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I'm A Veteran, And This Is Why I Defend Vaping

As an Air Force veteran-turned-scientist, I see the medical efficacy of vaporizers among my fellow service members.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The vaping illness crisis is serious -- but I object to the knee-jerk bans on all vaping products, and the media coverage that demonizes all vaporizers and inhalable medicine as dangerous.

Akn Can _enol/EyeEm | Getty Images

As a veteran, I’ve seen my fellow service members struggle with PTSD, chronic pain, and addiction. I’ve lost family members and dear friends to opioid overdoses. I pivoted from working as a research scientist to join the hemp industry in part to help people like those I’ve lost, people who are pursuing cannabinoid-based treatments for a host of ailments.

For many patients who rely on CBD and other cannabis- and hemp-derived compounds to cope with debilitating health conditions and illnesses, vaping is an important and effective delivery method that provides immediate relief. Well-intentioned but shortsighted vaping bans could deprive patients of much-needed medicine, and they may exacerbate the use of illicit and genuinely harmful products.

There is a better way to address this crisis and promote public safety.

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Why Vaping?

Unlike smoking, vaporizing doesn’t ignite raw plant material, extracts, or concentrates. Vaporizers produce heat to release the plant’s medicinal compounds (including cannabinoids and terpenes) in a vapor form that doesn’t include byproducts of combustion such as tar and other carcinogens.

It may seem crazy right now to argue that vaping is “safe,” but this method of ingestion is indeed safer than smoking -- as long as one consumes responsibly crafted, compliant cannabinoid products that are manufactured by licensed businesses and lab-tested to ensure they are free of harmful additives, cutting agents, pesticides, and heavy metals.

If you’re a vet with PTSD on the verge of a panic attack, a recovering opioid addict experiencing withdrawal, or a Parkinson’s patient suffering from muscle spasms, do you really have time to wait 30 minutes to two hours for a tincture or edible to kick in? Absolutely not. The swift effects of vaping are a major advantage.

Vaping is also useful for patients who can’t ingest medicine via their digestive system. For chemotherapy patients using cannabinoids to quell nausea, tinctures, and other ingestible delivery methods may fail because they simply can’t keep food down.

RELATED: How Cannabis Vaporizer Firms Can Protect Themselves In The Wake Of Vaping Crisis

Veterans Need Options

As we navigate this health crisis, it’s crucial that we safeguard my fellow veterans’ access to resources such as cannabinoid vaping products. Why? So many of us return to civilian life with lingering effects from our service.

A 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that a stunning 44 percent of combat veterans reported chronic pain. We face elevated risks of opioid misuse and overdose.

While estimates of PTSD in veterans vary across eras and wars, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that it affects up to 20 percent of veterans who served in operations post-9/11, compared with 8 percent of the general population.

Rates of suicide are 22 percent higher among veterans than their civilian counterparts; an estimated 20 veterans take their own lives every day.

These distressing statistics are why veterans themselves are advocating for access to hemp products as a much-needed tool to combat the many health risks we face. Preliminary studies and emerging research point to CBD as therapeutic for PTSD sufferers, as well as people with chronic pain and opioid withdrawal. I’ve personally witnessed the lifeline that cannabinoids can provide for veterans, whether they’re coping with PTSD, chronic pain, withdrawal from opioid addiction, or sometimes all of the above.

Regulate, Don't Confiscate

I am confident we will work toward solving the vaping illness outbreak and prevent further health crises without across-the-board bans on vaping. I’m urging our elected officials and policy-makers to consider vulnerable people who rely on vaping to ingest medicine they need.

I, along with many others in the cannabis and hemp industries, am calling for industry-wide manufacturing standards and regulations, as well as public education. These illnesses and deaths prove that bad actors are taking advantage of the holes in our regulatory system. Lack of regulation is the problem here, not vapes. Fear-mongering and misinformation won’t solve this crisis.

I’ve seen tragedy up close, but I’ve also seen plant medicine give people their lives back. It may seem like an odd moment to stand up for vaping, but someone has to do it.