I am a son, brother, fiancé, friend, battle buddy, combat veteran, and I consume cannabis. My journey to wellness really didn’t start until 5 years after being medically discharged from the US Army. In January of 2007 I was involved in a vehicle accident while on duty just outside of Camp Arifjan, Kuwait and was medically evacuated through Balad Air Base, Iraq to Landstuhl Army Hospital, Germany. Within a few weeks of receiving care at the hospital I was flown back to the United States with a prescription of Percocet and Xanax. After arriving back in the states I continued with my medication treatments which were periodically increased, eventually reaching a high dose of 1000mg a day of oxycontin and 6mg a day of Xanax, among countless other medications the VA prescribed.
Between the years of 2001 and 2012 opiate medications prescribed out of the VA rose by 270%, creating an entire generation of addicts within the veteran community. In 2011 the VA conducted a study which reported patients seen within the VA doubled the national average for accidental overdose alone. I myself was one of these veteran statistics and it wasn’t until after 7 years of taking these medications I decided I had enough of being a slave to narcotics and sought alternative methods.
While conducting research for different treatment options I found information about using cannabis for pain relief and PTSD. I learned other veterans reported positive experiences using cannabis so I decided to give it a try myself. Due to my own skepticism and the stigma associated with cannabis I took things slow at first. To my surprise the relief was immediate both for the physical pain of my back injuries and the mental pains from my time spent in two combat zones.
After trying cannabis I had new found hope in life and was eager to begin the process of replacing the medications I got from the VA with cannabis entirely. That was not something the VA wanted to hear. I discussed my plan with my pain management doctor at the VA and she was 100% supportive and began the process of weaning me off the addictive medications I’d been taking for so many years. This process went on for about 3 months until I was abruptly called to see my primary care doctor. During this time I was informed I would no longer be receiving opiate medications or “narcotics” due to the positive cannabis results on my drug screen. So, at the most vulnerable time in the process of coming off of opiates, I was thrown into withdrawal and sent to the streets to take care of my own pain and suffering.
It wasn’t until May 18, 2015 I was able to finally put down the addictive medications and truly begin the healing process. Choosing to get a medical cannabis card instead was a whole other ordeal in itself filled with many obstacles. Without exception the VA will not give recommendations for cannabis cards for any reason. It wasn’t until I found CannaCare Docs of Delaware that I stood a chance of getting safe access to cannabis. Unfortunately getting my medical records from the VA proved to be an uphill task, ultimately delaying my access to care. After months and months of waiting on the VA to send my medical records to the new provider I found, I was then told they could not help me because at that time a PTSD diagnosis needed a psychiatrist approval to move forward. Finding a civilian psychiatrist in a state already facing a shortage of psychiatrists who was willing to sign for a veteran with only military health insurance proved to be a difficult task. This only caused more delay in care forcing me to use cannabis illegally. It wasn’t until I had back surgery in late 2016 that I qualified for a condition a regular physician was lawfully able to recommend cannabis for. (Continued below…)
Take Action, Please Contact Your Legislators
Sample email: Dear Senator/Representative,
Please support patients’ and doctors’ medical cannabis rights and vote for SB24 and SB59. Senate Bill 24 removes the restrictive list of qualifying conditions, which unjustly interferes in the doctor-patient relationship and prevents sick patients from receiving help, and lets doctors decide for themselves which patients they believe would benefit from medicinal cannabis, just as they would when prescribing any other medication. Senate Bill 59 provides better medical access for Delaware patients by allowing Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners to recommend medical cannabis, just as they currently prescribe other medications and controlled substances. These reforms will allow treatment with medical cannabis for thousands of sick and ailing people who are currently being denied their rights. Thank you for your support.
Take Action, Please Contact Your Legislators
This whole process took a total of 2 years due to several issues with the VA and the state regulations placed on cannabis by Delaware. If I had the option to medicate myself with medical cannabis with no regulations attached I would have had my life back 2 years sooner. This begs the question: why are we making the most vulnerable citizens in our state jump through so many legislative and financial hoops to obtain a state regulated card simply to legally purchase a non toxic life saving medication?
That is why we must end cannabis prohibition this year, reform our restrictive medical cannabis laws, and help end the vicious cycle of 20 veterans a day committing suicide for untreated/overtreated PTSD.
Steve McGuire is a 14-year U.S. Army veteran with deployments in the Bosnian conflict and Operation Iraqi Freedom, and currently serves as the State Legislative Officer for the Delaware Veterans of Foreign Wars.