A questionable approach
As a teenager, Ross Read heard the Marine Corp loud and clear. By becoming a marine, his service to our country would make him a patriot; a hero.
“But what they don’t tell you,” Veteran Read explains, “is: In 20 years you’re going to be really messed up, and we don’t particularly care.”
Given that 1 in 5 veterans will sustain PTSD in their lifetime, Read makes disturbingly valid point. Our healthcare system, the VA included, generally approaches the physical and mental challenges veterans face by prescribing a litany of drugs. Known as a “combat cocktail,” this mix of opioids and antidepressants is meant to address the chronic pain and/or mental trauma that follows in the months, years, and often, the lifetime beyond service.
The average number of veterans in the USA who commit suicide holds steady at twenty.¹ You read that right. Twenty veterans take their own lives every single day. Between this, and our current opioid crisis, it’s pretty clear the combat cocktail isn’t addressing the issues. Often, it’s just making those issues worse.
Veteran Doug Distaso knows this first hand. A plane accident during his 21+ year service in the Air Force left Doug to deal with brain and bodily injuries, sustained chronic pain, and PTSD. The dozens of drugs in his personal cocktail did more harm than good, leaving Doug -as he puts it- a perpetual zombie. A zombie addicted to painkillers.
Both Ross and Doug say they would have faded away entirely if not for their families’ support and intervention. And fortunately, after years of struggle and suffering, both men also had the opportunity to try medicinal cannabis.
Where’s the proof?
There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that cannabis has transformed the lives of people living with chronic pain and mental illness. But where’s the proof? “We don’t need a study to tell us that it works,” vets say. But there’s more to it than that.
Dr. Sue Sisley is the only doctor out there with FDA approval to study the effect of medical cannabis on Veterans with PTSD.
“The reason we’re trying to push cannabis flower through the entire FDA process is to be able to persuade insurance companies to pay for it; to help change laws,” Sisley explains. “We haven’t seen a new treatment for PTSD in 18 years. That’s why it’s so crucial that we look for other alternatives.”
Through Scottsdale Research Institute, a non-profit, Dr. Sisley is finally nearing the end of this triple-blind controlled study. While the results aren’t out yet, she’s proud to report that (unlike big Pharma’s studies, which typically only share favorable data) her study will be published in its entirety. “It’s designed to reassure the public that there’s no bias in this study. The data’s really bulletproof,” Sisley says.
Impeded by endless governmental red tape, Sisley’s work has been ten years in the making. She credits the now-visible finish line to the veteran community.
“The veterans have been the tip of the spear on this issue. They’ve really helped change public attitude, and we’re so grateful to them for stepping out of the shadows and talking openly, at great risk to their personal and professional livelihood.”
Out of options
Veteran Ross Read was initially adverse to the idea of medicinal cannabis as a treatment option. A medically retired police officer, his only experience with cannabis was arresting people for it. Yet the prospect of reducing his daily opioid use won out, and he became involved in Dr. Sisley’s PTSD study. And reduce, he did.
Today, Read is on a much less intensive antidepressant. He’s completely done with fentanyl; he’s completely done with oxycodone. And now, he’s off medical marijuana, too.
“It’s not for everyone. At first, it wasn’t for me. If it hadn’t been for [my involvement in the study], I probably wouldn’t be standing here. I know I wouldn’t be standing up,” Ross says.
Doug agrees. So much, that he’s dedicated his life to making medical cannabis more accessible to veterans. As Executive Director of the Veterans Cannabis Project [VCP], he’s got an inbox full of stories just like Ross’s; just like his own.
“This needs to be an option,” Doug insists. “That’s why the Veterans Cannabis Project is out here with our national campaign. We want to urge President Trump. We want to urge congress. We want to change federal law so doctors can at least have the option to choose medical cannabis for us when we ask for it. That seems fair.”
It certainly does.
“Surveys, including the American Legion, show 82% of members support legalizing this, and 92% support research into it,” he continues. “Those are big numbers. Everybody’s behind it. We deserve better, and we need the change.”
To support that needed change, we put our heads together with the Veterans Cannabis Project, and launched exclusive “VCP” Pre-rolls this month. For every pre-roll pack sold (bearing the VCP logo), a portion of the proceeds will directly support their campaign to improve veteran access to medical cannabis.
Doug Distaso, Executive Director, Veterans Cannabis Project
Last week, during an event to celebrate our partnership (and debut the VCP pre-rolls in Arizona), Doug addressed an enthusiastic crowd of veterans, medical professionals, and Curaleaf employees.
“This is what help looks like. This is what healing looks like. This is what feeling better looks like.”
At Curaleaf, we’re rallied around the mission to help people Live Life Well, and improve the quality of life for veterans like Ross through the opportunity of cannabis. Working with the Veterans Cannabis Project has been a touching, inspiring, and satisfying experience to date, and we’re more motivated than ever to continue pressing forward to support the increased access to, and valid research of this powerful plant medicine.
L to R: Steve Cottrell, President of Curaleaf Arizona; Dr. Sue Sisley; Doug Distaso, Executive Director of VCP; Marine veteran, Ross Read.