Health Huddle – Spotlight

Flag flies above Buchanan Memorial, Photo by Rebecka Hoyt

Veterans and PTSD – Bring Our Soldiers Home(ostasis)

by Stephanie Fain

Vivid nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, anxiety, depression, irritability, angry outbursts, feeling emotionally numb, loss of interest in hobbies, trouble concentrating, paranoia, loss of sleeping, and feelings of being alone. Can you imagine the effects this daily torture has on the physical and mental well-being of any life form? Apply that to a proud American soldier, who was bred to be tough. Living inside of one’s head, afraid to speak out, afraid to appear weak or broken, misunderstood and with no end in sight; this is the life of a soldier suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (also known as PTSD).

PTSD is a psychological and emotional stress disorder developed when one experiences extreme trauma. PTSD can impact every aspect of a person’s life from personal to work relationships, that we use to support our livelihoods and families. For skeptics thinking ‘it’s just all in their heads’ and ‘it’s purely psychological,’ PTSD has a visible physical impact on the autonomic nervous, endocrine and immune systems that can be seen through scans. We have all heard horror stories of the awful things witnessed while defending our country. One of the more common causes that could be hard to confront is Military Sexual Trauma (MST.) “Among the military Veterans using the VA, about 23% of women experienced sexual assualt, 55% of women experienced sexual harrassment and 38% of men reported sexual harassment.” Stated by the official U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ website. Also noted, those are just the numbers reported. 11%-20% of Veterans (varying by service era) fight PTSD. A study conducted by the VA in 2014 involving 3,157 US Veterans showed that 87% of Veterans were exposed to at least 1 potentially traumatic event with the average rate of 3.4 traumatic events each. There is an 80% higher chance for suicide among those diagnosed with PTSD. Who knows how many do not come forward out of shame or fear for retaliation. More information on Veteran PTSD statistics can be found here.

Buchanan Memorial, Photo by Rebecka Hoyt

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid used for pain and stress and has long been known to help squash symptoms of PTSD with its natural properties of being a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory with extremely low side effects. CBD is like the mature ”older” brother to THC with its wet-blanket ability to dominate receptors occupied by THC in the brain, bringing down that “high” feeling, and is in studies with a number of other pain and neurological disorders. The biggest side effect? If you take too much, you might fall asleep, which isn’t so bad. Your body heals during rest and one of the notorious symptoms of PTSD is the inability to rest. Check with your doctor to make sure that none of your medications have adverse reactions to grapefruit juice. CBD is not to be taken with drugs that may have adverse reactions to grapefruit juice, it can intensify the drug taken.

For our veterans, who sacrifice their all, they have somehow earned an extra hurdle. The VA healthcare system, put in place to keep our soldiers living healthy and long lives. Intended initially to be a blessing, it has strict policies that when adhered to, make it difficult to make important health decisions that should be made by the person who owns the body. It was no different with CBD. Despite the outcry from those with knowledge on and experience with the plant’s superior ability to calm the nervous system, the VA held its stance against Cannabis and everything that had to do with it, loosening its grip slowly as each state’s Cannabis laws evolved. This can make it somewhat confusing for Veteran’s to know exactly where they stand legally when it comes to alternatively medicating with CBD or THC.

Sweet customer shops and learns, Photo by Stephanie Fain

CBD is also a neuroprotectant. Studies have shown CBD to be highly effective in slowing down digression in neurodegenerative disorders including Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s Disease, Alzheimer’s and Epilepsy. Those are all heavy hitters. Since CBD was finally made federally legal in 2018, stigma has been reduced. However, people are still hesitant because very little official testing has been done on it. Only until it was made federally legal, were people able to start doing research on one of the most helpful plants on earth and it actually be taken seriously. Americans were doing their own research before that.

Hemp is so American, the first flag was made of it. In the 1700’s, farmers were legally required to farm hemp as a staple crop. The necessity for farmers to grow hemp back then was fueled by the country’s use of hemp for most things that required the very strongest and durable of fibers (ropes for sailboats, masts, paper). Cannabis in general was used as an effective medication from the 1830’s to the 1940’s in the United States. The Cannabis plant, when mentioned in the Bible, was not a tool of the devil, rather was used in a holy anointing oil that was held sacred for it’s divine qualities and used to anoint with the holy spirit. The Bible contains the recipe in Exodus 30:22-25. (By the way Veterans, on May 6th, National Day of Prayer, BAMA organized prayer at the downtown Buchanan Commons and we prayed for you!) More information about America’s history with the cannabis plant can be found in this Newsweek article explaining the outsourcing America did on Cannabis research while demonizing the plant back home.

More interesting, the hopeful conclusions of the studies on the plant that we have and had a patent and why that government funded research did not benefit the people funding it, instead kept from reaching the light of day. Cannabis stays classified as a schedule 1 controlled narcotic federally since 1970, still not being recognized for any medicinal benefits by definition of classification, even though Epidialex, a pure form of THC has been passed by the FDA to use for treatment of seizures.

Brendan and Amanda patient teaching at CannaVista Wellness, Photo by Stephanie Fain

So much stigma still surrounds both mental illness and alternative forms of medication. One of the major hurdles our veterans are facing while taking back responsibility and control over their mental health, is simply lack of communication with the very system that was set up to protect them. We have a VA system that doesn’t exactly make it very easy to talk about these things, it was set up in a way that threatened to take away a Veteran’s earned benefits including pension, and access to VA healthcare if traces of CBD or THC were found in one’s system, now that CBD is federally legal, THC is left. Though the policies have since changed, fear and hesitation is still present.

To that Brendan from CannaVista says, “One doesn’t necessarily need THC to deal with symptoms of PTSD.” Brendan explains, “Out of all the cannabinoids, CBD is the most effective out there to decrease anxiety. In some cases, THC might bring on some anxiety in those who are not used to it. CBD is federally legal and is able to be bought and used without a card.” Recreational cannabis is also able to be purchased without a medical Marijuana card. “While there are synergistic benefits of CBD and THC working together, if that is a route the patient would like to take, it is up to them, every-body is different. However, we like to recommend our Veterans begin on a low dose of CBD and slowly increase to find the appropriate dose. While we carry flower, it’s optimal to be taken sublingually (under the tongue) or in edible form. They have coffee and tea and also offer other routes as well such as creamy topicals for relieving on-site pain. Medicine has changed. There are now edibles in so many delicious flavors with so many different effects. The best part, they work and none are pill flavored.

I witnessed a man threatened in a Georgia VA hospital on his deathbed for using CBD. My close friend, Carl Franklin Jones from Tennessee, brought CBD without THC to the Georgia hospital to help his long time best friend from high school, Richard King, in 2018 with some symptoms from the chemo he had been having. This man had cancer that spread all over. He was dying and in pain. They only prescribed him opiates, which constipate and also suppress appetite. He couldn’t eat to gain energy, couldn’t void his bowels or urinate to make room to be comfortable enough to eat the food that provides sustenance for his body to fight disease. He wasn’t comfortable enough to sleep, so his body and mind wasn’t able to rest. After the first dose of CBD Carl had brought him, I received a video from them. They were so cheerful, Richard was saying “I can finally take a **** again.” We all laughed, it didn’t matter what was coming out of that man’s mouth as long as it was hope! The swelling in his throat had gone away and he wanted to eat finally. The videos serve now as a bittersweet reminder of exactly where we are in this invisible war. It was the last good memory we have. The once 5 foot, 11 inch, 260 lb., proud Native American Veteran who was known to give the shirt off of his back, was backed in the corner. The staff threatened to have Carl arrested. They told our dying friend that if they find he is using it, they will refuse care and he will be on his own. He succumbed to them. Soon, Richard dwindled down to bones before his colon prolapsed and he subsequently died from the infection. Richard passed away on November 4th, 2018.

While we have come leaps and bounds since cannabis reform started, there are many stories out there just like this one. Richard’s story is just one example of why the entire VA system needs to be reformed, not just on the subject of cannabis, but the way it treats our most dedicated and deserving citizens that trust and rely on them. Richard is far from the only casualty of a broken healthcare system that doesn’t seem to want to admit it has a problem. Nobody will be held accountable for the many cases like Richard’s who have simply never been acknowledged. All Richard wanted was a safer alternative.

Marine Michael Cowan at High Profile, Photo by Stephanie Fain

Although cannabis is now legal in Michigan and CBD is now legal federally, that pesky stigma attached before mentioned is still claiming lives. People are going untreated and even taking medications that are harmful out of fear from judgement, fear from repercussion, and lack of knowledge or experience. There are Veterans who want to give interviews but are scared to come forward because of their prior experiences with the VA regarding holistic medicine. I am praying for those people.

One person NOT hiding, couldn’t if he wanted to, is Michael Cowan, resident of Buchanan and bud-tender for High Profile. This former Marine (are you ever not a marine after they marine you up?) served 2 tours of Desert Storm and served from ’87- ’91. I saw him shaking his head as I spoke to the store’s manager about veterans being scared to lose their hard earned benefits for using THC which prompted me to ask the terminator if he was a veteran. He explained to me he is not scared, but his brother in-law was. He recently helped his brother in-law find peace with CBD with a tiny bit of THC. He helped find the man his perfect dose, and now the man can sleep well at night, exactly what he needed. There are many success stories just like this out there also! There is hope!

I am going to elaborate a little more about the plant source of CBD. Hemp is stronger and softer than cotton, lasts twice as long and does not mildew. Besides clothing, hemp can also be made into durable plastic, fuel and building materials, like hemp-crete which is very much like concrete. It’s tougher and more renewable materials at very little cost to the environment… that is a win-win. Hemp causes way less damage to the earth to produce, hemp plastic can be recycled up to 10 times while paper from trees can only be used up to 4 times.

Pushing for our country to go back to healthier and sustainable hemp farms would be like telling your government you want to help stop deforestation, that you want clean air, environmentally friendly buildings, meds with no side effects and healthy protein. We have the science, guys, it’s time to heal ourselves and the earth with hemp. Nearly everything that can be made with wood, plastic or concrete, can be made with hemp. I feel like people should really be more excited about this! If you are for the earth you should be for hemp!

Enthusiastic group at CannaVista Wellness, Photo by Stephanie Fain

Hemp, part of the Cannabis Sativa family, is known for its strong fibers and high cannabidiol (CBD) production, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid used for its therapeutic qualities. While some have half heartedly written it off as just another supplement, health-fad, or even snake oil, Epidialex, a purified form of CBD, is approved by the FDA to treat the very serious symptoms of Epilepsy. CBD’s God-given traits of being a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, bring swelling down that cause everything from nervous twitching to seizures, and over time with the right regimen, brings the body back to homeostasis. I still cry when I see a video I have not yet witnessed of a dog, a child, a mother, brother—human, seizing helplessly, but then given a CBD tincture and within seconds you see what this “snake oil” can do. Know who has official hemp staff training? Jacob Exum, the Manager at Zen Leaf. He likes to refer patients to Dr. Green medicinals for PTSD. He recommended me the peanut butter cookies by Noble. I will be back. Follow them on Facebook for their newcomer deals. You don’t want to miss those.

For those who are able and willing to use marijuana for treatment of symptoms of PTSD, though THC trials have only recently been accessible, people were more than prepared to get trials underway and the science is definitely here now. Nabilone, a concentrated form of THC on its first viable clinical trial on PTSD, showed undeniable proof that THC is more helpful than harmful. According to a study documented by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (or NCBI), “The majority of study participants (72%) reported total cessations or lessening of severity of recurrent nightmares, a hallmark symptom of PTSD. Additionally, some study participants noted reduction in PTSD-related flashbacks, and improved sleep time with mild to moderate side effects.”… and on their daily well being check ups 9/10 taking Nabilone, reported higher numbers meaning that overall they felt better and benefited from the treatment. When THC was stopped, only 1% of the trials reported that their night terrors had stayed at bay, leading one to believe the administration should be ongoing. Trials on Nabilone have also been done on Alzheimers, Fibromyalgia and pain management. The drop out rate for these clinical trials is unusually low… also insinuating the participants weren’t feeling discomfort or were getting something out of it.

Other incredible medical uses for cannabis can be seen in patients recovering from addiction. Many veterans, having tried pills and lost hope, have substituted alcohol and other deadly drugs to medicate their pain away, creating a whole other hell for themselves and those around them. Addiction is destructive and no one wants to be an addict. People remain addicts because they are scared of the detox process. Detoxing is both painful and scary. It’s not just a physical process, but a very emotional, personal and even a religious one. Cannabis has helped many leave these dark situations by making it possible, safe and bearable with THC. It’s continued therapeutic effects are notorious for thwarting off the pesky trigger-some negative thoughts that encourage a person to continue using a dangerous drug instead of stopping. Cannabis is not so much an entrance drug as it is an exit drug. You can find more information on the nabilone trials here.

What IS the VA’s official current stance on cannabis use? As far as CBD, that is federally legal, meaning it’s no longer classified with THC as a controlled substance. As far as THC, the VA’s official website states that “Veteran participation in state marijuana programs does not affect eligibility for VA care and services. VA providers can and do discuss marijuana use with Veterans as part of comprehensive care planning, and adjust treatment plans as necessary.” This means that a Veteran that is retired or separated can participate freely in accordance with their state’s laws. In Michigan cannabis is legal. However, active-duty members, including members in the guard and the reserve, are still tested for THC and not held by the VA’s rules but by DoD policy. I want to know why veterans are still so hesitant to be identified? I will be looking into this and invite my readers to chime in also. Do you think the VA is accommodating for Michigan’s newish laws on Cannabis on more than just paper? Where are my veterans at? Do you feel comfortable talking to your doctor about cannabis or CBD, and why or why not? 

At 7Engines Sage Dixon and customer Nik Sanchez discuss strain options, Photo by Stephanie Fain

While your VA doctor is not legally allowed to promote the use of, or write a prescription for either CBD or THC currently,  it is important to disclose all health related information to your doctor so they can help plan future health decisions around it. Lydia, the general manager from 7Engines, has a way around that. “I suggest to any patients worried about THC showing up in the system that would need the same benefits, Delta-8. The compound is notorious for sneaking past pesky THC testing. There are trace amounts but they quickly leave the system.” For those who would like to pursue a card, 7Engines will personally help patients sign up for cards in their lobby. All that is needed is an ID, a credit card for the 3rd party fee, and yourself with what ails you and either Joy or Vinay will help you every step of the way and tell you when to expect your card. They are very passionate about helping people connect with the plant. Most local dispensaries will be offering Veteran discounts so watch their pages. 

If you or someone you know suffers from PTSD and needs help, reach out to me. I am on Facebook and I would be happy to point you in the right direction. There is always hope, there is always a way out and please remember that you are never alone. Some have lost the battle, lost a home, a family, a job, grasp on life and hope. Then some have lost their wars. According to the Til Valhalla Project, an average of 18-22 U.S. soldiers take their lives every day. The percentage of homeless veterans, no doubt stems from issues from coming back from war. Do you think anyone will be held accountable for these casualties? The wars are over, let’s bring our troops home. Let’s help to reduce the stigma, distraction, and confusion and bring them peace finally. Our Veterans deserve the ability to make their own health decisions over their bodies in this free country they fought/fight so hard to protect. Give them back the liberty that they gave us.

Never Stop Growing, Buchanan!

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