Mike Krawitz, 56, is a disabled US Air Force veteran who believes in medical cannabis’ ability to save lives by keeping people off the drugs with dangerous and deadly side effects — primarily opioids.
Krawitz believes there is a correlation between the number of opioid prescriptions and suicides among veterans.
“Use cannabis, die less,” Krawitz told Marijuana.com, his tone completely serious. “The scientific community has confirmed that cannabis saves lives by avoiding overdoses. VA [Veterans Administration] doctors know this but are obliged not to recommend cannabis for pain and PTSD. And that is unethical..
“Overdose and suicide…they’re onions we’ve only just started to peel,” Krawitz said.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Suicide Prevention 2016 report found that an average of 20 veterans committed suicide each day in 2014. According to a VA report last year, risk of suicide among veterans is about 22 percent higher than among non-veterans. And while the number of drug overdoses among veterans is not clear, the high amount of veterans taking their own lives is enough for veterans like Krawitz to fight for alternative treatments.
To Krawitz, the number of lives lost to overdoses and suicides feels similar to casualties during wartime.
“We should run a body count ticker in the media, like they do in times of war, to keep a running count of the numbers of veterans who commit suicide,” Krawitz suggested.
This is the motivation behind Krawitz’s push for safe cannabis access alongside like-minded advocates with Vet0erans for Medical Cannabis Access, an organization committed to protecting veterans’ rights to safe and legal access to cannabis treatments, as its executive director.
And while Krawitz notes the VA isn’t in an easy position, saying that the “VA doctors may be allowed more breathing room in a legal medical marijuana state, but they are afraid to run afoul of the federal government,” he stands by his position that the VA should be contributing to medical cannabis research rather than “ritually dumping deadly medications on vets that are killing them.”
Fortunately, there is movement in that area.
The first federally approved study on cannabis and veterans with PTSD is currently in its second phase in Arizona, under the auspices of Scottsdale-based researcher Dr. Sue Sisley. The study is part of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).
While the triple-blind study has FDA approval, it is getting no support from the VA.
“We could have finished this study probably a year ago if we had the cooperation of the Phoenix VA,” Dr. Sisley told Phoenix television stations KPHO and KTVK on May 10, 2018..
Meanwhile, veterans groups across the country are building alliances to end cannabis prohibition in order to enable research and save lives.
Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR), launched in 2016, is the first and only national physicians’ association in the country to endorse medical cannabis. The California Medical Association was the first to do so on a state level.
“Before we launched, physicians were reluctant to publicly voice their opposition to the war on cannabis out of fear they’d be seen as condoning recreational pot use and violating their ethical responsibility to ‘do no harm,’” DFCR founder and board President Dr. David Nathan told Marijuana.com. “But what’s legal is not always ethical and I’d rather get in trouble for doing what is right.”
And while the tide slowly begins to turn, according to Krawitz, veterans are still subject to drug tests by the VA. Those found to have cannabis in their systems can be “punished” by having their prescription pain medications withheld by VA physicians.
On a day meant to honor the men and women who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty, Krawitz said the VA unjustly denies veterans access to safer medicinal services.
“The VA should protect us, not punish us,” said Krawitz.