Coping with Cannabis: A Soldier’s Experience with PTSD

“One of the difficulties with post-traumatic stress disorder is that the readiness or need for treatment may emerge years after the trauma. Therefore, veterans and their families need long-term treatment options and long-term access to treatment, even if symptoms are not present at their time of discharge.” -William H. Braun, from Veteran’s for Medical Marijuana

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) wreaks misery on soldiers and families. Military training, combat experience and traumatic events like sexual abuse often radically change cognitive functioning. Unable to process peacetime situations without infusing combat conditioned responses, PTSD sufferers live chaotic, often isolated lives. Approximately 6500 veterans and 349 active service members committed suicide in 2012. The United States Veterans’ Administration (VA) is tasked with providing medical care for all honorably discharged veterans. This includes some psychological care.

A veteran with PTSD faces life and career altering choices. The VA does not dissuade this notion, advising on their website. “You may think that avoiding your PTSD is critical to keeping your job. But if your PTSD symptoms are getting in the way of doing your duties, it is better to deal with them before they hurt your military career. Getting help for PTSD is problem solving.”

The VA outlines several treatments, “cognitive processing, prolonged exposure treatment, mindfulness practice” to name a few, but provides more extensive information for psychiatrists prescribing Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), antidepressants and other prescription drugs. “The only two FDA approved medications for the treatment of PTSD are sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil). All other medication uses are off label, though there are differing levels of evidence supporting their use…” In a series of videos linked to the site, Psychiatrist Matthew J. Friedman of the VA National Center for PTSD explains that his patients “usually use these medications indefinitely.”

“David” is a former Army Corporal 1st Cavalry who served two terms in Iraq as a chaplain’s assistant in a 900 troop infantry unit. He started suffering from night terrors during basic training after performing sleep deprivation exercises. “I’m dead asleep, having a nightmare. They call me back. I try to explain to them that my time is done. Then I’m in Iraq and it’s hitting the fan and I can’t find my weapon! I don’t remember the rest, but if someone comes into my room or makes the slightest noise, I jump up in the fighting position, screaming, cursing, telling them that I am going to rip them in half. I’ve punched people, thrown stuff. My brother has kicked my ass my entire life, whenever it happens he’s terrified.”

Before enlisting, David was a teetotaling Protestant and devout believer in “George Bush, the War in Iraq, all of it.” Responsible for protecting unarmed rabbis, priests, imams and monks as they performed their duties, he screened soldiers seeking spiritual advice to make sure they weren’t a threat. “They told me all the stories, so I know how every one of their buddies died in detail. Then I would prepare their memorial services.” With the clergy’s help, David implemented a system to make sure those close to a fallen comrade didn’t sleep where they could see their friend’s empty bunk, a common trigger for night terrors. Many soldiers were simply “too far gone,” and referred to psychiatrists.

“More often than not, that’s the route that ends up happening. These people cannot handle it. They were not right for the situation. They thought they wanted to kill people without having any idea what that means. And then the reality bomb hit them so hard that they just couldn’t recover from it.”

For David, healing from the trauma of seeing friends grotesquely killed, sexual harassment from a senior officer, a broken engagement during his first tour, and the shock that George Bush was “just a spokesman for the oil industry” was found primarily through frequent sessions “talking for hours with a Rabbinical scholar while smoking joints.” After a few months processing the theological, political and personal ramifications of the war this way, he realized his night terrors were becoming less frequent. “I wasn’t smoking every night, so I didn’t see a correlation that it was stopping the night terrors.”

Four years back in the US and still waking violently to the slightest sound, David “just couldn’t take it anymore” and sought help from the VA. He told a physician’s assistant that he suspected marijuana might be helping, but worried about side effects. “All the research I had done said it was safe. The guy was very casual, but he recommended that I stop using it because they had stuff that would do the trick.”

The assistant prescribed diphenhydramine (Benadryl), an allergy and sleep aid, and “some blood pressure pills to make my heart slow down and stop the nightmares.” The treatment didn’t stop the problem and left him groggy and dysfunctional in the morning. “Benadryl hazes you, whereas weed, especially Sativa, makes me think clearer.”

David worries that he might “start liking marijuana too much and abuse it,” but prefers to take that risk over a lifetime experimenting with prescription medications. “I don’t subscribe to that way of thinking. I am completely 100 percent sure that marijuana cured my night terrors. My brain operates at a higher level than normal about my surroundings and I think about things in a much more peaceful way. My roommates can walk into my room now when I’m asleep and I’m like, “Hey, Dude.”

Years of persistent lobbying by the advocacy group Veterans for Medical Marijuana goaded the US Veteran’s Administration to clarify its stance in a January 2011 memo. “VHA policy does not administratively prohibit Veterans who participate in state marijuana programs from also participating in clinical programs where the use of marijuana may be considered inconsistent with treatment goals. Patients participating in state marijuana programs must not be denied VHA services. If a patient reports participation in a state marijuana program to a member of the clinical staff, that information is entered into the ‘non-VA medication section’ of the patient’s electronic medical record.”

Currently, the medical establishment waits to see if specific molecules can be isolated from cannabis and used to treat specific symptoms. With new strains bred daily across a multi-billion dollar global industry, testing with scientific certainty is an elusive goal. Several small studies are currently being funded and undertaken by federal and private researchers. For veterans and those close to them experiencing PTSD, research into treatment opportunities is crucial to finding a path to recovery.

Experimenting with treatment for mental disorders is extremely dangerous. Cannabis Now does not advocate or repudiate any particular course of treatment, but all available studies have shown that talking to friends, loved ones and professionals about PTSD triggers is vital to recovery. Veterans for Medical Marijuana urges those seeking treatment to, “Be assertive, every veteran deserves any, and all, medical and/or psychological help.”

Looking for more resources?

United States Department of Veteran’s Affairs National Center for PTSD
Veterans for Medical Marijuana Access
Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies Medical Marijuana Research Page
PTSD Forum – Chat rooms, information, videos and music
American Academy of Cannabinoid Medicine

This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.

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Cannabis Drug Testing Partial Cause for U.S. Truck Driver Shortage

The American Trucking Association released a statement in October 2021, citing retiring driving veterans and lower wages as the partial cause for the shortage of more than 80,000 drivers. However, another cause for this shortage is being attributed to adult-use legalization and drivers testing positive for cannabis.

A March 2022 U.S. Department of Transportation summary report states that as of April 1, 2022, 10,276 commercial truck drivers tested positive for THC. (Although this is a significant decrease in numbers, compared to 31,085 violations in 2021 and 29,511 violations in 2020.) Cannabis leads the data as the highest positive drug tests for drivers, but this also includes data about drivers who test positive for cocaine, methamphetamine, oxymorphone and more.

The situation is especially difficult for drivers who consume because many of them travel through multiple states with varying approaches to legalization.

According to an article on Stacker, the Department of Transportation (DOT) Handbook: A Compliance for Guide Truck Drivers confirms that cannabis is still federally illegal. “While states may allow medical use of marijuana, federal laws and policy do not recognize any legitimate medical use of marijuana. Even if a state allows the use of marijuana, DOT regulations treat its use as the same as the use of any other illicit drug.”

The DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) increased drug testing rates from 25% to 50% two years ago. “The new minimum annual percentage rate for random drug testing will be effective January 1, 2020. This change reflects the increased positive test rate and will result in an estimated $50 to $70 million increase in costs to the industry by requiring that more drivers be tested.” However, it also notes that random alcohol testing remained at 10%.

The FMCSA also states that medical cannabis is also not allowed with any noted exceptions. “Under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs), a person is not physically qualified to drive a CMV if he or she uses any Schedule I controlled substance such as marijuana,” it states. “Accordingly, a driver may not use marijuana even if is recommended by a licensed medical practitioner.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines five risk factors of being a truck long-haul truck driver, including obesity, smoking, low physical activity, high blood pressure and diabetes. Some of these common workplace conditions have been known to be treated with medical cannabis. In one study from December 2015, medical cannabis helped prevent obesity in mice. Some studies identified how cannabis can actually help treat nicotine addiction. Even a study from this past February showed evidence of how cannabis can help lower blood pressure in those who suffer from hypertension.

An April White House Fact Sheet states that trucking accounts for 72% of products delivered in the U.S., with a plan to assist and help expand trucking job opportunities. “Trucking costs grew more than 20 percent last year as a surge in demand for goods caused by the pandemic confronted a decline in trucking employment that preceded the pandemic,” the Fact Sheet states. “The low supply of drivers is driven by high turnover and low job quality. Turnover in trucking routinely averages 90 percent for some carriers and drivers spend about 40 percent of their workday waiting to load and unload goods—hours that are typically unpaid.”

While the White House’s focus on bettering the work lives of truckers across the country is a step in the right direction, there is a need to alter regulations to allow truckers to use cannabis. One of the efforts includes connecting veterans with trucking jobs, however, with the current state of military veterans seeking access to medical cannabis to treat conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, it would create another hurdle for them to overcome.

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American Steel

Before you ask, the answer is “yes.”

Cullen Raichart is aware his company’s name—GreenBroz—doesn’t sound particularly professional, and he’s entertained the idea of changing it plenty of times over the course of the brand’s decade-long existence. But instead of calling themselves Green Logistics Solutions Inc. or another combo of ambiguous, stuffy names, the CEO says he and his team of five engineers let their products speak for themselves.

The GreenBroz Rise-N-Sort system can process 360 pounds of cannabis per hour.

“So much of this business is word of mouth,” says the 53-year-old Las Vegas-based entrepreneur. “We’re in 39 countries and are well-established in both the US and Canada; so, I’d say we’ve done pretty well so far.”

“Pretty well” is an understatement, considering the company’s modest beginnings. Founded in Raichart’s hometown of San Diego in 2012, GreenBroz started as a grow house operation in his garage with a few friends, hence the casual-sounding name. But nobody’s questioning the corporate moniker now. The company operates a 50,000 square-foot warehouse in the northeast Vegas Valley next to the famed speedway that holds multiple NASCAR events each year.

The speedway is an appropriate neighbor considering how fast the company is expanding. According to Raichart, his business currently has 50 employees working across the country and made more than $14 million last year. He says his company has grown at least 20 percent every year since he left the duty-heavy California for Nevada back in 2019, a tax-friendly new home compared to its expensive neighboring state.

GreenBroz’ exponential growth is impressive even by industry standards, especially because the business hasn’t sold out to one of the mega-corporations known for swiping up dispensaries and cannabis firms by the dozens in recent years. And the man in charge says it’s all thanks to a unique technology that he’s fought tooth-and-nail to patent. 

The blades in action.

Some context is important here. Blades in popular commercial trimming machines usually take one of two shapes: octagon or square. Which means many cannabis buds end up crunched into the shape of a golf ball or a pinecone. In 2012, Raichart realized that the industry needed a more efficient and accurate trimmer than what was already widely available. More states were legalizing weed, and the industry standards of hand-trimming and subpar machine trimmers wouldn’t be enough to keep up with demand.

So, he gave up growing (“I wasn’t really good at it anyway”) and spent six months researching and developing his first prototype. Before long, the GreenBroz Alchemist was born. Featuring a pair of nonconcentric arc-shaped blades made from US steel, the Alchemist used almost entirely domestic-made components. Raichart secured a patent for the product, and business took off from there.

Kevin Bower joined the brand’s team as a mechanical engineer in 2016 and has played an integral part in improving the Alchemist into the company’s current portfolio of five combined trimmers and trichome extractors. Besides their accuracy, the machines are known to move among the fastest of any available trimmers in the industry—cutting anywhere from 50 to 100 pounds of buds per hour. By means of comparison, it’d take dozens of people to hand-trim the same quantity in an hour.

“It’s really cool just being on the cutting edge of the industry,” Bower says. “We’re literally changing the way cannabis companies operate. If we create a machine a certain way, we’re basically going to dictate how that process is done. That’s what I like about it the most.”

Raichart spent five years in the US Navy serving as an avionics technician in the early 1990s. A self-admitted “bad student” in high school, he called the structure and discipline he learned during his time in the military “invaluable.” When hiring, he says he looks for people with military experience because he feels he can count on them. That trust is especially important in a heavily regulated industry such as cannabis where even the smallest procedural and technical errors can carry huge consequences.

At just 28 years old, Bower, who isn’t a military veteran, is the most senior mechanical engineer on the company’s team. He joined the staff in 2016, just weeks after receiving a degree at the University of California, Davis. For his part, Bower describes his job as empowering, thanks to the incredible responsibility and influence he’s been given, in spite of his young age. And working in GreenBroz’ laid back business environment has allowed the engineer to develop revolutionary new products and ideas, his boss says. 

GreenBroz engineer Kevin Bower welding machinery.

Beyond his hiring practices, Raichart takes pride in supporting US businesses. He buys all of his steel, plastic and aluminum domestically, and said his machines are made with 96% US materials. “I buy everything I possibly can from here,” he says. “The only things we get from abroad are some electronics from Taiwan, and a motor that’s sourced from Japan. If there’s anything we want people to know about GreenBroz, it’s that we’re an American company first.”

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Veterans with brain injury use more cannabis, VA study ignores ECS

A new study conducted by The Association of Military Surgeons of the United States looked at cannabis use amongst veterans. The researchers found that veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI) use cannabis far more often. In conclusion, the study questioned the reason and also noted the option for non-cannabis treatments, disregarding the endocannabinoids system (ECS). […]

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House Approves Bill Authorizing Cannabis Research for Veterans

A key congressional committee last week approved a bill that would authorize federal research into the therapeutic applications of cannabis for military veterans. Under the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) would be required to conduct clinical trials into the potential of cannabis as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain among the nation’s veterans.

The bill was approved by the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Nov. 4 by vote of 18 to 11, receiving support from all the panel’s Democratic members as well as one Republican. The committee approved previous versions of the bill last year and in 2018, but the legislation has yet to be passed by the full Congress and signed into law.

“Our veterans are no strangers to confronting challenges, and that’s why Congress needs to explore alternative treatment options,” Rep. Lou Correa, a California Democrat and sponsor of the bill, told Marijuana Moment. “The VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2021 meets veterans where they already are and opens a new door for federal policy that supports treatment options preferred by veterans.”

“How can we not try to gather the vast resources of Congress and the federal government to explore alternative treatment options like cannabis when veterans themselves are telling us that’s what they need,” Correa added. “To not support this legislation would be to defer once again of our obligation to care for those who have sacrificed so much to help protect our nation.”

The VA has acknowledged that PTSD and trauma experienced on the battlefield can contribute to a higher rate of suicidal ideation. Anecdotal evidence shows that cannabis can help ease the symptoms of PTSD, but clinical evidence has so far been inconclusive. In addition, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has advised Congress that there is “substantial evidence” that cannabis has medicinal value as a treatment for chronic pain and urged lawmakers to fund research into the potential risks and benefits of medical marijuana.

Officials with the VA opposed the legislation at last week’s hearing, citing difficulties conducting research under the terms of the bill. But committee chair Rep. Mark Takano, a Democrat from California, said the agency has so far failed to take meaningful action without direction from Congress.

“We simply must equip VA and its healthcare providers with scientific guidance about the potential impacts, benefits and/or dangers of cannabis used to treat chronic pain and PTSD,” Takano said ahead of the vote. “The VA tells us that it is monitoring smaller research projects on cannabis outside VA. This really is not sufficient.”

Many Veterans Turn to Cannabis for Relief

With scientific data lacking, many veterans affected by the continuing challenges of military service self-medicate with cannabis to help ease conditions including chronic pain, insomnia, and PTSD. But so far, the VA has resisted calls from veterans and their advocates to investigate the therapeutic potential of cannabis. Perhaps even worse, many veterans who have turned to medical cannabis have had prescription medications withheld by their VA physicians.

“The very populations who have the greatest need are often the ones who are the most understudied,” Staci Gruber, director of the Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery program at McLean Hospital and an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, told Politico.

Andy Meiars, a founder of the Battle Brothers Foundation (BBF), tells Cannabis Now that the nonprofit organization is helping to fund cannabis research in partnership with the California licensed, veteran-owned brand Helmand Valley Growers Company, which donates 100% of all profits to support studies investigating the therapeutic possibilities of cannabis for veterans. Working with medical research and data company NiaMedic, BBF is funding a study that will determine if cannabis treatment can be beneficial in reducing symptoms in patients with treatment-resistant post-traumatic stress, with the University of California Irvine signed on as the participating research center.

Together, Helmand Valley Growers Company and BBF are committed to getting cannabis recognized as a legitimate medicine by the VA healthcare system. So far, the company has donated $60,000 to the cause, with plans to triple its contribution by the end of the year. Meiars says that the research team will soon be enrolling veterans for the study and sees Veterans Day as a fitting opportunity to explain the importance of access to cannabis for veterans.

“You’ve asked us vets to risk our lives in defense of our country. Many of our peers came back missing pieces of their minds and with broken bodies. Cannabis is a special plant, a real alternative to opioids that can make a difference healing veterans,” he wrote in an email. “We’re trying to make it possible for them to have access not only to cannabis, but for the better quality of life that they fought for. Sleep, a day without pain, everyone deserves that, especially veterans.”

Despite last week’s approval by the House Veterans Affairs Committee, before becoming law the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act must still be passed by the full House and Senate and gain the approval of President Joe Biden, whose administration has expressed opposition to the legislation.

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Veterans Speak Out for State Medical Marijuana Programs

Amid a national crisis of suicides and opioid abuse by those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, more and more veterans are turning to cannabis for a more benign form of relief—and demanding legal recognition of their right to do so.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) largely remains intransigent on allowing access to cannabis. There have been efforts on Capitol Hill to address the dilemma. The most recent is the VA Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2021, which would at least mandate that the VA study use of cannabis as a treatment for chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other ailments that disproportionately pose challenges for veterans. It was approved on Nov. 5 by the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. But the VA itself continues to oppose the measure.

The first crack in the VA’s anti-cannabis dogma came in December 2017, when the Department issued Directive 1315. This states: “Veterans will not be denied VA benefits because of marijuana use.” Yet veterans are still being punished for cannabis use, denied benefits through loopholes in the Directive.

The most significant of these is that it only applies to veterans who are actually enrolled in state medical marijuana programs. So veterans not living in one of those 36 states that have established such programs still risk a cutoff of benefits if they use cannabis—even if for the exact same reasons as their card-holding brethren.

Not surprisingly, then, vets are getting vocal in support of pending state medical marijuana measures.

Retired Marine Calls for Medical Program in Tar Heel State 

In North Carolina, one of those remaining 14 hold-out states, Senate Bill 711, or the Compassionate Care Act, would legalize medical marijuana for patients with chronic illnesses. Retired US Marine Corps Sgt. George J. Papastrat in the town of Jacksonville is among those speaking out for its passage. 

Papastrat admits he was a reluctant believer in the medicinal value of cannabis. “You know…in 15 years in the Marine Corps, the thought really never even crossed my mindthat would necessarily be an option. Until, you know, the pain got real,” he told local WNCT last month.

Papastrat medically retired from the Marine Corps in 2016, suffering from back issues that led him to get a lumbar fusion. He told WNCT he had to take opioids for his pain just to be able to function.  

“I was taking opioids on active duty. And then for about three or four years after the fusion, I was taking opioid pain relievers, and that was just to make it so I could stand up, sit down…daily tasks with my children,” Papastrat said.

Papastrat is originally from New York, which has had a limited medical marijuana program since 2014, he it was there that he decided to try cannabis—and found that it worked for him. Since moving to North Carolina, he’s been in a state with no such program. So he’s been reaching out to lawmakers with his story.  

“We’re not talking about letting people run around and do drugs,” he assured WNCT. “I’m a local business owner veteran that stayed here and supports my community. And I’m just asking for a fair shake of something other than an opioid.”

The NC Compassionate Care Act would allow use of cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation for conditions such as cancer, epilepsy and PTSD. It would create a new body within the state Department of Health & Human Services empowered issue 10 licenses to companies that could operate up to four dispensaries each. It has already made it through several committees in the state house, but is not expected to go to a floor vote until 2022.

Iraq Experience Follows Vet Home to Texas

The voices of veterans played a role in the recent passage of a law expanding the existing but heretofore harshly limited medical program in Texas.

David Bass, a Desert Storm veteran living in the central Texas town of Killeen, Texas, credits cannabis as critical to his ongoing recovery from PTSD. He served 25 years in the Army and was did a tour of duty in Iraq starting in 2004. 

“It was heavy fighting the entire time that the First Cavalry Division was deployed to Iraq. We took some serious casualties,” he recalled to Spectrum News last month, adding that he got through it by focusing on his dream of a making good life back home in Texas. “This is what I dreamed about in Iraq: a place where I could just relax safely, everything’s quiet and peaceful and I don’t have to worry about a rocket falling out of the sky.”

But for those who have survived combat, the simple life is often not so simple. Even back in the safety of Texas, he was having nightmares, outbursts of anger, and vivid flashbacks—the classic symptoms of PTSD. He sought medical treatment—but found that it actually ended up doing more harm. 

“It’s ironic that a side effect of some psychotropic pills is suicidal ideation, and they’re supposed to be helping post-traumatic stress disorder,” Bass said.

Spectrum News reports that Bass became aware of cannabis as an alternative treatment after searching online and finding a community of vets going back to the Vietnam War who have been using the herb to treat PTSD.

“The choice was cannabis or the pill, and we chose cannabis,” he said, stressing that he chose to do so reluctantly, as this was before Texas passed its limited medical marijuana law in 2015. Since then, he’s been pushing for expansion of that program, by sharing his story with lawmakers. 
These efforts paid off on June 16 of this year, when Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 1535, which adds PTSD to the list of ailments covered by the Texas Compassionate Use Program (TCUP). The measure also raises the cap on THC from 0.5 to one percent. Until now, the TCUP had been a “CBD-only” program. Raising the THC cap to 1% brings it just barely into the range of a psychoactive effect. 

The new law took effect on Sept. 1. But Bass emphasized to Spectrum News that he remains hopeful further expansion of the program is on the way.

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James Brobyn: Purple Heart Veteran Turned CBD Oil CEO

James Brobyn, the founder/CEO of Delaware-based CBD oil company Ambassador CBD, is taking the market by storm with something highly desirable: pure CBD oil imported from Jamaica and Colombia.

After getting his Bachelor of Science from the United States Naval Academy and Master of Science from the University of Pennsylvania in NGO and nonprofit leadership, James Brobyn went on to the United States Marine Corps with multiple combat deployments. 

Courtesy of James Brobyn

Brobyn received a Purple Heart after being wounded in combat and was a former Top Secret/SCI security manager. He is also the former executive director of the Travis Manion Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering veterans and families of fallen heroes. 

James went on to become the co-founder of CauseEngine, a company that provides on-demand capacity building for the modern nonprofit. 

Founder/CEO James Brobyn used his triumphant and tough life experiences to create something highly sought after among veterans and civilians alike: cost-efficient, imported, pure CBD oil. 

Having realized just how many veterans were using cannabis and CBD oil as alternatives to pharmaceuticals, Brobyn also noticed the difficulties that came along with it: frustrated customers who didn’t have access to clean, pharmaceutical-grade, organic cannabidiol products. 

After searching for the best place to import product from, he ultimately landed in the climate-rich regions of Jamaica and Colombia. Brobyn has been in the cannabis industry since 2016, but founded Ambassador CBD in 2018. 

Ambassador CBD headquarters are in Wilmington, Delaware, with operations in Michigan, Delaware, Missouri, and, of course, imported CBD. Ambassador supplies ingredients to manufacturers looking to infuse products with premium CBD, and offers their premium products to consumers online.

Giving Back

Ambassador has recently launched the Valor Craft product line with proceeds supporting non-profit, Sierra Delta. Founded by a wounded Veteran, Sierra Delta program provides dogs/Life Buddies to all veterans, not just those with disabilities. Their mission is to work with veterans to empower themselves through the love of dogs.

What’s Next

CMO Chris Geisert hopes to help remove the stigma associated with cannabis and cannabis related-products, working diligently to bring both more mainstream.

Although there is a lot of misinformation in the market, Ambassador CBD is working hard to educate consumers on how to compare CBD products and find the best one for each person.

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VA Still Punishes Veterans for Using Medical Cannabis

One of the reasons John Penley moved out to Nevada from his native North Carolina last year was for the legal cannabis, which he uses to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to his military service in the 1970s. 

He didn’t anticipate that his use of state-legal cannabis could result in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) cutting off the pain killers that he also needs.

“Here I don’t have to worry about getting arrested for using medical marijuana,” Penley tells Cannabis Now, “but it could cause me to lose all my veterans’ benefits.” 

Pain Killers Cut for Medical Cannabis Use

Penley’s chronic back pain started to come on about 10 years ago, and it continues to get worse. He’s been diagnosed with spinal stenosis which the VA designates as a “nonservice-connected disability.” The agency has been sending him a codeine-acetaminophen mix to control the pain.

“I’m taking one a day to make ’em last,” he says. “I won’t get any more till I stop using cannabis, test again and come back clean for THC.”

The pills arrive by mail, but Penley must check in personally at the VA hospital in Las Vegas once month to have his urine tested. He says he believed this was just to monitor levels of the blood thinner Warfarin, which he also takes now following a heart attack, and to make sure his prescription was at the appropriate levels.

But after his last test in early Sept., he received a call his VA doctor’s nurse—informing him that he had tested positive for THC and his pills were being cut off until he tested clean.

“It took me by surprise,” he says. “I’ve been open with my VA doctors about using medical marijuana.”

Penley worries that cutting off opioids could drive vets to the illegal market where they face the threat of an overdose from fentanyl. He points out that the Las Vegas area is currently witnessing an explosion of fentanyl-spiked painkillers on the illicit market. Last month, local health officials reported five overdose deaths related to street sales of the synthetic opioid over a 24-hour period.

Cannabis Eases Nuclear Nightmares

In addition to his back pain, Penley suffers from PTSD, which he says is related to his service in the Navy from 1972 to 1976. Working as an air traffic controller at the Souda Bay base on the Greek island of Crete, he was responsible for aircrafts carrying nuclear weapons. During the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the base served as a “forward operating airfield” for U.S. operations in support of Israel. 

“I was extremely worried about a nuclear exchange between the U.S. and Russia, which were backing opposite sides in the war,” Penley recalls. “The whole area was swimming with Russian submarines, and Nixon put the U.S. on the highest nuclear alert ever. I was afraid I was gonna get nuked in that control tower.”

Nonetheless, he made petty officer second class before his honorable discharge. But Penley says he still has nightmares about being back in the control tower. And cannabis is what prevents the memories from haunting his waking life.

State-Federal Disconnect

Penley takes oral doses of THC oil to manage both the PTSD and back pain. Although he still needs the codeine-acetaminophen mix, he believes cannabis use obviates the need for the far more powerful oxycontin—or surgery. “I’m considering a back operation that I don’t really want to get, but I can’t take the pain,” he says.

Ironically, Penley had just been just re-approved for codeine earlier this year after having been cut off during the VA’s crackdown on prescriptions in response to the opioid epidemic a few years ago.

In the intervening years, he had no alternative but to take large quantities of over-the-counter acetaminophen. “I was taking too much acetaminophen, a 500-milligram pill three times day,” he says. In contrast, the combination pills he received from the VA contained just 300 milligrams of acetaminophen, and he only has to take one twice a day. Penley was recently diagnosed by the VA with kidney damage, which he attributes to overuse of acetaminophen during the last period when his codeine had been cut off.

“I don’t like the fact that they’re treating me as a criminal,” Penley says. “Why should testing positive for cannabis affect the medicine I’m getting from VA—especially in a state where it’s legal?”

And he points out another irony. “I receive a discount for veterans at the dispensaries here in Las Vegas,” he said. “You have the VA punishing veterans for using medical marijuana in the same states where vets are getting a discount.”

Illusion of Progress?

The VA has been under growing pressure on this question, but there has actually been some recent progress—at least on paper.

The Missouri Independent reported earlier this month that VA policy does not allow discrimination against veterans who enroll in state medical marijuana programs—although they must do so with their own resources, outside the purview of the VA’s Veterans Health Administration

In Dec. 2017, the VA issued Directive 1315, which states: “Veterans will not be denied VA benefits because of marijuana use.”

The Missouri Independent quoted Derek Debus, an Arizona attorney and Marine veteran who specializes in VA benefit issues. “I’ve had clients in the past that, if they admit to medical marijuana usage, won’t get any medication at all through the VA,” Debus said. “I’ve had clients that have gone to the VA for acute injuries like kidney stones, or even a broken arm, who were denied pain medication because they tested positive for cannabis and or have a state medical marijuana card.”

The VA website touts an April 2021 study from its own National Center for PTSD noting “growing interest and concern” over increased cannabis use among veterans, as more states legalize. The study states that “research to date does not support cannabis as an effective PTSD treatment, and some studies suggest cannabis can be harmful, particularly when used for long periods of time.” 

Yet there certainly seems to be plenty of countervailing research. For instance, a 2015 study of veterans in New York City, conducted by scholars at New York University, found: “Veterans’ comparisons of cannabis, alcohol, and psychopharmaceuticals tended to highlight advantages to cannabis use as more effective and less complicated by side effects. Some participants suggested that cannabis can be part of an approach-based coping strategy that aids with introspection and direct confrontation of the sources of personal trauma.”

Contacted by Cannabis Now, VA public affairs specialist Gary J. Kunich offered this explanation for how vets can still be cut off from receiving prescription meds for medical cannabis use despite Directive 1315: “Veterans will not lose access to VA financial or medical benefits because of medical marijuana use, but it may affect clinical decisions about other prescriptions, including those for pain management. These are clinical decisions that practitioners make according to a medical evaluation and are not determined by VA policy.”

In any case, Penley says he is not enrolled in the Nevada medical marijuana program because he is a relatively new arrival in the state, and cannabis is available freely on the adult-use market. If enrolling in the state program was necessary to keep his painkiller prescription from the VA, “nobody here advised me of that,” he says. “Not even in the orientation when they prescribe your opiates. You’d think they would have informed me.”

Veteran Organizations Embrace Right to Medical Cannabis

In 2009, New Mexico became the first state to make PTSD sufferers eligible for medical marijuana. The condition has since been included in most state medical marijuana programs.

The effort to get the VA to take a more tolerant stance got another boost in 2016 when the American Legion, a veterans organization of 1.8 million members known for its conservative politics, urged Congress to remove cannabis from the federal list of prohibited drugs and allow research into its medical applications. Lawrence Montreuil, the organization’s legislative director, told Stars & Stripes, “I think knowing an organization like the American Legion supports it frankly gives [lawmakers] a little bit of political cover to do something that they may have all along supported but had concerns about voter reaction.”

The organization Disabled American Veterans (DAV), which actually donated the vehicle that picks up Penley for his VA doctor appointments, has also embraced exploring “medical cannabis as an alternative to opioids for veterans.”

A Legislative Solution?

In recent years, The Veterans Equal Access Act has repeatedly introduced legislation to facilitate medical cannabis access for military veterans suffering from chronic pain, PTSD, and other serious medical conditions. This bill would allow VA doctors to recommend cannabis under state medical marijuana programs and assure that vets do not lose any benefits for enrolling.

This April, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) joined with Congressional Cannabis Caucus Co-Chairs Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Dave Joyce (R-OH) to introduce another version of the bill, the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act.

But as the cannabis advocacy group NORML notes, Congressional conservatives have repeatedly blocked such efforts despite the growing evidence of the medicinal value of cannabis for PTSD sufferers.

NORML points out that a 2014 retrospective review of patients’ symptoms published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs found a greater than 75% reduction in Clinician Administered Posttraumatic Scale (CAPS) symptom scores following cannabis therapy.

Vets Stand Up

John Penley has been a part of the activist effort around this issue.

On Veterans Day 2018, he was among a group of vets who camped out at the national offices of the VA to demand access to medical marijuana. 

He was also arrested for crossing police lines while protesting lack of action on veteran suicides at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC. 

In July 2014, when the Veterans for Peace national convention was held in his hometown of Asheville, NC, he pushed for a resolution which was adopted, stating that “it is the right of any Veteran to discuss with his/her health care provider any and all possible treatment options…including the use of medical cannabis, without the threat to the Veteran or provider of disciplinary action, regulatory loss of privilege and/or benefits, or criminal sanctions.”

As for the response to his own cut-off of painkillers, Penley affirms: “They say it’s federal policy and they don’t have a choice in the matter, but the feds shouldn’t be punishing people for using medical marijuana.” 

“I should be able to get medical marijuana from the VA,” he said. “I think the vet suicide rate would go down if they supplied it.”

The post VA Still Punishes Veterans for Using Medical Cannabis appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Missouri Transfers Almost $7M in Cannabis Revenue to Veterans

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services said Thursday that it had initiated the second required transfer of revenue from the state’s new medical marijuana program to the Missouri Veterans Commission.

The total amount of funds transferred is $6,843,310, more than the first transfer in September of last year, which came to $2,135,510.

The transfer of the funds is required under the constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana that Missouri voters approved in 2018. A provision under the amendment, which is now known as Article XIV, requires “that fees and taxes collected by [Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services] for the medical marijuana program, less operational expenses, should be transferred to the [Missouri Veterans Commission] for health and care services for military veterans,” the agency said in a press release on Thursday.

The department said it has “collected fees related to facility and patient licensing,” and that “Article XIV states that medical marijuana sold in licensed dispensaries will be taxed at a rate of 4%.”

Article XIV states that the remainder of medical marijuana funds must go to the veterans commission “for health and care services for military veterans, including the following purposes: operations, maintenance and capital improvements of the Missouri veterans homes, the Missouri service officer’s program and other services for veterans approved by the commission, including, but not limited to, health care services, mental health services, drug rehabilitation services, housing assistance, job training, tuition assistance and housing assistance to prevent homelessness.”

Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved the amendment legalizing medical cannabis in the state, passing the measure by a margin of 66-34 percent.

The first dispensaries in the state opened their doors to customers in October of 2020.

Since then, the program in the Show Me State has boomed. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services said earlier this month that the medical cannabis program has grown to include a little more than 140 dispensaries––still shy of the 192 required by the amendment––and the industry employs roughly 5,000 people.

By the end of July, the department said that sales for medical marijuana had eclipsed $91 million.

“The amendment that was voted on said that we should open the minimum number at least, which was 192 dispensaries,” said Lyndall Fraker, director of the section of medical marijuana with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. “As of today, we have 142 open. We’ve done the math, and based on the number of quantities that each patient can purchase each month, how much product it would take to serve the patient base, and we think we are going to be good for five or six years.”

At the time of the first transfer to the veterans commission last year, Fraker noted how facilities were just “getting up and running now, and the first testing laboratory [was] on track to be operational very soon.” 

“We are confident that medical marijuana will become available for patients this month, and I am grateful for all of the hard work by so many that got us to this point,” Fraker said then.

On Thursday, Fraker expressed satisfaction with the latest transfer of funds to the veterans commission.

“Patients are being served by more than 140 dispensary facilities in Missouri now, and we are very pleased to see their sales revenue where it is,” said Fraker. “Ultimately, this is how we are able to provide much-needed funding for the veteran’s commission.”

Paul Kirchhoff, Missouri Veterans Commission (MVC) executive director, commented on how the funds will be utilized. 

“MVC will use these funds for veterans’ health and safety initiatives designated in House Bill 8,” said Kirchhof. “A portion of these funds will also be used to complete the Missouri Veterans Cemetery – Jacksonville columbarium wall.”

The post Missouri Transfers Almost $7M in Cannabis Revenue to Veterans appeared first on High Times.