the U.S. and their products are independently
tested by a third-party lab for quality and consistency.
Plus, 50% of all Warfighter Hemp’s profits are donated to quality veteran nonprofits. So you know that when you’re helping yourself, you’re also helping our nation’s heroes.
Northern California’s legendary cannabis grower and audaciously outspoken activist Bailous Eugene Smith — universally known as B.E. — passed away at a hospital in Redding, California on Jan. 6, following complications from bypass surgery, according to family and friends. He was 72 years old.
Smith was born in Alabama, but came to California’s north country with his family while he was still a young boy. He did two tours of duty in Vietnam at the height of the war in the late ’60s, and came back to America suffering from PTSD. He initially turned to alcohol to cope, but soon “transitioned to pot,” in the words of his daughter-in-law, Rose Betchart Smith.
For a while, he worked as a tree-feller in the local timber industry. However, by the late ’70s, he became a real outlaw — joining a group of gold prospectors in the deep back-country of the remote and rugged Trinity Alps, living off the land in the wilderness. Although the U.S. Forest Service considered them trespassers, they claimed legitimacy under an 1872 mining law, which allows claim-staking on the public lands. The USFS admitted in 1982 that it had “lost control” of some 100,000 acres of Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
The outlaw miners were cleared out in a series of raids by Forest Service enforcement and National Guard troops in 1983 — a direct precursor to the militarized Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), which began immediately thereafter.
When I first interviewed Smith for High Times magazine in 1994, he told me he was sure that the elite anti-terrorist Delta Force was brought in for the raids, although the Pentagon would not confirm this. “Denny Canyon was a test run for the War on Drugs,” he told me, referring the gulch where the miners staked their claim.
By the early ’90s, Smith had settled in Denny, the unincorporated village on the edge of the canyon, where he switched from gold prospecting to growing cannabis — initially to treat his PTSD. But he also won a clientele, as his renown as a skilled cultivator grew. Smith boasted to me that one of his clients was Merle Haggard, the country music legend who lived in neighboring Shasta County.
In this time period, Smith began to emerge as a grassroots political voice. He developed a following among local growers, bikers and rednecks as a “constitutionalist” libertarian, asserting a right to grow cannabis — and drive without license or seat-belt — under his populist interpretations of English common law.
“The marijuana laws don’t apply to private citizens,” he told me. “If you don’t grow under contract to the federal government, the Marihuana Tax Act doesn’t apply to you.”
Smith only got bolder with the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996, making California the first state in the country to allow cultivation, sale and use of medical marijuana. The following year, he started growing openly — as the designated caregiver for some 30 patients around the state. One was Sister Somayah Kambui, a veteran Black Panther in Los Angeles who used cannabis to treat pain from sickle-cell anemia.
He grew 87 plants at the site, on the land of his neighbor and friend Martin Lederer, an elderly German immigrant. This number was chosen partially in sentimental reference to 1787, the year the U.S. Constitution was signed — but also to keep the number below 99, that at which the five-year federal mandatory minimum sentence kicks in. He said patients could expect to purchase 17 ounces of untrimmed bud for $500. Paperwork indicating that he was a designated caregiver under California law was prominently posted at the grow site, and he painted the roof of a nearby shed for helicopters to see with the words: “MEDICAL MARIJUANA, CALL TRINITY COUNTY SHERIFF.”
During the period he was taking this openly defiant stance, Smith won significant media attention, including a segment on the Discovery Channel’s “Weed Country” series.
However, on Sept. 24, 1997, U.S. marshals and Forest Service agents raided Smith’s grow. The marshals rode helicopters into Denny and seized Smith’s plants. In November of that year, a federal grand jury brought felony cultivation charges against Smith. Lederer also faced charges, and a forfeiture proceeding against his property.
When I spoke to Smith after the raid, he was typically intransigent. “You don’t have a crime if there’s no corpus delicti — the injured party,” he said. “Where’s the corpus delicti? There is none. The War on Drugs is a scam.”
Smith was defended in the Sacramento courtroom by the activist attorney Tom Ballanco, who is today a Trinity resident himself. Reached for comment at his off-the-grid homestead this week, Ballanco recalled the arguments his team made to the jury. “We claimed a medical necessity defense, first and foremost,” he says. “But we also argued that there was no federal jurisdiction, on states’ rights grounds. As an intra-state matter, it didn’t concern the federal government. The primacy of state law was one of B.E.’s pet theories.”
Ballanco emphasizes that the states’ rights argument would actually be vindicated years later in the 2011 Cole Memo, the Justice Department document instating a policy of non-interference in state-legal cannabis cultivation or sale (recently rescinded by the Trump administration).
Smith’s patients were brought in to testify, including Kambui, and a man who had lost his leg in a motorcycle accident and was dealing with “phantom pain.” But District Judge Garland E. Burrell barred any mention of medical marijuana in their testimony, on the grounds that it was not recognized by federal law. The patients could only serve as character witnesses. Ballanco also brought in the actor Woody Harrelson as a character witness.
Smith was convicted on May 21, 1999 and sentenced to serve 27 months in federal prison. Betchart Smith notes sadly that the sentence came down on Aug. 6 — which was the 33rd birthday of B.E. Smith, Jr., her husband and the defendant’s son.
Smith served his time at the federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon. Lederer pleaded guilty and got nine months, which he was able to serve locally. He was also able to keep his property.
After his release, Smith had to lay low for a few years, as he remained on probation. But he eventually returned to the political arena, in his trademark irreverent style. He repeatedly ran for sheriff of Trinity County — mostly as a protest candidate — and even threw his hat in the ring for governor of California in the 2003 gubernatorial recall election.
“I am proud to be his daughter-in-law, and proud of his accomplishments as a freedom fighter,” said Betchart Smith. “He taught me how to research law, speak up for the people, be a government watchdog and more.”
Betchart Smith says that in his final days, Smith had reflected on the current political polarization in the country, and his wish for a renewed sense of unity. “One thing he told me last month while in the hospital was that he just wanted ‘Americans to be Americans’,” she says.
TELL US, how do you fight for your right to cannabis?
Jeff Staker faced chronic pain after his service in the Persian Gulf in the 1990s.
His doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) relied on opioids to manage that pain. In a recent interview with Weedmaps News, Staker, an Indiana native, said he needed to continually increase his doses to get the same results.
Staker then heard of the potential benefits of cannabis for pain management, but his federal job would be put at risk over marijuana use, even for a medical reason. He was ready to try a different approach and retired from his federal job in 2018, after almost 34 years of service, and started using cannabis to manage his chronic pain.
“It was like getting my life back,” he said. Now 54, Staker said cannabis did not eliminate his pain but allowed him to control it.
Staker has become an advocate for legalization and founded Hoosier Veterans of Medical Cannabis. He’s joined a growing number of veterans and organizations advocating for cannabis’ promise in both pain management and in easing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms, two conditions a far larger percentage of veterans face than do other Americans. A National Institute of Health study found 65.6% of veterans report having pain. According to the VA, between 11% and 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans deal with PTSD every year, and 15% of Vietnam veterans were diagnosed with PTSD.
“Cannabis prohibition kills veterans,” said Eric Goepel, one of the founders of the Veterans Cannabis Coalition. “That may sound like a harsh way to put it, but it’s the way things are.”
Goepel believes that the VA relies on far more dangerous drugs, such as opioids and antidepressants, to address veterans’ health issues when cannabis could be a useful medicinal tool for veterans. But Goepel argues that the VA and the federal government have an institutional opposition to cannabis.
For now, she said, IAVA is pushing for more testing on the effects and effectiveness of marijuana as medicine.
“Once it’s shown to have real benefits, it would be very hard not to give it to veterans,” she said. Rodman spent eight years on active duty in the Marine Corps and remains in the reserves, which means she has never tried marijuana herself. But in speaking to other veterans and from what she’s seen, she believes it has real potential to help veterans. Regardless of the need for more studies, thousands of veterans and others are already using cannabis. They should have the facts.
As far as the VA is concerned, marijuana remains illegal by federal law, which binds its policy.
“Marijuana is illegal under federal law, and until federal law changes, VA is not able to prescribe it,” said Randall Noller, a VA spokesman.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs website, “The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is required to follow all federal laws including those regarding marijuana. As long as the Food and Drug Administration classifies marijuana as Schedule I, VA health care providers may not recommend it or assist veterans to obtain it.”
An American Legion survey found overwhelming support for medical cannabis among veteran households, with 92% of responders supporting medical cannabis research, while the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization supports further research as well. The VA says it may research marijuana’s benefits and risks. The IAVA is pushing legislation that would mandate that research take place.
But according to Noller, any research involving a Schedule I substance must also involve several other federal entities, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Health and Human Services, the National Institute of Health, the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the DEA.
Right now, limited research means there is little hard data on the benefits and potential harms of cannabis, while continued prohibition in many states and at the federal level may mean consequences for users, including veterans, that have nothing to do with its health effects.
For veterans who decide the benefits are worth the risks, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Veterans Cannot be Denied VA Benefits for Cannabis Use
“Veteran participation in state marijuana programs does not affect eligibility for VA care and services,” reads the department website. The VA encourages veterans to disclose marijuana use to their providers. The staff will note a patient’s self-disclosed marijuana use, the VA states.
“VA providers can and do discuss marijuana use with veterans as part of comprehensive care planning, and adjust treatment plans as necessary,” reads the VA’s statement.
Sources interviewed for this story said the reaction from doctors and other medical staff can vary greatly. In states where adult use is legal, most doctors are knowledgeable about cannabis and its effects. It should be noted that sources also said some areas where medical cannabis remains illegal, some veterans have reported a hostile reaction from doctors.
Cannabis Use Could Affect Veterans’ VA Treatment Plan
While benefits cannot be denied, treatment plans may, under VA rules. VA staff are not allowed to recommend cannabis for any reason but can consider its reported use as part of a treatment plan.
In some instances, that has led doctors to taper patients off other scheduled substances, including painkillers, or even cut off the supply. Some doctors have a positive response and are interested in understanding their patients’ cannabis use. That’s the best-case scenario, according to Goepel, but the treatment plan is entirely the discretion of the doctor.
Changes are not supposed to be punitive, Goepel stated. But in some instances, he said, staff that is particularly hostile to its use see it as a sign of addictive behavior and restrict access to other drugs.
“We do not want to recommend that veterans are not honest with their health care providers. Unfortunately, there are going to be situations where we would advise veterans to use their best judgment,” Rodman said. Rodman suggests veterans who have a concern about their provider ask for someone different, someone they feel they can trust.
“You need to have a good relationship with your provider,” she said. “I have found that most people that are in the VA system get great care and don’t have complaints.”
Veterans Cannot Possess Cannabis on VA property. Even in the Legal States.
Regardless of whether veterans are in a state with laws that make cannabis use legal, they cannot bring it to any VA property. According to the VA website, the “use or possession of marijuana is prohibited at all VA medical centers, locations, and grounds. When you are on VA grounds it is federal law that is in force, not the laws of the state.” This makes it difficult for veterans who decide to use cannabis medicinally to discuss with VA physicians without putting themselves at risk of being punished by federal law.
“If you’re on federal property with marijuana, you’re in violation of the law,” Goepel said. That’s true in adult-use states like Colorado and California. “It’s obviously a huge pitfall for some veterans.”
The VA will not Recommend Cannabis. Or Help Pay for it.
In states where marijuana is legal for medical use, the high cost can become a big obstacle. In New Jersey, for instance, access to the medical marijuana program requires a recommendation from a doctor, and cannabis itself is relatively expensive.
For veterans who rely on VA doctors and prescription coverage, those costs may be out of reach, even if there is evidence that cannabis may be more helpful than the medicines currently covered.
“VA clinicians may not complete paperwork/forms required for veteran patients to participate in state-approved marijuana programs,” reads the VA website. “VA pharmacies may not fill prescriptions for medical marijuana. VA will not pay for medical marijuana prescriptions from any source.”
Sources interviewed for this story mentioned that a disproportionate number of veterans hold jobs that involve regular drug screening, with the federal government or with law enforcement. The VA states that its employees are subject to regular drug testing under their terms of employment.
Even those following all of the rules of their state’s medical cannabis program can be fired or disciplined. There are other risks, Goepel said. A job in the cannabis industry, even at state-licensed operations, can disqualify veterans for VA home loans, and firearms permits.
These headlines are brought to you by our new weekly podcast Weed Wonks, hosted by our friends Jordan Wellington and Andrew Livingston, who dive into different wonky topics in legal marijuana legislation, regulation, and lobbying. You can listen and subscribe to the Weed Wonks at WeedWonks.com.
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• Marijuana Today— Our flagship title, a weekly podcast examining the world of marijuana business and activism with some of the smartest people in the industry and movement.
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Check out our other projects:
• Marijuana Today— Our flagship title, a weekly podcast examining the world of marijuana business and activism with some of the smartest people in the industry and movement.
• Marijuana Media Connect— A service that connects industry insiders in the legal marijuana industry with journalists, bloggers, and writers in need of expert sources for their stories.
A plate dropped at the restaurant where Kristina, a combat vet of 14 years, worked. She dove under a table. “It was around the 4th of July—that’s when the fireworks happen, which is a very stressful time for me,” she says. The national holiday is difficult for many vets, as fireworks can sound like a war zone. A younger male coworker wasn’t doing his job and ignored Kristina’s requests to pick up the slack. “I asked him repeatedly to do it, and then I lost it and almost went for the kid’s neck,” she recalls. Thankfully, a friend was present to bring her out of the flashback and into the present. “She nudged me with her elbow, and I was like, ‘Whoa, what just happened?’ I went to the VA the next day, and I haven’t been back to work since.”
While Kristina (whose last name is being withheld for legal protection) has been out of the military since 2008, it was only six months ago when she realized she was suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. “PTSD is a huge problem regardless of the source, and we’re only starting to grapple with the implications as a society. Nowhere is going to be as difficult as the military,” says Harvard-trained holistic care and cannabis-therapeutics specialist Dr. Jordan Tishler.
Kristina is also a military sexual-trauma survivor. When asked if she was assaulted while in the service, she responds: “Yes, ma’am. Numerous times in numerous ways in numerous countries by numerous people.” According to a report released by the Pentagon, sexual assaults across the US military increased by nearly 38 percent in 2018. The Pentagon also estimated that 20,500 service members across the military branches, about 13,000 women and 7,500 men, were assaulted in 2018, according to an anonymous survey. A quick internet search provides an array of articles and research on combat violence, PTSD and cannabis, but the same is not true for sexual violence within the military. Despite the lack of acknowledgment, vets who survived both combat trauma and military sexual trauma (MST) may have particularly intense PTSD. “There is a greater persistence of the PTSD symptoms when both have been experienced,” says clinical psychologist and sexologist Dr. Denise Renye.
There is a void in what should be a plethora of discussions given how common MST is. According to a study looking into sexual harassment and assault of female US military personnel in the Persian Gulf War, sexual assault had a more significant impact on PTSD than combat exposure. “The sexual trauma was worse than anything they experienced combat-wise,” says somatic psychologist and sex therapist Holly Richmond when asked about her veteran clients. “Combat violence gets more attention because it’s seen as a valiant act,” says Alandria Hatcher, a US Army veteran who served from 1998 to 2009. She adds that despite the #MeToo movement, it’s no surprise that MST stats are going up. “I think, unfortunately, that in the era of #MeToo, because the military is such a good old boys club, they kind of poke fun at it,” Hatcher adds.
Ten years ago, the VA diagnosed Kristina with anxiety and “a little bit” of PTSD, so she assumed the incidents at work were anxiety-related. “I didn’t think it was as bad as it was until it got worse. PTSD is so unpredictable,” Kristina explains. Because she was on pharmaceuticals and in recovery from alcohol, she never considered cannabis as a viable treatment option. Then her son stepped in. While she was visiting him in California, he offered her a piece of infused white chocolate to help her sleep after he saw the large amount of benzodiazepines she was taking. Kristina was hesitant, but her son assured her he would take care of her. “I took the candy,” Kristina says. “I slept like a stinking baby and better than I had in years. The next day I called my husband, and I said, ‘Honey, how do you feel about me bringing home some butter?’ We made a whole bunch of butter at my son’s, and I took some plants home.” Kristina’s friends and family welcomed her new medicine when they saw how much it helped her.
Kristina has been making her own cannabis medicine ever since (and hasn’t had a drink). She also weaned herself off the pills. Of course, there is no shame in taking pharmaceuticals to help treat mental-health problems. Plenty of medical-cannabis users do. As Dr. Tishler notes, “I have some qualms over ‘I’ve got to get off this medicine’… It undermines the validity of that medicine for people who truly need it.”
Some vets, such as Kristina, say using cannabis dramatically improved their health. “Without cannabis, it’s just so hard to be me,” Kristina says. She is not the only MST survivor who finds that cannabis improves their quality of life. “They wanted me on a ton of pills, and that’s great, but I like to be able to function. I learned about CBD and that certain strains didn’t give you a high but helped calm the parts of your brain that get overactive with stressors,” Hatcher says. “I found cannabis a lot more effective than anything else,” agrees fellow veteran Lauren Hough. Previously, she tried an array of antidepressants but ultimately found the side effects were not worth the benefits.
Hough joined the military right after high school in 1996 and served for five years. She was raped by an acquaintance while at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA, which she attended after basic training. She was hanging out and drinking with friends on the beach. “I was drunk and going back to the dorms because I just wanted to go to bed. I started walking up the hill, and he walked with me, and he ended up raping me,” Hough says.
After the rape, Hough returned to her dorm and was reported for being drunk by the dorm guard who signed her in. “My eyes were bloodshot and I had leaves in my hair. Those things were not because I was drunk. He reported me, and I got called to the student leader’s office on Monday,” she recalls. During the meeting, she told the student leader what happened. The student leader told Hough not to say anything because if she reported the rape, she’d also need to report the drinking, which would not only get Hough in trouble, but also every friend she was drinking with. “She said, ‘This is the worst thing I’m ever going to tell you, but you will get in trouble and he won’t,”’ Hough recalls. “It sounds strange to say to civilians, but she did this out of concern for me. She was like, ‘I’ve seen what will happen, I know what will happen, and you will lose your security clearance. You will lose rank. Your career is over if you report him.’” The student leader added that Hough was free to go ahead and report it, and she would back her up if she did, but Hough needed to understand the consequences fully. “I would have lost everything. So I didn’t,” she says.
The latest data from the Pentagon shows that about one in three MST survivors reports their assault. Civilian survivors face humiliation, cruel legal systems and re-traumatization when reporting rape too, but the military is its own beast. “We’re stationed places with [our assaulter]. We cannot quit our jobs, and we cannot walk away. You have to work with those people every day,” Kristina says. “Most of the time, you’re somewhere that is away from your home. It could jeopardize your career and make things a lot worse. So nobody says anything. I didn’t say anything.”
“If you report, your career is done,” Hatcher says. “The investigation is going to humiliate you and make you feel like you deserved it.” Someone Hatcher thought was a friend assaulted her while she was stationed in Germany in 2000. She was assaulted again, by a chief warrant officer who had significant rank over her, during her deployment to Afghanistan in 2007. “Your career is effectively over because you’re admitting [to breaking] General Order No. 1,” Hatcher says. “Even though it was a violation, your career is done.” General Order No. 1 lists prohibited activities for military personnel such as drinking alcohol and sexual relationships, and it’s a common obstacle for MST survivors who do choose to report. LGBTQ soldiers such as Hatcher and Hough who served during the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” era also had to hide their assault in addition to hiding their identity. “It was a very difficult time, because you were proud to serve your country, but I had to hide who I was. I couldn’t serve my country as myself. I served my country under a facade to be what they expected of me,” Hatcher says. She adds that work still needs to be done to protect LGBTQ service members and people of color. “The commercials like to pretend that the army is this big inclusive place, but racism and sexism are still incredibly prevalent.”
Despite their trauma, the veterans interviewed share fond memories of the military. “Nobody tells you to smile; you don’t have to worry about what you’re going to wear that day. It’s the happiest place for lesbians until they find out you’re a lesbian,” Hough says. Kristina recently completed a five-month program run by the VA for military sexual-assault survivors. “Everybody gives the VA this bad rap. I want to be the one who tells you that the VA has always given me excellent health care. The only thing that I can say is that the VA, which is a government entity, needs to be able to work with me in my choice in how I want to medicate so that I can recover from the things that have happened to me,” Kristina says. “I don’t get that choice because [cannabis] is still considered a Schedule I drug. I told my doctor that I was going off all my medication. In fact, she told me how to do it. I told her I was using herbal supplements instead of medication. I didn’t say specifically that I was using cannabis. I wish I could tell her.” Until the federal government takes action, vets must continue to seek their cannabis elsewhere. “Marijuana is illegal under federal law, and until federal law changes, [the] VA is not able to prescribe it,” Susan Carter, director of the office of media relations at the Department of Veterans Affairs, told High Times when asked about vets using cannabis as part of their treatment.
Hatcher now works as a clinical data analyst in a legal state, and she uses health insurance separate from the VA so she doesn’t have to worry about her cannabis use affecting her access to health care. Hough told her VA doctor about her cannabis use, and while he admitted that it probably does help treat PTSD, he can’t prescribe it.
While there are studies that suggest cannabis helps treat PTSD—and PTSD is even a qualifying condition for medical marijuana in many states—more research is needed to understand exactly how and why it helps. “The restrictions contained in federal law are clear. Some research is allowed, but must be done in conjunction with the aforementioned federal entities,” Carter explains. “If Congress wants to facilitate more federal research into Schedule I controlled substances such as marijuana, it can always choose to eliminate these restrictions.” Nonetheless, it is evident that there are legions of military sexual-trauma survivors who successfully use cannabis to treat their condition, even when it means putting their disability payments or access to medical care on the line.
“You have to literally put your life in the hands of somebody who thinks that you’re not valuable,” Hatcher says of women serving alongside their rapist. While all sexual assault is horrifying, the breach of trust and respect—principles the military is supposedly built upon—that occurs is immensely dehumanizing. Once MST survivors leave the service, which is often an extremely difficult lifestyle transition, they go on to do whatever it takes to get that missing piece back in the civilian world. “There’s a very deep sense of betrayal. When I joined, I believed the movies and the books that I read that this would be the finest brotherhood, and everybody would be accepted, and you’d have a common purpose,” Hough says. “To be raped by someone in the same uniform takes away from what you believed in it.”
Charlotte’s Web is a cannabidiol (CBD) forward strain that was developed for the purpose of alleviating a young girl’s epilepsy. CBD strains have also been known to relieve anxiety and depression, but only for certain people. Perhaps only benefiting half of a crucial system is the reason. This system helps to regulate your eat, sleep, […]