Vets get free marijuana in Colorado Springs to fight pain & PTSD

© Fredy Builes
A cannabis club in Colorado Springs is handing out free marijuana to military veterans, hoping to give them relief from issues like post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain they suffer from after returning home from deployment in war zones.

Over the weekend, the Veteran Farmers Alliance group handed out more than half a pound of pot and marijuana edibles – worth about $1,400 – to veterans in Colorado Springs. The group’s founder, Steve Defino, said other groups should also be doing the same thing and that marijuana was essential for him to deal with his PTSD, which he has fought for a decade.

“I’ve been able to actually go through my memories, recall my memories without getting upset anymore, and I’m starting to live my life again like a normal person,” Defino said in an interview with KXRM, which reported on the pot giveaway.

Defino added that using the drug could be especially important when it comes to suffering veterans who may feel close to suicide, because even though marijuana’s impact is short-lived, it enables veterans to gradually interact with and re-enter the community.

“I’ve talked to guys that are ready to kill themselves. They’re ready to take their own life because they feel like nobody is there for them. So this is a small way to say thank you for what you’ve done,” he said.

One Iraq War veteran at Saturday’s event told KXRM that pot has helped him get some much-needed rest since he started using it three years ago. Prior to that, he said he would go days without sleeping.

“This saves lives. This will take [the depression or anxiety] off their mind, at least temporarily, until they can find some more permanent help or relief,” Defino added.

Stories praising the impact of marijuana on veterans come as an increasing number of former military members turn to the drug to battle chronic pain and PTSD, even though there is little scientific research showing that pot is beneficial. The state of Colorado is currently funding two different studies into the issue, as it has held off approving marijuana for PTSD until more data comes in.

"There surely is not enough scientific evidence to say marijuana helps PTSD," Marcel Bonn-Miller, a University of Pennsylvania professor who is part of the Colorado studies, told the Associated Press. "But we'll get a heck of a lot closer to getting to know the answer in two to three years."

While many have gotten behind the drug, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has recorded an increasing number of veterans diagnosed with marijuana dependence, the AP reported recently. In one case documented by the outlet, an Iraq War vet using marijuana to help himself sleep ended up killing himself by age 31.

"Marijuana killed my soul & ruined my brain,” he wrote in his suicide note.

Yet despite the lack of research at this point, marijuana may become a preferred option for veterans treating chronic pain over opioids such as Vicodin or Zohydro. Opioid addiction has become an epidemic in the US in recent years, and veterans are more likely than others to become affected. These drugs can be effective if they’re properly managed, but if not they can lead to overdoses, addiction, and heroin use, as well as suicide.

Overall, veterans are two times more likely to suffer an overdose than other Americans, according to a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Between 2010 and 2015, opioid-use disorders rose by 55 percent, PBS’ Frontline reported. Now, the VA is trying to cut back on prescribing opioids, but marijuana is still off the table.

As officials continue to research the issue, veterans remain in need of healthcare that other Americans might take for granted, and volunteer groups are trying to fill the void. Many don’t qualify for dental care from the VA, for example, and the nationwide Aspen Dental network is now working with the Got Your 6 non-profit to provide care via a traveling “MouthMobile” truck. It’s currently working its way through more than 30 cities across the US.

Since it began in 2014, the MouthMobile has provided almost $4 million in free dental care and education, according to the Military Times.

“Many veterans who have served our great country find themselves struggling to address the most basic needs in life,” Air Force veteran Randall Murray, who has received care from the program, told the news outlet. “The Healthy Mouth Movement program helps address the gap in services and resources available to the veteran population.”