Veterans Want Marijuana to Treat Opioid Addiction

Decrease Opioid-Related Deaths
Steve Heap/

The opioid epidemic in the United States killed more than 42,000 people in 2016, and a Veterans Affairs study concluded that military veterans were two times more likely to die from an overdose involving opioids than the average person, according to CNBC.

Marijuana advocates believe that cannabis can be an effective treatment for opiate addicts as well as those suffering from pain who can't tolerate prescription drugs, and there is evidence to back their beliefs. The Journal of the American Medical Association conducted a study in 2014 and found that states with medical marijuana had almost 25 percent fewer deaths from opioid overdoses than states without legal marijuana.

The American Legion is the country's biggest wartime veteran's organization and is also a strong supporter of medical marijuana. The American Legion has repeatedly requested that Congress write legislation to reclassify marijuana so that it is no longer illegal. Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I narcotic along with heroin. The classification makes the drug illegal under federal law and therefore limits medical research being done to evaluate its medicinal value.

An independent public opinion survey found that 92 percent of veteran households are in support of medical research on medical marijuana for both mental and physical health. Chronic pain is one of the most common reasons that doctors prescribe opioids. 15 percent of veterans regularly use prescriptions for opiates, as well as benzodiazepines, for pain and anxiety.

Activists say that marijuana helps control pain, relieve symptoms from PTSD and helps people ween off prescription drugs without dangerous side effects.

Former Navy Seal Says Pot Is an Exit Drug from Addiction

Former Navy SEAL Nick Etten founded the Veterans Cannabis Project and says that marijuana is not a gateway drug, as many opposers to marijuana suggest. Etten says that marijuana is actually an exit drug because of its ability help people get off opiates.

He argues that marijuana is much safer and less addictive than opiates.

Iraq veteran Ryan Miller was seriously injured and needed multiple surgeries on both his leg and stomach. He eventually lost his leg and was on several prescription pain killers, making him dependent on opiates and feeling like a prisoner.

After he was fully recovered, out of the military, and no longer on pain killers, Miller says that he got his medical marijuana card and was pleasantly surprised at how weed helped the pain. He also liked how it helped him to relax, permitting him to stop using alcohol in social situations. Miller says that he wishes he would have had marijuana when he was first injured, prompting him to join the marijuana advocacy group Operation EVAC.

Operation EVAC is an organization founded by a former Marine who shares the same name as Miller. Miller joined the group to help other wounded veterans suffering from pain or PTSD to find relief. Miller says that many veterans who come to EVAC for help became opioid addicts after being prescribed prescription drugs for pain after an injury. One veteran was a heroin addict living on the street before he sought help from EVAC. The veteran chose EVAC because he felt they would not judge him based on his drug use.

Miller says that marijuana could also help lower the suicide rate among veterans. At least 22 veterans commit suicide every day nationwide.  

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin admits that medical marijuana can help injured veterans who are suffering, but because marijuana is still illegal under federal law, he can't let doctors with the VA officially recommend marijuana to patients.