CannabisForSeniors


Veterans in the U.S. and Canada are becoming increasingly open to trying cannabis when first-line drugs aren’t working. But their governments aren’t making it easy.

Soldiers not only used cannabis to cope with wartime stress. They brought seeds home with them, too.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs still refuses to prescribe it, even though many veterans report finding relief from chronic pain and PTSD by using medical cannabis. In Canada, the federal government continues to move the goalposts for veteran access to medical cannabis—most recently reducing the amount of cannabis that Veterans Affairs Canada will help subsidize.One of the many ironies inherent in this situation: Today’s plethora of cannabis strains, legal cannabis industry, and the tax dollars they generate, were created in part by veterans of past generations.The most influential generation of veterans may be those who served in the Vietnam War. Soldiers not only used locally-grown cannabis to cope with the stresses of war while in country; they also brought seeds home to North America, where they would become the progenitors of some of today’s most popular strains.

‘It prepared us for battle’

During the Vietnam War about two-thirds of American troops volunteered for service. The rest were drafted. At 18, Bob Luciano entered his local draft office in The Bronx, and at 19 he found himself in Vietnam serving the first of two tours of duty. “That’s where I found out that cannabis is better than drugs,” Luciano, now 69, told Leafly in a recent interview.The possession, sale and use of cannabis wasn’t legal in Vietnam. But that didn’t stop American troops from developing a taste for southeast Asia’s indigenous varieties.Bob Luciano recalled the tenor of the times. “In the naval base, when I went to Vietnam, we started smoking weed—pot, at that time we smoked pot,” he said. “The reality was that it was able to prepare us for battle and all the unknown things. We were 18 and 19-year-old kids. The things that you’d see, you’ve never even seen before. It wasn’t like watching the news.”

It helped after service, too

Veterans often face one or many of several conditions that persist well after they have served. Chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are two of the most common. Typically, when a veteran displays signs of PTSD, anxiety, depression, and pain, government doctors put them on a combination of prescription medicines that some veterans ruefully call a combat cocktail.“Pot, or weed, or cannabis, we found out, enables you to go through what you were going to go through,” said Luciano. It also, he said, helps veterans survive the aftermath of war: “It enables you to deal with what has happened.”

While others drank or used heroin to dull the sensations of war, Bob Luciano discovered the soothing effects of cannabis.

Prescription drugs provided by veteran health care providers, Luciano said, tend to dull the senses for a short period of time—but the mental trauma and pain would only return, amplified, later on.“Beyond the horrors of Vietnam, I learned a lot of medicinal benefits of cannabis” during his two tours, said Luciano. “It enabled you to go into battle, complete your mission, talk about it, and then go back in to complete another mission.”When he could, he found some escape. “During battle, we watched what [farmers] did with the soil because we just wanted an escape. You’d smoke weed, and you’d watch the monkeys play in the trees, and watch the farmers grow.”While others around him drank or used heroin to dull the sensations of war, he was discovering the soothing effects of the local cannabis crop. “Even God and religion wasn’t enough,” Luciano said. “I could never understand why they were allowing me to kill people.”

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Long-term psychological harm

Between 1961 and 1975, the ongoing war claimed the lives of an estimated 10 percent of the population of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. In the same period, 56,869 American troops were killed. 153,329 were seriously wounded, and three million soldiers continue to experience long-term psychological damage, the social effects of which are still unravelling.“Because of the huge trauma they’ve gone through, it’s something unique; it’s almost like the PTSD brain is different because of what they’ve been exposed to,” explained Dr. Mandeep Singh. A psychiatrist with Apollo Applied Research and the Be Well Health Clinic in Toronto, Singh specializes in post traumatic stress. “Because of that, [the brain] actually reacts to both cannabis and traditional medications differently” from a brain that hasn’t experienced similar trauma.

PTSD: Brain and body affected

Singh trained in the United States, but when he started practicing in Canada he noticed that many veterans were enduring rounds of medications that negatively affected their quality of life, or just didn’t work.With PTSD, he explained, “it’s not just the brain that’s affected.” The rest of the body remains on high fight-of-flight alert. These patients “have high cortisol levels,” Singh said, “and their whole body is out of balance.”

In the course of his work with veterans, Singh has observed that most civilian patients will use one or two grams of cannabis per day, while a typical veteran will need up to ten.“Ten grams: You’re talking about almost twenty joints worth a day,” said Singh. “But they’re functioning well. They’re not looking euphoric, or high, or out of it. I think that’s something to do with the PTSD brain being different in how it reacts to CBD and THC and so forth.”

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Limiting doses, banning recommendations

In 2016, Veterans Affairs Canada reduced the amount of cannabis per day that it pledged to reimburse for veterans whose healthcare providers recommend the medicine. The government agency previously allowed up to ten grams of dried cannabis, or its equivalent in fresh marijuana or cannabis oil, per day. After 2016, that allowance topped out at just three grams.Meanwhile, in the US, the federal Department of Veterans Affairs still won’t allow VA doctors to recommend cannabis to the nation’s military veterans. Up until a few years ago, VA doctors weren’t even allowed to discuss it with their patients. That’s a hard policy to square with many veterans who’ve seen the help cannabis can offer.

The healing element

“Weed was like the healing of everything,” Bob Luciano told Leafly. “The war happened in the sixties, we weren’t even over segregation yet, we weren’t over equal rights. We had a lot of issues that were happening, like the demonstrations with the burning of the bras. It was a lot of different influences that were in Vietnam, sharing the same gulch or bunker, and whether you like the next person or not, it unified you. It allowed you to discuss why things were changing. It stopped the war, man. Pot stopped the war.”American soldiers were so moved by Vietnam’s potent sativa that some of them returned home with pockets full of seeds. Today’s “thank you for your service” culture didn’t exist back then. In fact, many soldiers received cold welcomes. Instead of returning to the US, Luciano took his seeds and headed for Jamaica. For five years he honed his skills as a cannabis grower, operated an organic restaurant with his wife, and developed his Mr. Natural brand of cannabis products, from dry flower to salves.His years in Jamaica allowed Luciano to experiment with cross-breeding, and learn how environmental factors like air quality and soil affected the plant. Local growers turned him on to the mighty cultivation powers of nutrient-rich Jamaican bat guano.“I knew Columbian Gold at that time period used to make you very relaxed, and a Kush strain that we had developed in California generated more energy and made you forget what you were thinking of; it made you happy when you were negative,” Luciano recalled, telling the origin story of his Cali Gold variety.

Hybrids and new varieties

Learning as he went, but always adhering to organic growing practices, Luciano began creating genetic variations that made the most sense for veterans like himself—strains that calm the mind, ease physical pain and stimulated the appetite.Today, Luciano medicates daily for chronic pain and PTSD. He reaches out to other veterans, helping them navigate the byzantine ways of the VA so that their cannabis use doesn’t negatively impact their treatment. In the past, testing positive for THC would have automatically ended a VA patient’s ability to receive pain medication prescriptions, but that’s no longer the case.Because of a change in VA policy, American veterans are no longer denied benefits if they are found to be consuming cannabis. VA medical officials now advise patients to disclose their cannabis use, as it may affect the course of action taken by doctors.

Still, some veterans choose not to reveal details of cannabis use to their physicians. Luciano had the VA note his cannabis use on his medical records ten years ago, and he encourages others to do the same. His message is simple: “Notify the VA that you’re getting more medicinal benefits from it,” he said, to force the agency to recognize the value of cannabis and change its policy.

Growing BenefitsFrom coast to coast, hemp is being legalized and recognized in the U.S.

Hemp is no longer an undefined term. In fact, information about hemp has become widespread over the past decade. There is more education, more hemp-based products and a more accurate understanding of how the plant works and how it’s different from cannabis. The hemp industry has made many leaps in progress over the last few years alone, with thanks to many researchers and inventors who have crafted products worth investing in. And finally, multiple states have begun to take notice. Recently, a handful of hemp bills were approved. In honor of Hemp History Week (June 3-June 9) we take a look at a few states that have made recent progress on the hemp front.

 

Alabama

The Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries approved 216 licenses for those who applied to be industrial hemp cultivators in late-April. According to AL.com, 152 of those licenses belong to cultivators, 59 belong to processors and five were approved for local universities. These licenses were approved thanks to the foundation set by the Alabama Industrial Hemp Pilot Program that was originally established in 2016.

 

Connecticut

On May 9, Gov. Ned Lamont signed Senate Bill 893, also called “An Act Concerning A Pilot Program for Hemp Production,” which legalizes industrial hemp cultivation in the state of Connecticut. Through this legislation, an industrial hemp pilot program can now be established. Prior to this bill being signed into law, the only hemp cultivation that was allowed was through state universities and the state’s agriculture department.

 

Georgia

House Bill 213 was signed by Gov. Brian Kemp on May 10. Entitled the “Georgia Hemp Farming Act,” this bill authorizes hemp research and studies, provides licensing and permit requirements for potential hemp cultivators and processors and redefines the term “marijuana.” Currently the state does have a limited medical cannabis program, but all products are imported from other states.

 

Hawaii

As of this writing, Hawaiian Gov. David Ige has Senate Bill 1353 on his desk. In late April, a conference committee provided last minute approval of the bill to be passed on to the governor for consideration. Gov. Ige received the bill on May 6, and it remains unsigned as of late-May. If it becomes law, it will become the state’s agriculture department’s job to establish an industrial hemp program. It will also remove any contradictory rules that exist under the current hemp pilot program that launched in 2018, and it will redefine the meaning of “marijuana” to specify that hemp is not the same.

 

Iowa

Thanks to the signature of Gov. Kim Reynolds, the state of Iowa welcomed the Iowa Hemp Act (SF599) on May 13. This means that farmers are legally allowed to use up to 40 acres of land for hemp cultivation. The only caveat is that this change doesn’t immediately take effect. First, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship will need to create a plan on how to regulate hemp cultivation, which will need to be approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

 

Oklahoma

Gov. Kevin Stitt signed Senate Bill 868 on April 18, which will pave the way for industrial hemp to thrive in the state of Oklahoma. The bill allows the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture to control the future of the industrial hemp program, which is expected to be in place by 2020.

 

Texas

On April 24, Texas legislators approved House Bill 1325, which aims to allow cultivators to legally grow industrial hemp in the state. The legislation was approved by the Texas Senate on May 15.

 

Washington

Legislators in Washington recently passed Senate Bill 5276 into law on April 26 with a signature by Gov. Jay Inslee. According to the new law, a regulatory program can now be established in order to regulate hemp production. Specifically, it will target licensing, inspection and testing of hemp under the USDA.


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    The House Financial Services subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions held a hearing Wednesday to address the lack of access to basic banking services by state-legal marijuana businesses.

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    Today, Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced legislation, The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, to expand and facilitate medical cannabis access to military veterans suffering from chronic pain, PTSD, and other serious medical conditions.

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  • Veganic Weed

     

    By now, most growers have heard the term “veganic cannabis” circulating throughout the cultivation and consumption communities. The commonly accepted meaning of the term refers to cannabis that does not contain any animal-based soil or nutrient ingredients. To define the term from another angle, the soil and fertilizer used are generally plant- and rock-based, and the materials to be used are either OMRI Listed or OMRI listable.


    Calling a product organic carries legal accountability for the methods used while calling it veganic can be done without any consequences if used inaccurately. This is something to keep in mind as you become more conscious of the growing veganic trend.


    Growers can debate the question of whether veganic weed is truly superior to its organic equivalent, but to a commercial grower, the attraction to veganic growing has more to do with its superiority as an organic indoor method than it does about any parallel or superior virtues.


    Let me explain.


    Cultivation experts tend to fall into two groups — the organic group (mostly greenhouse and outdoor) whose followers love living soil, worms, compost, microbes, and even adding insects to the garden to manage other insects. Then there’s the conventional group (mostly indoor) whose adherents aim for the cleanest possible cultivation conditions at all times. The conventional group strives toward organic quality and methodology, but managing pests and microbial problems is, and must be, the higher priority if we hope to survive more than a year or two in a single location.


    Cleanliness is Godliness

    Cleanliness is the biggest key to indoor mold and pest control, but many organic amendments and additives are anything but clean. They are literally intended to encourage the kind of microbial activity and decay that indoor growers strive to control or eliminate.


    But does this mean indoor growers can’t succeed at organic cultivation? Not at all, but the cleaner the better, which lands us on veganic methods.


    Of course, veganic growing is still messy in comparison to stonewool watered with sterile mineral salts, but it’s much cleaner than traditional organic growing because dirtier substances such as bone meal, blood meal, guano, fish emulsion, feather meal, compost, and worm castings aren’t in the picture. You are more likely to see ingredients in a vegan recipe such as rock dust mixed with various grain or seed meals, augmented by OMRI Listed mineral salts like magnesium sulfate. You still need, as with organic methods, microbes in the soil to break down insoluble substances, but the overall reduction in use of easy-to-rot ingredients is substantial, without any associated downside.


    The best veganic methods I’ve seen involve amending some of the slower reacting food sources into coco fiber before planting, then supplementing with faster acting liquid minerals as the crop is irrigated throughout its life. In concert with leaf tissue testing, adjustments can be made to keep the plants perfectly healthy throughout their lives and ensure they reach their genetic potential.


    Take note that several mineral salt nutrients are OMRI Listed, including almost all of the sulfates: potassium sulfate, magnesium sulfate, iron sulfate, copper sulfate, zinc sulfate, etc. I don’t shy away from using any of these just because they are soluble salts. The fact is they are organic and vegan, and, if used properly alongside vegan soil amendments, produce top-shelf herb. Yes, soil amendments alone do supply some amount of each of the essential minerals, but there will be times when you need to add more, and using an organic soluble salt is a very effective way to do it.

     

    Read: Minerals: An Essential Part of Cannabinoid Production

     

    Recipe for Veganic Success

    To pin down the ideal recipe and addition rates, you can either hire an expert to help with a custom recipe, or learn through trial and error, but most veganic recipes produce really frosty and tasty cannabis flowers if the soil isn’t too compact or overwatered, and if the pH of the root zone is kept tightly between 6.4-6.8 throughout the growth cycle (dropping it much lower will usually cause manganese toxicity which stunts flower formation). Start with coco fiber that naturally has the right pH. Many brands are either too acidic or too alkaline right out of the gate.


    Since all soil, organic or veganic, gets more acidic over time, some kind of liming material will be applied when the pH of the runoff drops below 6.4. For this, I usually use calcium carbonate granules, top dressed on the soil surface at a rate of about a half-cup per gallon of media. One application will last three to four weeks before pH starts dropping again. Calcium is one of the few minerals that cannabis can handle in larger quantities, and the carbonate is the component that has the alkalizing effect you’ll need. This is especially critical if you are using reverse osmosis water, which contains no natural pH buffers.


    As for soil porosity, you don’t want the water to pool up on the surface of the soil at all. If it’s pooling up at normal pouring rates, add rice hulls or perlite until it drains well. Media will always get more compact over time, so err on the side of too much porosity if you aren’t sure how much is the perfect amount. I use about 25 per cent rice hulls if I’m mixing with typical coco fiber, which usually comes in a powdery fine texture. High porosity serves the purpose of both increasing the oxygen available to the roots and reducing the risk of overwatering, which is a very common newbie error.


    Once you have the right pH and porosity for the starter media, you’ll want to either add a veganic pre-mix or take it upon yourself to mix in some rock phosphate (supplies calcium and phosphorus), neem or soybean meal (supplies some slow-release nitrogen), greensand (supplies iron and other micros), and maybe some other bells and whistles like seaweed (supplies growth hormones).


    The supplemental liquid nutrients that must get added with each watering, on top of the amended soil as the plants grow, include fast-release organic nitrogen (usually amino acid-based from grain sources), potassium and magnesium sulfate, and sometimes extra micronutrients.



    The critical additional step is to always use leaf tissue tests to monitor the status of the plant’s internal workings. A good lab will return results within a week, which allows growers to adjust the liquid feed in real-time so a crop won’t be damaged by deficiencies or toxicities. Take note that plants can look perfectly healthy but have an internal build-up occurring of any one of the essential minerals — a toxicity that is about to damage the crop, but just hasn’t quite hit the threshold. You’ll notice, for example, that getting plants about halfway into the flowering cycle in great condition is pretty easy but finishing them in perfect health is difficult. With the use of leaf tissue tests, you can avert problems before they manifest visually or cause any yield reductions.