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Why Some Veterans Are On the Front Lines to Legalize Hemp

Solidiers tell lawmakers that cannabis helps ease chronic pain and PTSD

U.S. Armed Forces veterans have had to fight many enemies both on and off the battlefield. One of the most insidious is the opioid addiction that's arisen as a result of treating their pain and PTSD. A sobering 2011 study found that veterans are twice as likely to die from opioids than non-veterans. 

Bo Zaunders | Getty Images

Related: The Opioid Crisis is Forcing Open Minds About the Lifesaving Potential of Medical Marijuana

Now some veterans are fighting for the legalization of some hemp products to manage their debilitating symptoms. Last April, a group of veterans descended on the U.S. House of Representatives in D.C. to talk with members of the Cannabis Caucus and the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.

The meeting was spearheaded by a retired Marine, Steve Danyluk, who worked with wounded vets at Walter Reed and Bethesda medical centers. "I witnessed what I believe is a policy of over-medicating wounded service men and women with opiates and other toxic medications," he said.

Related: Why Are Opioid Painkillers Legal but Marijuana Isn't?

Disturbed by what he saw, he looked into creating an alternative and non-addictive remedy. The result was Warfighter Hemp, which contains CBD derived from the hemp plant. Unlike other cannabis strains, hemp contains less than 0.3 percent of THC, the chemical that makes you high. Still, both hemp and marijuana are classified as Schedule 1 controlled substances, which means the VA and other federally funded entities can't research it.

Navy veteran Veronica Wayne thinks this is a huge mistake. She was one of the soldiers on hand to talk about the benefits of hemp, telling lawmakers that the plant basically saved her life.

After an airplane maintenance hatch hit her head, she took opioids for 17 years. "I basically became a walking zombie," Wayne said. "I was at a higher-than-likely rate of committing suicide from pain." But after using hemp oil she says she got the relief she needed.

Airforce veteran Christine Clayburg was also there to extol the virtues of hemp. "After taking a sister soldier's advice, I was able to trade out the VA "zombie cocktail" for CBD oil," she said. "Not long after that, I began to feel an occasional sense of joy for the first time in over two years. Is it too much to ask that the VA at least test this plant that its own warriors are telling them is working?"

Related:  Bipartisan Concern for Veterans Drives Bill to Allow VA to Research Medical Marijuana 

Wayne, Danyluk and their colleagues asked legislators to sign a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs Acting Secretary Robert Wilke asking him to greenlight a study into CBD derived from industrial hemp.

"CBD derived from industrial hemp provides much of the relief that these Veterans seek, at a fraction of the cost, without the psychoactive side effects, making it an ideal alternative to the various psychotropic and toxic medications in the VA's dispensary," said Danyluk.

The members of Congress are still debating whether or not to allow testing, but Representative Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. said, "I'm actually cautiously optimistic if we get something on the floor, that it will pass."

Until then, the veterans will keep fighting the good fight.