Active combat is lonely, traumatic, and life-changing. When soldiers return home, they're often assaulted again by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: flashbacks, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about their experiences.
While PTSD is complex and difficult to address, cannabis is gaining legitimacy as a treatment for its constellation of symptoms - although the jury is still out on how, exactly, the supposed benefits work. Thousands of soldiers say they've been able to kick potentially lethal patterns of self-medicating with opiates and alcohol with the aid of medical marijuana.
These three activists are some names to watch in the arena of legal cannabis and PTSD.
1. Fabian Henry
President and founder, Marijuana for Trauma
Henry, a 12-year veteran of the Canadian Forces, developed PTSD after 6 deployments in Afghanistan. After he received a medical discharge, he discovered cannabis eased his severe symptoms. He founded Marijuana For Trauma, a veteran-operated company that connects former soldiers with safe, legal cannabis.
"The demand is off the charts," Henry told CBC. "I can't keep up right now at this point, it's so busy. Guys are calling me from the other side of the country and back, saying 'Please help me.' And I'm going to help every single one of them."
The staff at MFT includes a strain consultant, natural health/detox expert, and a compassionate client care registration team: all of whom are there to make sure PTSD sufferers can get legal, quality medical marijuana. They've expanded to four centres in four provinces after 14 months in operation.
2. Sue Sisley, M.D.
A lifelong Republican who's never tried cannabis, Sisley isn't a typical marijuana advocate: she unexpectedly fell into the field after a decade of listening to patients telling her how cannabis has changed their lives.
"I was extremely dubious at the beginning. I was thinking these guys are just drug seeking," Sisley told Newsweek. Until, that is, she realized that for many vets, cannabis provides similar relief from anxiety and depressive symptoms as Paxil or Zoloft, minus side effects like impotence and weight gain.
Sisley is currently looking to start one of the first large-scale studies into how marijuana can help combat PTSD, with the aid of a $2-million-grant from the Medical Marijuana Scientific Advisory Council.
3. Kevin Richardson
Founder, Weed 4 Warriors
He was honorably discharged in 2004, became addicted to painkillers, and had four separate suicide attempts. He credits cannabis with allowing him to quit alcohol and all prescription medications.
Richardson's Weed For Warriors Project, developed with help from the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance, provides vets with medical marijuana information, a support network, and safe access to free cannabis with proof of service and a current medical recommendation. They've begun to establish chapters in California, Colorado and Arizona.
He told the Phoenix New Times he was on a mission to convince people cannabis was a safer, more effective treatment than prescription pills.
"We went and fought for our country," he says. "We just want to be free to medicate the way that we choose to."