Medically reviewed by Katherine Golden, RN
Written by Denise Gonzalez-Walker

While this Memorial Day will be different than most, the true meaning of the holiday remains the same—to honor military service members who died in service to our country.

At Leaf411, we also acknowledge the service members who’ve perished on a different front, as a result of the long-term effects of combat. 

Mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression haunt many veterans long after they have returned home. In addition, chronic pain from past injuries can wear down even the toughest of warriors over time.

Black and white image of a stressed-out veteran in casual clothes, sitting with his head buried in his hands.

Unfortunately, these realities may drive some veterans to feel there are no alternatives for relief. Many veterans describe their frustration from going down a rabbit hole of conventional pharmaceuticals, where more and more medications are prescribed to counteract side effects from other medications. The end result often leaves them feeling like a zombie, as former Army Specialist Leo Bridgewater describes in this news article

Bridgewater was fortunate to discover cannabis as an effective alternative to the pharmaceuticals that the Veteran’s Administration (VA) “passes out like candy” in his words. He continues to advocate for veterans’ access to cannabis and even collaborated with a New Jersey cannabis cultivator to develop a new chemovar (strain) with a mix of terpenes designed with veterans’ needs in mind.

Sadly, for some of our heroes, cannabis remains out of reach either due to stigma or federal restrictions and suicide begins to appear to be the only option for relief. According to Veterans Administration data, the suicide rate among military veterans is 1.5 times the non-military veteran rate in the United States. Every day, over 15 veterans complete a suicide attempt.

Veterans and Cannabis: Fighting for Effective Plant-Based Alternatives

Veterans like Ron Millward who founded Balanced Veterans, Ryan Foster and Kevin Ogar at The Reville Project , and the leaders of Veterans for Natural Rights embrace a more holistic approach which can include cannabis to treat the veterans’ physical and mental wounds. Many of them have lost fellow soldiers to suicide. They are fierce advocates for veterans’ access to cannabis as an alternative to pharmaceutical treatment.

Are you curious to learn more about how veterans have benefited from cannabis? Check out this 21st Century Cannabis panel hosted by GoFire to hear veterans’ firsthand experiences using cannabis to manage PTSD, depression, insomnia and chronic pain.

Sign saying “Support Medical Marijuana” held above a crowd during a public event.
The U.S. Capitol, where several bills are being considered to improve veterans’ access to medical cannabis.

Current Legislative Action to Expand Research and Veterans’ Access to Cannabis

Research supports the value of cannabis as an effective, safe alternative for veterans who are suffering from PTSD and chronic pain. In March 2020, two bills moved forward in the House of Representatives that would expand research on cannabis’s therapeutic potential to treat PTSD and chronic pain (HR 712), and would allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana cards in states with legal marijuana (HR 1647). Currently, VA doctors are restricted from recommending medical marijuana, even in states where it is legal, due to the fact that cannabis is still illegal at the federal level. You can find more details about HR 712 and HR 1647 here.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has created delays in all kinds of important legislation moving forward, including these two bills, veterans like Sensible Colorado’s Kevin Grimsinger and Adam Smith will doubtlessly continue the fight to improve both access and research into cannabis as a safe, effective treatment alternative for veterans.

Holidays Can Be Tough for Survivors

Even in the best of times, holidays can be tough for survivors who’ve lost friends or loved ones.

For veterans, this year’s Memorial Day may be especially difficult due to COVID-19 restrictions. Community events that allow us to get together, reminisce, and celebrate, like the Colorado Veterans Project Memorial Day Run, have been delayed or cancelled.

At Leaf411, it means not being able to meet with our community in person at events like last fall’s Veterans’ Day pop-up at Seed & Smith dispensary. While we have several exciting virtual events in the works, not being able to hear your stories in person and give a hug or a handshake is difficult.

If you’re a veteran who finds yourself struggling this Memorial Day, we encourage you to reach out for help. Find a trusted resource, or call the US Department of Veterans Affairs sponsored Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, or chat them via their website.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also available 24 hours a day at at 1-800-273-8255 for anyone who is in crisis. The people staffing the lifeline care and are eager to help—you are not burdening them by calling!

Leaf411 is also here for you. While we’re not qualified to provide crisis services (we’ll refer you to the professionals at the Veterans Crisis Line or Lifeline), we do have the background and clinical experience to provide guidance on how to use cannabis for PTSD, anxiety, chronic pain or other conditions. Call our FREE hotline at 844-LEAF411 (844-532-3411) or chat us from our homepage during hotline hours.

Our guidance goes far beyond what you’ll find on anonymous internet forums. Check out last week’s Leaf411 blog post to see an example of how we triage and provide guidance tailored to individual needs.

Katherine stands smiling at the Leaf411 informational table, ready to help veterans with their questions. Katherine a fully-licensed cannabis-trained nurse.
Leaf 411 Co-Founder and CEO/ED Katherine Golden, RN, at the November 2019 Veteran’s Day pop-up event at Seed & Smith dispensary.
Smaller rocks forming an arch between two larger rocks near the ocean, representing finding balance in summertime.

Welcoming Summer and Looking Forward to New Initiatives

At Leaf411, we’re wishing all of you a safe and healthy Memorial Day, which also marks the traditional kickoff for summer. No doubt that it will be more important than ever this summer to find balance. For many of us, cannabis is one of the tools we rely upon to achieve this.

That’s one reason we’re excited about several upcoming initiatives we’re working on to make cannabis more accessible and affordable for patients. We’re not quite ready to share details yet, but encourage you to subscribe to our newsletter so you can be the first to know as these new programs roll out. Sign up for our Leaf411 newsletter below! 

The Leaf411 cannabis nurse hotline provides free, anonymous education and directional support to the general public about the safe use of legal cannabis. We partner with select business members who meet our rigorous standards to extend our education and outreach efforts.