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Navigating Medical Cannabis for Veterans: Benefits and Federal Laws

  • Countless veterans have discovered PTSD recovery, improved sleep, and overall wellness support after incorporating medical cannabis into their healing journeys.
  • But veterans in some states still don’t have legal access to medical marijuana, and veterans who remain federal employees should approach cannabis with caution—many federal employers still don’t allow their employees to use marijuana despite its growing prominence in the medical space.

If you’re a veteran looking to transform your mental or physical health journey, you may be wondering, “Can I get a medical marijuana card for anxiety, depression, or PTSD?

The answer depends on a variety of factors, like your state laws and your current employment status. But if you can access medical cannabis and you’re still on the fence about giving it a try, several benefits shouldn’t be overlooked.

Medical marijuana can help veterans (and other patients) achieve long-term trauma recovery (not just symptom management), sleep soundly, and unlock improved quality of life overall.

In this guide, we’re diving into both the legality and healing potential of medical cannabis, but we’ll be focusing on the veteran experience to help those who’ve served to navigate this alternative to Western treatments.

Can Veterans Access Medical Marijuana?

In short, medical cannabis access depends mostly on state laws. But this isn’t always the case, and just because your home state offers medical cannabis doesn’t mean your employer will make an exception to their policies for you.

Let’s explore the nuances of medical cannabis access for veterans.

State Laws

At present, there are 38 states (and three US Territories) that have legalized psychoactive cannabis (more on this distinction in the next section) either medically or recreationally.

This medical vs. recreational distinction is key for veterans:

  • In states with recreational legalization, anyone over the age of 21 can purchase marijuana from regulated dispensaries—for medical use or recreational purposes.
  • In medical-only states, patients over the age of 21 (with exceptions in some states) can receive a recommendation for medical cannabis from a healthcare provider and purchase cannabis at a regulated dispensary.

Veterans living in states with recreational legalization can still pursue a medical marijuana card in some cases, but they won’t need one to purchase cannabis legally. Veterans in medical-only states will need to visit with a healthcare provider, receive a recommendation for cannabis, and apply for a medical marijuana card before they can visit a dispensary.

Federal Laws

To understand the current difference between federal and state marijuana laws, veterans also need to know about the two most prevalent compounds present in the Cannabis sativa plant:

  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a psychoactive (i.e., intoxicating) compound. This is the chemical that produces the “high” most commonly associated with cannabis.
  • Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive compound—it doesn’t produce a high.

Cannabis products containing more than 0.3% of delta-9 THC (one type of THC found in the marijuana plant) are federally illegal. These products are classified as Schedule I drugs.

However, the landmark 2018 Farm Bill federally legalized the growth, processing, sale, possession, and use of hemp and cannabis with less than 0.3% delta-9 THC content.

So, some kinds of medical cannabis are federally legal, but not all—many veterans use CBD-dominant hemp products to support their healing journey with success, and these products are federally legal.

For veterans looking to use cannabis products with higher concentrations of THC (which can be used to achieve various health goals), access is more limited.

Employment Regulations

Many veterans pursue continued US Military employment or jobs with the federal government after active duty. Veterans in either of these types of positions should use caution when considering their paths with medical cannabis.

Since most cannabis products are still federally illegal, federal employers (including the US Military) can:

  • Bar cannabis users from applying
  • Enforce cannabis testing
  • Terminate employees found to be using THC products

Since hemp is federally legal, veterans working for the federal government can take advantage of the healing potential of CBD (in most cases) without compromising their employment.

But federal employees should read the fine print before using any cannabis product: explore your employment contract, talk to your HR department, or consult with a trusted supervisor before incorporating marijuana into your healing practice.

Benefits of Medical Cannabis for Veterans

With all of this in mind, let’s dig into some of the benefits of using cannabis products intentionally to support health and wellness. We’ll touch on both CBD-dominant hemp and marijuana products with THC.

Mental Health Support

Anecdotal evidence supporting marijuana’s mental health applications is staggering. In fact, many current medical marijuana patients are veterans.

Although CBD isn’t psychoactive, patients leverage it to:

  • Relieve stress
  • Support a sense of calm
  • Reduce nightmares
  • Treat symptoms of psychosis

Since THC produces intoxicating effects without long-term side effects or health risks (unlike other intoxicants, like alcohol), many veterans use highly precise dosages in intentional settings to quiet their minds, organize their thoughts, and perform active self-work to process the root causes and everyday symptoms of their mental health struggles.

Paired with other mental health support strategies like counseling and journaling, cannabis can be a highly useful healing tool for veterans looking to improve or maintain their mental health.

Trauma Recovery

Speaking of mental health improvements, many veterans have found that medical cannabis is a powerful, undervalued tool for trauma recovery—including TeleLeaf founder Gary Hess, who paved the way for medical marijuana legalization in Louisiana.

While widely accepted Western treatments (like various talk therapy modalities and prescription drugs) mainly treat the symptoms of trauma-related conditions like PTSD, patients have discovered that intentional cannabis use can help them unpack and resolve the root causes of their trauma-informed mental health challenges.

You can learn more about an informed approach to recovery with medical cannabis in our guide, but in short, marijuana can help patients:

  • Slow down racing thoughts during a triggering moment or high-stress episode
  • Process-triggering stimuli and other pressing factors
  • Unpack troubling events or unresolved mental roadblocks

Each of these approaches can help trauma survivors unlock a path to symptom relief and recovery. Both THC- and CBD-forward marijuana products can support these goals.

Sleep Health

Sleep improvement is one of the most widely discussed benefits of both high-THC and high-CBD marijuana formulations, and veterans are at a high risk of sleep disruption.

While any medical cannabis patient can intentionally use cannabis to improve their overall sleep hygiene, veterans struggling with trauma-related sleep disturbances may be especially interested in the sleep-supporting benefits of marijuana. Patients generally report that cannabis (especially Indica strains and CBD-forward formulas) helps them:

  • Fall asleep more quickly
  • Stay asleep throughout the night
  • Achieve deeper, more restful sleep

Pain Relief

Relief from chronic pain is yet another well-publicized benefit of medical cannabis—especially CBD-based products.

While veterans may experience chronic pain after a combat injury or in connection with a mental health disorder, these unique pain experiences could be treated with a variety of medical cannabis products, like:

  • CBD-based topical lotions and ointments for acute pain
  • Edible or liquid-based products (e.g., gummies, tinctures, and oils) for generalized pain
  • Smokable products for generalized pain and other symptoms

This is another one of the perks of medical cannabis: patients have nearly countless product options to choose from. Unlike prescription pain management drugs, marijuana is highly customizable. This makes treatment regimens easy to tweak and refine.

TeleLeaf: A Veteran-Led Team

For veterans growing exasperated with the Western medical system, alternative methods like medical cannabis treatment can open new doors for healing without the risk potential tied to prescription drugs.

While veterans working in the federal space may be restricted to CBD-based cannabis products, these can also be effective for patients looking for relief and recovery.

If you’re looking for trauma-informed medical marijuana doctors with ample experience treating veterans, TeleLeaf is your partner. Our patient-centered approach and focus on plant-based treatment make us the best online medical marijuana card service available to veterans today.

To start your journey with medical cannabis, reach out to us and schedule your first appointment.


Sources: 

National Conference of State Legislatures. State Medical Cannabis Laws.
https://www.ncsl.org/health/state-medical-cannabis-laws

The Brookings Institute. The Farm Bill, Hemp Legalization, and the Status of CBD: An Explainer.
https://www.brookings.edu/articles/the-farm-bill-hemp-and-cbd-explainer/

Healthline. 6 Health Benefits of CBD Oil—And a Look at Side Effects.
https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cbd-oil-benefits#mental-healthg

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol Use And Your Health.
https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

US Department of Veterans Affairs. Sleep Problems in Veterans with PTSD.
https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/cooccurring/sleep_problems_vets.asp

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