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Veterans Day: Regulatory Gaps, Medicinal Benefits and Advocating for Safe Access

Keegan Williams

By Keegan Williams

November 11, 2022

Veterans Day is celebrated on November 11 each year, honoring the service of all U.S. military veterans and meant to thank living veterans for their sacrifices. There were around 16.5 million veterans in the U.S. in 2021, according to

— a majority of those veterans of the Vietnam War era and are men over age 75.

When we talk about post-service military vets, we often must address other social issues that affect this population, including healthcare access, living with disabilities or chronic pain,

, mental health issues and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

As a group who often need more resources and care throughout their lives following service, many vets have turned toward cannabis, or even psychedelic substances like psilocybin, to find relief. Though, these endeavors mirror some of the larger conversations around accessibility. Sure, we’ve come a long way, but we still have a ways to go. 

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Cannabis consumers seek out the innovative plant medicine for a variety of reasons, but Veterans Day is a solemn reminder of those folks who could greatly benefit from cannabis reform, finding new ways to manage their

and mental health after service, but are still often left behind.

As we advocate for cannabis as a whole, we mustn’t leave out veterans.

Cannabis, Veterans Affairs and Accessibility

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

cannabis use for medical conditions, including among veterans with PTSD, an “issue of growing interest and concern.” While veterans VA benefits over cannabis use, the VA does not fill prescriptions of medical cannabis, does not pay for medical cannabis and VA clinicians cannot recommend medical cannabis.

In 2016, Veterans Affairs Canada announced its

for cannabis for medical purposes, establishing a three-gram-per-day limit for veterans.

Even though our neighbors up North have a different approach, it doesn’t appear that the U.S. VA’s stance is shifting any time soon. 

Earlier this year, the VA

on suicide prevention for military veterans, specifically stating it won’t support treatments involving cannabis, despite evidence that cannabis can indeed help veterans in a number of ways. Not to mention, cannabis often keeps veterans away from opiates and other addictive drugs.

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talked with Iraq War veteran Alex, who uses cannabis for PTSD, anxiety and hypervigilance. He was offered anti-anxiety med by the VA doctors in 2007, when he left the Marine Corps, and denied them. Without other non-pharmaceutical options, he turned to alcohol. 

After developing health issues, Alex eventually recovered from his alcoholism by embracing cannabis. Even though he lives in California, Alex admitted he’s turned to the illicit market to obtain the quantity of cannabis he needs to function at an affordable price.

“The legal market is not targeting veterans, especially disabled veterans who live on fixed incomes,” said Dale Schafer, a Vietnam-era Navy vet who spent five years in federal prison for growing medical cannabis at home and currently serves as legal counsel for the Weed for Warriors Project (WFWP). “It’s targeting people with a lot more disposable income.”

WFWP President Sean Kiernan told Politico that a 100 percent-disabled veteran receives around $3,000 a month in VA disability payments, and if that veteran goes to a legal dispensary, they are spending about $50 daily to medicate. This would ultimately eat up about 50 percent of their disability.

How Does Cannabis Benefit Veterans?

The VA

that between 11 and 20 percent of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD and about 12 percent of Gulf War veterans have PTSD in a given year; it’s estimated about 30 percent of Vietnam veterans have had PTSD in their lifetimes.

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Despite the VA messaging on medicinal cannabis for veterans, PTSD is already a qualifying condition for medicinal cannabis in many states. And research has affirmed that cannabis can indeed help with symptoms of PTSD. 


from researchers at Wayne State University looked at the amygdala responses in three groups of participants: those who had not been exposed to trauma, trauma-exposed adults without PTSD and trauma-exposed adults with PTSD. Using a double-blind, placebo-controlled model, participants were either given a low dose of THC or a placebo, and their amygdala responses were recorded.

Those exposed to THC ultimately had lowered threat-related amygdala activity, in all three groups, suggesting that THC reduced fear and anxiety in situations designed to trigger fear in those with and without PTSD.


published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research examined participants over the course of a year, finding that those using cannabis reported a greater decrease in PTSD symptom severity over time, compared to controls. Those using cannabis were also 2.57 times more likely to no longer meet the DSM-5 criteria for PTSD by the end of the study observation period, compared to those who did not use cannabis.

While many veterans need relief from PTSD, it’s worth noting that cannabis has been shown to aid in

and . Studies have also shown promise for CBD to treat .

Ultimately, more research is needed across the board, though myriad anecdotal evidence on behalf of veterans has shown that cannabis can indeed be a safe and effective alternative to treat a number of symptoms.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder - Qualifying Condition for a Medical Marijuana.

How Can We Support Veterans’ Access to Cannabis?

The rigid stance of the VA is a bit disheartening, but that’s not to say we are powerless by any means. Just like the broader shift around cannabis in North America, it’s important to look toward and elevate activists who are on the ground, doing the work and pushing for policy improvements if we actually want to see substantial change.

Aforementioned California-based group

have been advocating for veterans’ access to cannabis since 2014, formed in response to the VA’s treatment and overmedication of vets. The project aims to educate vets about cannabis medicine and to share the positive experiences of veteran cannabis patients with lawmakers. Today, the organization focuses on providing free cannabis medicine and low-cost referrals to California vets. The group also recently created an online support space for vets with PTSD and their caregivers.


similarly looks to improve U.S. military veterans’ quality of life through medical cannabis and believes that veterans deserve full, legal access. The VCP’s shares values around veteran advocacy, education for policymakers and supporting veterans with cannabis knowledge and tools to push for policy change. 

The VCP is currently

to tell Congress, President Biden and the VA that veterans deserve access to safe, legal cannabis as a life-saving treatment option. VCP is to share their stories with policymakers to raise awareness around the life-saving treatment value of medical cannabis. The VCP also takes one-time and monthly .

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The nonprofit

was formed by two U.S. Army veterans, aiming for policy reform and lowering costs of cannabis medicine and home growing for veterans. The nonprofit works to push reforms through the VA system, pushing officials and policy makers to recognize the efficacy of cannabis as a treatment option for veterans. Alongside its political advocacy, the nonprofit also has a number of initiatives aimed to lessen the financial burden of cannabis costs for veterans, teach veterans about home harvesting and create a cooperative/collective network of cannabis-using veterans.

This is just a small sampling of the many advocacy groups working for better medicinal cannabis access among veterans. While these groups often have a broader focus, there are also plenty of locally-focused groups accessible through a quick Google search. Try “your state” in quotes, to ensure results all include your state, and “veterans cannabis group.” Beyond advocacy groups, it’s also an easy way to find veteran-owned canna-businesses and other local resources to support veterans in your area.

Whether it’s sharing with friends, volunteering, donating or simply learning more about the issues and how to elevate these conversations to others, there is strength in numbers, and we won’t see policy reform benefiting vets by remaining passive.

High There wishes a Happy Veterans Day to our treasured vets who have served throughout the years. While we’re still in the infancy of cannabis reform as a whole, let’s ensure no one is left behind as we collectively trek forward.

Keegan Williams

About The Author

Keegan Williams