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Veterans fighting for the right to use medical marijuana

Photo: Max Pixel via MGN

Medical marijuana is a growing issue for veterans across the United States, including Kern County.

Some vets use weed to treat pain caused by war, including physical wounds and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sgt. Chad Garcia served in the Army for 13 years and was deployed three times. He suffers from anxiety, stress-induced migraines and sleepless nights.

When he left the military, Veterans Affairs prescribed dozens of medications. But with those medications came side effects.

"It made me feel groggy, it made me feel just very down, almost like I had no excitement, very numb to everything ... joy, sadness, the only thing that ever made sense was anger," said Garcia.

But he said that changed when he started using medical marijuana.

"I strictly use edibles, and it's to help me sleep," he said. "When you have problems sleeping, whether it's nightmares or whatever, it affects your life."

Garcia said marijuana has changed his quality of life for the better.

VA hospitals don't give vets the option of being treated with marijuana, because it is classified as a Schedule I drug, along with the likes of heroin and ecstasy.

Instead, vets are prescribed a combination of medications called a combat cocktail, a mix of pills including ones used to treat anxiety and depression.

The American Legion, one of the largest veterans organizations in the United States, did a poll on medical marijuana. It found 82 percent of vets and their caregivers feel the federal government should legalize medical marijuana, and 92 percent support further research into medical marijuana.

Lou Celli, the national director of Veteran Affairs and Rehabilitation for the American Legion, said he was initially doubtful about medical marijuana, but vets keep pushing for it.

"Coming across our research we found veterans say the only reason they were alive today and did not commit suicide was because their use of medical cannabis," Celli said. "That's a pretty powerful statement."

Some lawmakers, on both sides, want the VA to conduct more research into the potential benefits of medical marijuana, with hopes the Justice Department will reconsider its current opposition.

Earlier this year, VA Secretary David Shulkin said he was interested in looking into new treatment for vets.

Joe Acosta, director at the Bakersfield Vets Center, said he's seen the benefits of marijuana use by veterans he's counseled.

"It has been my experience that they do respond positively," Acosta said. "They are able to manage that trauma, for the panic and anxiety, with the use of marijuana."

Garcia is among many vets who are fighting for a sensible, federal policy on medical marijuana.

"It's funny, this little plant that everyone thought was always there to get you high, can actually make your life better," said Garcia.

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