‘It’s not about getting stoned. It’s about getting help.’
She has severe anxiety after four years of working in the frenetic global command center at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, coordinating bombings and other missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Rising says she has found a treatment that helps her cope. But her local Veterans Affairs hospital does not provide it because her medicine is a joint.
At a time when the legalized use of marijuana is gaining acceptance across the country, Rising is among a growing number of veterans who are coming out of the “cannabis closet” and pressing the government to recognize pot as a legitimate treatment for the wounds of war. They say it is effective for addressing various physical and psychological conditions related to military service, from chronic back pain and neuropathic issues to panic attacks and insomnia, and often is preferable to widely prescribed opioid painkillers and other drugs.
Veterans are lobbying for more states to legalize cannabis for medical use — 23 states and the District of Columbia allow this — but the primary target is the federal government and, in particular, the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, the same as heroin and LSD, deeming that it has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. That means the VA, which runs the largest network of hospitals and health clinics in the country, cannot prescribe pot as a treatment, even for veterans who live in a state where medical marijuana is legal.
Veterans Affairs says its physicians and chronic pain specialists “are prohibited from recommending and prescribing medical marijuana for PTSD or other pain-related issues.” Medical staffers are also prohibited from completing paperwork required to enroll in state marijuana programs because they are “federal employees who must comply with federal law,” said Gina Jackson, a VA spokeswoman.
The swelling chorus of veterans who want to take advantage of marijuana but can’t reflects the growing disconnect between more tolerant state policies and the federal government’s unwillingness to budge.
Advocates such as Rising say it is urgent that the federal government recognize marijuana as a treatment because there are so many veterans of recent wars.
Although Rising did not serve in Afghanistan or Iraq, she said the pressure of her work was intense. “What was really hard about working in command was never being able to see the damage you did on the ground,” she said. “You start to think about all the orphans and widows you created, and that you do hit civilians.”
Without marijuana to treat what she says is PTSD, Rising said she feels “like the Incredible Hulk, and that danger is around every corner, and that my nerves could explode.”
After dropping off her son at school on a recent morning, she prepared a pair of blunts. She took some pot out of a jar, dumped the guts of two Dutch Masters cigars and rerolled them with the marijuana. Then she slipped her blue Air Force jacket over her blue-and-white flower-print dress and went into her suburban backyard to smoke, pushing her long blond hair behind her ears.
Medical marijuana is legal for treating some conditions where Rising lives. She declined to identify her home state except to say it is in the mid-Atlantic.
“It’s not about getting stoned. It’s about getting help,” she said. “The VA doesn’t have any problem giving us addictive pharmaceutical drugs by the bagful.”
If veterans report their use of marijuana to the VA, they could face criminal charges if they live in a state where it is illegal. And though few have been charged, the mere possibility has spawned a culture of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” said Michael Krawitz, a former Air Force staff sergeant and the director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access.
VA medical staff members have warned that this culture is making for a dangerous situation, especially as ever more states legalize medical marijuana, because doctors do not know all the drugs their patients are using.
In 2011, the VA issued a directive that said patients who were participating in state marijuana programs for pain cannot lose their VA benefits.
Several VA doctors who specialize in pain management and PTSD said they are eager for more research on the medical benefits of marijuana.”
Reposted CannabisConsumerResearch.com 12.03.14
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