What is the Veterans Cannabis Project?

Strains & products

(Courtesy of Curaleaf)

This article is presented by Curaleaf, partnering with the Veterans Cannabis Project to advocate for improved access to medical cannabis for veterans.


The service and commitment demonstrated by United States military veterans stir many Americans to their core. At the intersection of veterans and medical cannabis is the Veterans Cannabis Project – where Executive Director Doug Distaso works towards full legal cannabis access because he knows exactly what other vets are going through.

“I was in a pretty bad spot after I left the Air Force. I was taking the standard combat cocktail of benzos, opioids, and mood enhancers, and got my wake-up call one Christmas morning. I was following my doctor’s orders but couldn’t be fully present with my family on all those pills and had fallen asleep in the middle of opening gifts. My wife shook me awake, and that was when it clicked for me that something had to change. Days like Christmas are important to my life as a father and husband, and they are the entire reason why veterans sacrifice in the first place.”

(Courtesy of Curaleaf)

The Veterans Cannabis Project thinks the sacrifices that the military veterans make are the reason they deserve access to the same solutions that have helped countless others and Doug leads the charge.

“At this moment, data suggests that 22 veterans a day commit suicide and that at least 1 in 5 are returning from places like Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD. Those are alarming problems,” Doug says.

His personal experience gives him the ability to connect and empathize with other veterans, and it’s the clear focus of everything that happens at the VCP. With members of the organization on the ground all over the United States, the organization uses three pillars to spread its essential message: advocacy, education, and support.

“We believe that we need to get full legal access to cannabis for veterans, and we use advocacy, education, and support to achieve our goals. We demonstrate our advocacy every day on the Hill, trying to create a community of advocates with personal stories that can be shared with legislators. We fight to get laws changed because we know the discrepancy between state and federal law is what is anchoring many of our problems.”

(Courtesy of Curaleaf)

“Education is equally important to our advocacy efforts. We look to countries like Canada that have started introducing cannabis to veterans, teaching them about it, testing its efficacy – and we mimic their education efforts. We also look for ways to get the correct research and information to veterans that want to begin a cannabis journey or addressing their doubts about using medical cannabis.”

Doug thinks that support is the most important part of all. The Veterans Cannabis Project has local advocates (referred to as VCP Force Commanders) who work within their communities to help other vets that are struggling, undereducated about cannabis, or confused about the particulars of medical cannabis programs, including details about how the Department of Veterans Affairs views cannabis use.

“In the military, we say that you have to win the current fight, and the current fight is full legal access that includes comprehensive support from the VA. Veterans rely so profoundly on the VA due to the types of injuries sustained, the lack of income we bring in when we get home, and the treatment level we need to heal, so we need them on board and at our side, not working against us.”

Though getting the support of the VA is a massive part of the fight, it isn’t the only thing that vets worry about when they consider using cannabis to combat the symptoms that impact them most. As they take care of their physical and mental health, many also have to navigate the post-military workforce.

“Maintaining security clearance is a big topic in the veteran community, which is made up of a lot of rule-following, law-abiding people. Their clearance is a symbol of their hard work, and sometimes all they have after leaving active duty. Interacting with cannabis, a Schedule 1 drug, can put their security clearance at risk, so it’s not realistic for them,” Doug says. “As long as there is threat and stigma from the drug schedule, veterans are going to be wary of cannabis, even if it is to their detriment.”

(Courtesy of Curaleaf)

Amongst other things, vets worry about their second amendment rights, making adequate money to live a full and happy life, and staying balanced throughout the day. Eventually, the choice became a no-brainer for Doug.

“Personally, a security clearance does me no good if I’m not awake, aware, and alive enough to have a life. I always upheld my end of the bargain with my clearance, but it did lead me to choose to have this life outside of working for the government,” he says. “The reality is, I struggle to see the point of penalizing people who seek out cannabis when alcohol and pills have the same, if not greater, detrimental effects. Under current federal law, cannabis use voids your second amendment rights and security clearance, and the VCP wants legislators to rectify these things so that all veterans can have a better quality of life and do the work they have the skills and training to complete.”

The Veterans Cannabis Project’s efforts on the ground have already started to expand to meet the unique needs of veterans. Along with local team members that they have on the ground to meet with doctors and canna-curious vets, they’ve also started recruiting for an art program created to help veterans express themselves and their feelings.

(Courtesy of Curaleaf)

“I almost didn’t know I was allowed to paint. I think that’s the case with a lot of veterans. We don’t know what we are allowed to do. I joined the Air Force Academy at 17 years old. Twenty-five years later, I’m 42 and realize that I’ve missed out on a lot. I hadn’t done a lot of the things that many other people had done. I had never picked up a paintbrush until a year ago or so, but I found that it gave me such a sense of calm.”

Doug believes that any treatment veterans receive should be backed up with outreach so that they never feel alone. After all, the whole point of the Veterans Cannabis Project is to bring help and support to like-minded vets in every aspect of their post-military service.

(Courtesy of Curaleaf)

Curaleaf supports nationwide visibility of the Veterans Cannabis Project by offering VCP branded pre-roll 5-packs in six of the states where they have dispensaries, with more launches planned in the next few months. One dollar from every box sold goes directly to the VCP to support their advocacy for improved access to medical marijuana for veterans.

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We tried ‘CBD-infused clothes’ to see if they did anything

Strains & products

November 5, 2019

(Courtesy of Nufabrx)

I came here to talk shit, and I’m honestly sad that I won’t be able to. Because the Nufabrx CBD-infused (and capsaicin-infused) compression elbow and knee sleeves have not wronged me. In fact, using them has been a positive experience, one that may benefit others as well. *Deep sigh.*

The CBD craze has rendered many a trash product in its time (a company once sent us CBD toothpick samples and I almost went home for the day). So when the thought of CBD-infused clothing accessories came across my company-issued Gmail account, I figured we’d reached the newest level of “let’s cash in on cannabis with BS products that help no one.”

(Courtesy of Nufabrx)

The Nufabrx medicated compression and knee sleeves are suggested for the use of “temporary pain relief of minor aches and pains or muscles and joints associated with simple backache, arthritis, strains, bruises and sprains.” So to test the product, I figured ya boy needed to get active.

I woke up at 5 a.m., like I always do, and hit the gymy gym for a lil’ chest-day-plus-stairmaster-and-jump-rope action. I needed something that would apply pressure to the elbow and knee regions.

Usually, towards the end of my 30 minutes on Level 10 of the Fat Burner stairmaster circuit, my left knee feels a little sore. And because of the triceps engagement, chest day usually hurts my elbow a bit, too. (What I’m telling you is aging sucks, and I can’t wait to replace my human body with all kinds of fiber optics and beep-boop-beeps.)

Surprisingly, after a full hour and change of sweat equity, I had no pain in any region touched by my Nufabrx sleeves. In fact, my ‘bow and knee felt very loosey goosey in a way that many of the sleeves during my basketball years could not provide. But is the experience catalyzed by CBD? And what the hell is capsaicin, anyway?

Active ingredients include synthetic capsaicin, while inactive ingredients include acrylate copolymer and hemp. According to Jordan Schindler, CEO and founder of Nufabrx, the CBD is implemented into the sleeves during production of the yarn.

“We do everything at the yarn stage,” he tells me. “So that allows us to get 3-dimensional relief [from] the ingredient. Versus at the fabric [stage], you can’t control the dose, and it typically washes out very quickly. We treat base yarn, and then that’s knitted into end garments.”

Schindler goes on to tell us that there’s at least 150mg of CBD in each product, depending on the size of the product, as the CBD is implemented on a milligram-per-square-inch basis. The reason CBD/hemp is not listed as an active ingredient under Drug Facts is because it’s not considered a drug by the FDA.

“The ‘Drug Facts’ label is a requirement for a drug product,” Schindler says. “Capsaicin is a pain reliever and it falls under the monograph,” he says when asked why cannabidiol is not listed under Drug Facts.

So yeah, there was hemp extract used in production at one point, but it’s hard to say how much it’s influencing the loosey goosey-ness of my joints. Capsaicin is more likely the main pain reliever here.

According to WebMD, capsaicin is the stuff in chili peppers that makes your mouth feel hot. It’s the primary ingredient in many creams and patches meant to relieve joint pain, muscle sprains, and even migraines. This explains the tingly feeling under the sleeved areas. It also explains why the product limits use to a max of 8 hours per day, 4 days per week.

So, in the end, do “CBD-infused clothes” do anything? The truth is we don’t know, and the Nufabrx CBD and capsaicin medicated compression sleeves don’t exactly help us answer the question. Ultimately, this feels like another product being marketed with CBD, although the true nature of its effects likely derive from other chemicals. But until cannabis comes under FDA regulation, we’ll never be able to really hold companies to any true show-me-what-you’re-made-of standards.

Again, *deep sigh.*

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How Vietnam veterans expanded America’s cannabis strains

Politics

November 8, 2019

(AP)

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.

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.

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.

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.”

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.

“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.

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.

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Suck or chew? With cannabis edibles, method matters

When it comes to edibles, there are different ways to dose, and we’re not talking about cookies versus brownies. Edible cannabis products can be consumed orally, meaning they are swallowed, or sublingually, meaning they are held under the tongue to be absorbed directly into the bloodstream.

Typically, food products containing cannabis are intended for oral dosing, while sprays, tinctures, and oils may be used sublingually or orally. Some companies are even producing purpose-built sublingual cannabis strips.

The method of delivery can affect the onset, duration, and intensity of the effects of cannabis. Sublingual dosing offers a fast onset, shorter duration, and lower intensity than traditional oral cannabis edibles, while also offering a discreet, smokeless experience.

Sublingual administration is a method of delivery for many common pharmaceuticals. One of the most well known of these is Ativan, a fast-acting benzodiazepine used to treat acute anxiety. Sublingual administration involves holding the active substance under the tongue for a certain amount of time, usually until the tablet or strip dissolves. Another related drug delivery method is buccal administration, where the active substance is held against the cheek.

The area under the tongue (and the cheeks) can absorb various active substances into the bloodstream. This is similar to inhalation methods, which allow the active compounds to enter the bloodstream through the lungs. This is why sublingual delivery is fast-acting. Importantly, the substance has to be held under the tongue–not on it–and for long enough for its active compounds to dissolve into the bloodstream.

When dosing cannabis sublingually, people usually use products intended for this route of administration, such as sprays, tinctures, oils, or sublingual strips. You could try holding a chewed up cookie under your tongue, but results may vary.

The pharmaceutical cannabinoid medicine Sativex is delivered sublingually via spray. Sprays, tinctures, and oils may also be absorbed orally if they are swallowed. Some people like to hold a product under the tongue and then swallow it for maximal effect.

Traditional cannabis edibles–foods and drinks infused with cannabinoids–are usually consumed and processed orally. This means that a person swallows the cannabinoids, which are then absorbed in the intestine and processed by the liver.

Many people report edible cannabis to be a more intense experience than inhalation. Researchers believe this is because when THC is eaten, it is converted into 11-hydroxy THC, which is “particularly effective in crossing the blood-brain barrier, resulting in a more intense high.” A 2016 review on cannabis edibles calls 11-hydroxy-THC “a potent psychoactive metabolite,” especially compared with delta-9-THC, the converted form of THC that cannabis consumers experience by smoking, vaping, or sublingual absorption.

“11-OH-THC is more potent than ?9-THC and appears in blood in higher quantities when ?9-THC is ingested than when it is inhaled; hence, it may be responsible for the stronger and longer-lasting drug effect of edibles vis-a-vis comparable doses of smoked cannabis,” the review explains.

For some, 11-hydroxy-THC offers a way to stretch the effects of cannabis without having to consume more. For others, the effects might be too intense and undesirable.

Orally-consumed edibles take a while to kick in, because they have to be digested and processed in the gastrointestinal system before entering the bloodstream. If you’ve just had a large meal, it may take even longer for the cannabinoids to begin to affect you. This might mean up to 90 minutes before an edible starts to work, and even longer before it reaches peak effect.

The effects of edibles are also known to last longer than the effects of inhalation methods, and the same is true when compared to sublingual administration.

Sublingual administration is a convenient, discreet, fast-acting, and smokeless option for both recreational and medical cannabinoid use. Sublingual administration might appeal to someone who is looking for an alternative to edibles that is less intense, shorter, and that kicks in faster.

There are, of course, some downsides to sublingual administration. Consuming cannabis sublingually means a person must purchase specialized products designed for this method of administration, like sprays, tinctures, oils, or sublingual strips. The consumer must also hold the substance under the tongue for a certain amount of time, which may be uncomfortable if they dislike its taste.

In the end, traditional oral cannabis edibles are simpler to consume. But for those who want a smokeless option while avoiding a potentially intense and long-lasting high, or those who need something fast acting, sublingual administration might tick all the boxes.

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The science on cannabis topicals for headaches

If peppermint oil rubbed onto the forehead, neck or temples can provide headache relief, couldn’t a cannabis topical go the extra mile and dissolve the pain altogether?

For now, the health community says no, mainly because we’re missing human clinical trials to say whether cannabis applied to the skin is effective at all for headaches and migraines. But that’s not to say anecdotal data has been a dead end–in fact, just the opposite. A 2017 report amassed a large body of preliminary studies, concluding that we have enough evidence to start clinical trials on cannabis headache treatments. The report even made it a point to say that “cannabis is commonly used to self-medicate for headache disorders”.

Dr. Stefan Kuprowsky, a Vancouver-based naturopathic doctor specializing in ethnomedicine and ethnopharmacology, agrees the theory of topical cannabis relief for headaches is sound, especially given cannabis’s known anti-inflammatory benefits.

“Right now, topicals are most useful for joint-type pain, muscle pain and skin rashes such as eczema, acne and psoriasis,” he says. By extension, a cannabis product could also be helpful for headaches, which are often inflammatory in nature.

But before slapping CBD oil onto your forehead, know that there’s a catch: cannabinoids are not so easily absorbed into the bloodstream through skin, and most headaches are caused by blood vessels in the brain running amok. While there are promising pre-clinical trials for transdermal patches which breach the bloodstream, it’s not known whether they can treat headache pain.

As for topical creams or ointments, Kuprowsky offers a note of caution: “It’s not the same mechanism, like for osteoarthritis, where a topical would be useful right in the areas where it hurts. Headaches are a little bit more complicated, so just putting it on where it hurts doesn’t necessarily get at the underlying problem.”

However, not all headaches are created equal. For example, tension headaches often start at the base of the skull where neck muscles tighten, sending up an inflammatory response. Kuprowsky says a cannabis topical could theoretically be helpful for the muscle tissue, which could in turn reduce headache pain.

Kuprowsky adds that a range of migraine symptoms–including pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound–could be mitigated by CBD, which he says may potentially act like triptans, a commonly prescribed migraine drug. Pre-clinical studies are promising, but we need clinical trials to confirm.

Cannabis has a well-documented entourage effect, meaning the cannabinoids in the plant work synergistically with each other, and with the plant’s terpenes, flavonoids, and other botanical components. Cannabis can boost active compounds in other ingredients, too, as when mixed into an ointment or cream.

Kuprowsky suggests that a cannabis ingredient might enhance other medicinal ingredients present, so you wouldn’t feel the cannabinoids per se, but could theoretically benefit from their ability to strengthen everything else. “If you combine CBD [with other ingredients], then you may have a synergistic effect. And if the CBD isn’t helping on its own, it’s complementing the other herbs.”

But he does warn against placebo effect, which he says people in pain are very susceptible to. “Placebo effect is actually a very effective treatment for pain,” he explains. So when it comes to CBD, he cautions that the hype may be responsible for some of the enthusiastic feedback regarding its ability to mitigate pain.

For now, we wait for science to confirm whether topicals are useful for aching heads, or better served as salves for muscles and joints.

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