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Natural Awakenings Bucks and Montgomery Counties PA

PA Vets Push for MMJ Access, Relief

by Carrie Jackson & Karen G. Meshkov

George Armstrong, from Western Chester County, is at the forefront of a movement to allow veterans in Pennsylvania legal access to medical marijuana, or MMJ. With more than 800,000 veterans, Pennsylvania hosts a large community of people that could benefit from treatment of combat-related conditions, such as chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and mental illness. Armstrong is an outspoken advocate for the PA Vets for Cannabis Program, with the aim of convincing the federal government to legalize marijuana.

The Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act, passed in 2016, allows doctors to prescribe MMJ for 17 specific conditions, including multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and glaucoma. However, since MMJ still isn’t federally legal, the Veteran’s Administration (VA) won’t recommend or prescribe it for veterans, and many don’t have the resources, financially or otherwise, to purchase it for themselves.

Almost two-thirds of veterans report some kind of chronic pain, but VA doctors have been criticized by lawmakers and health experts for overprescribing opioids and other addictive painkillers. “Veterans often find that the cocktail of pain meds they’re on don’t work, so they up the dosage. Many are actually taking MMJ just to try to break their addiction to the heavy prescription drugs,” says Armstrong.

Armstrong, a veteran himself who suffers from chronic pain and PTSD, has found more relief from MMJ than heavier medicine such as opioids. Research has shown that in states where MMJ is legal, veteran suicide rates have dropped significantly, and a majority of veterans’ caregivers surveyed support legalizing MMJ. Armstrong believes that having more doctors, especially those connected to the VA, as advocates will help break the stigmas associated with cannabis. “We have more than 4,000 patients signed up for the program, but only 100 doctors involved. The scientific data is there to support the benefits. We are at a breakthrough time for MMJ, but until the doctors embrace this I believe we have very little chance of changing the federal law,” says Armstrong.

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Carrie Jackson is a frequent writer for Natural Awakenings. Connect at [email protected].

Connect with Karen G. Meshkov at [email protected].

January 2018