Overall, medical cannabis has improved my life beyond belief, including the phenomenal impact to my mental health.
According to a 2019 Veterans Health and Medical Cannabis Study, 94% of veterans suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have turned to cannabis to alleviate psychological symptoms such as anxiety, stress and sadness. 96% of veterans also reported they experience a much greater quality of life because of their cannabis consumption.
I served in the U.S. Air Force between 2006 and 2012. There is nothing that I would change about serving my country. It was full of a range of experiences, some amazing, some challenging, and some that still impact me, and thousands of other veterans, years after service.
While enlisted in my AFSC Security Forces, I worked with the QRF team on deployments. I experienced real time war action while deployed in Afghanistan, and Iraq. I risked losing my life while deployed to the Middle East, mainly via indirect fires, such as rockets, being shot at my base. It was extremely traumatic, and left lasting effects on me mentally, which I didn’t fully understand at the time.
Today, I work as a sales account executive at Curaleaf, a leading cannabis company that operates in 23 states. My career in cannabis has been unexpected and exciting, and it’s been a highlight for me to be able to speak to veterans like myself all over the country who continue to look for ways to heal from their experiences.
Life after the military was plagued with struggles to find my place back in society and in the world. I was an uneducated civilian who was suffering from symptoms of depression and PTSD.
For help, I turned to the local VA hospital where I was later classified as disabled veteran. The doctor prescribed me Xanax and Zoloft to reduce my symptoms.
Although pharmaceuticals can help treat symptoms temporarily, the pain itself does not go away. In addition to feeling like a zombie and experiencing suicidal thoughts, both my nightmares and anxiety were intensified.
To give you a sense of how the trauma of war comes back to me while back at home in the U.S., I remember once reacting to a Capri Sun juice box wrapper lying on the ground. It reminded me of my years in the Air Force when I swept roads for exploding bombs that were hidden in trash cans.
I was living in Maryland when my father encouraged me to enroll in the medical cannabis patient program. In fact, we enrolled in the program together. My experience with cannabis in my younger years led me to believe that it would be more helpful than the antidepressants I was taking.
When I started consuming cannabis, I would sleep throughout the entire night without experiencing any nightmares or anxiety. Smoking cannabis flower eliminated all my PTSD symptoms and anger issues, irritability and insomnia. Overall, medical cannabis has improved my life beyond belief, including the phenomenal impact to my mental health. I combine my use of it with fitness, which has always been my escape to heal. I know everyone has a unique experience with cannabis — but that’s my story.
I wish that VA hospitals do would accept cannabis as a viable treatment option for veterans, and move past stigmatized beliefs about the plant. Many patients in the markets where Curaleaf operates are veterans like me who are frustrated with the current treatment options, and want to make sure cannabis is recognized and respected. Not enough is being done to make sure veterans have access to medical cannabis in the same way we have access to opioids.
I remember my VA doctor was shocked when I let them know I was using medical cannabis. However, it does not matter if you are a veteran, have a stable career or have kids, you can still be a responsible patient or member of society who uses cannabis. I’m living proof of that every day.
United States Air Force veteran Ian Gibbs, M.S. is an Account Executive at Curaleaf, a leading international provider of consumer products in cannabis with a mission to improve lives by providing clarity around cannabis and confidence around consumption. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in general health and wellness from Ashford University (San Diego, California) and a Master of Science in sports and health science from the American Military University (Charles Town, West Virginia). You should talk to your health care provider before consuming cannabis.