Insights From The iCount Veterans Cannabis Research Study

The Cannabis Center of Excellence (CCOE) in Massachusetts is a prominent organization dedicated to advancing cannabis research and education. The CCOE collaborates with various institutions, researchers, and industry stakeholders to conduct comprehensive studies aimed at understanding the impacts, benefits, and risks associated with cannabis use.

Cannabis research studies led by the Cannabis Center of Excellence span from public health impact to education to reduce substance abuse and more. The CCOE is involved in educational programs for healthcare professionals, policymakers, and the public. These programs disseminate research findings and provide evidence-based information on cannabis use.

The iCount Veterans Cannabis Research Study provided valuable insights we would like to share with our patients at MedWell Health and Wellness Centers in Massachusetts. Tetragram was a proud partner, facilitating fast and accessible data collection from veterans through our Tetragram app.

Is Medical Cannabis An Option for Military Veterans?

Medical cannabis is emerging as a viable option for military veterans dealing with various chronic health conditions. In the United States, there are approximately 18 million military veterans. A significant portion of this population suffers from chronic health issues, often resulting from injuries or traumatic experiences sustained during active duty.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, nearly 30% of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have experienced PTSD. Additionally, chronic pain is a prevalent issue, affecting around 50% of veterans in the VA healthcare system. Other common conditions include anxiety, arthritis, and neuropathic pain.

The use of medical cannabis is being explored as an alternative treatment for these conditions. Research indicates that cannabis may provide relief for symptoms associated with PTSD, chronic pain, and anxiety. For example, some studies have found that cannabinoids can help reduce pain and improve sleep quality, both critical for veterans coping with debilitating symptoms.

The federal status of cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance has hindered medical research in the United States. However, with increasing evidence of its potential benefits, advocacy for medical cannabis as a treatment option for veterans continues to grow, highlighting the need for many more comprehensive studies.

Does Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Endorse Medical Cannabis Use?

No. Veteran’s Affairs and VA Hospitals operate under federal jurisdiction. As cannabis was classified as a Schedule I prohibited substance, no federal agency will endorse or permit use. That includes government employees and members of the United States military.

Veterans who use illicit substances (specifically Schedule I drugs) are at risk of losing their VA benefits. However, there was an important shift several years ago in the stance of Veterans Affairs (VA) regarding the use of medical cannabis by retired veterans.

The VA stated that veterans who participate in state-sanctioned medical cannabis programs would not face any punitive judgment or threat to the health services that they receive through the federal government.

While VA doctors cannot legally certify veteran patients for medical cannabis (authorize it), retired military veterans run no risk of losing the free healthcare services they receive through Veteran’s Affairs. If you are a veteran and you live in a state that has legalized medical cannabis, you can still get a medical card.

Who Conducted The iCount Veteran Cannabis Study?

The iCount for Veterans program was a partnership with many organizations that provide veteran support services and research. Patriots Helping Vets, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and the Cannabis Center of Excellence (CCOE) collected the study results.

Researchers wanted to expand veterans’ access to doctor-supervised cannabis and collect patient data to review the impact of medical cannabis on veteran health and wellness. The survey and veteran communication were approved by the UMass Dartmouth Institutional Review Board (IRB) and conducted through the iCount platform hosted by the CCOE.

The Boston Bud Factory, Gibby’s Garden, The Vault, South Shore Buds, and Seagrass dispensaries in Massachusetts supplied medical cannabis products for the iCount for Veterans study.

Results From The iCount Research Study

The research study collected demographics, veterans self-reported health and wellness results, and side effects they encountered after using cannabis. That information was recorded using the Tetragram app, and 235 veterans participated.

What Are The Leading Health Concerns of U.S. Veterans?

The iCount Veterans Health Study wanted to understand the most common symptoms and health conditions experienced by veterans.

The data collected indicated that:

  • 75% of veteran participants indicated that depression and struggles with low mood (or other mood disorders) were leading health concerns.
  • 74% indicated they struggled regularly with symptoms of anxiety.
  • 63% of veterans shared they experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • 48% of participants stated that severe and chronic pain management was their top concern.
  • 37% of veterans in the study stated they experience chronic insomnia.

Another 25.4% of veterans in the study reflected that cannabis was most helpful for chronic pain, and 20% of them indicated that cannabis helped with symptoms of low mood or depression.

Cannabis as a Harm Reduction Alternative To Prescription Medications

The first treatment approach for healthcare providers is often prescription drugs. Medicinal cannabis use has only become a legal option recently in most jurisdictions in the United States. The state legalization of cannabis increased at the same time as public (and clinical) awareness of opioid use disorder grew.

The concept of cannabis as an alternative to prescription pain medications is nothing new. It was declared a public health crisis in the United States on October 26, 2017. President Donald Trump stated that opioid use (and abuse) was a “national health emergency.”

The iCount Veterans health study found that:

  • 52.3% of respondents were trying to reduce the amount of prescription medication they consumed by replacing it with medical cannabis.
  • 47% of veterans wanted to reduce antidepressant medication use.
  • 41% indicated they wanted to reduce the quantity and frequency of taking over-the-counter (OTC) medications for their symptoms.
  • 26% of veterans were looking at cannabis as an alternative for muscle spasms and symptoms of mood disorders.
  • 22% of survey participants felt that medical cannabis was an effective alternative to prescription muscle relaxants.

Supporting veterans and prioritizing their health and wellness means providing safe alternatives to prescription opioids and other unwanted substances that may cause debilitating side effects. Many veterans reported success in finding relief from their symptoms using medical cannabis.

How Much Are Veterans Spending On Medical Cannabis?

Approximately 23% of survey participants shared that they spent between $142 and $233 per month on medical cannabis products. The data showed that 85% of veterans were covered by health insurance, and an additional 93% had prescription drug coverage. However, health insurance plans do not cover medical cannabis products.

Where Are Veterans Accessing Medical Cannabis Information?

Local dispensaries were cited as the primary and most reliable source of information for veterans regarding suitable products, intake methods, and strains that may be most beneficial for symptom management. Forty-four percent of veterans trust their local dispensary for guidance.

The study’s veterans also shared that they researched information regarding medical cannabis by Google search (32%), from dispensaries and other wellness websites (42%), and family and friends (31%).

Improving Veteran’s Health Continuum of Care

American veterans who become cannabis patients have sought alternative ways to manage chronic symptoms more effectively. The insights provided are invaluable because of the prevalence of physical and mental health challenges that veterans face after leaving active duty.

Studies like this not only connect veterans but also advance our understanding of cannabis science and the therapeutic potential of medical cannabis. This data can also be applied to other patient populations to improve healthcare.

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