DERIDDER, La. — Four veterans representing countless others have been sticking their necks out to advocate for the legalization of medical cannabis in Louisiana.

Bud Clark of Longville served in the US Navy from 1972 to 1975, Paul Bonial of Alexandria served in the Louisiana Army National Guard and then the U.S. Army from 1983 to 1992, Tony Landry of Jennings served in the U.S. Navy from 1988 to 1994, and Brian Greer of Lafayette served in the Louisiana Army National Guard from 1987 to 1991.

The four of them on March 27 participated in a rally for the legalization of medical cannabis in Baton Rouge. “We are being the voice for many people who contact us,” Landry said. “We aren’t just advocating for veterans but for all people in Louisiana.”

Landry moderates a Facebook page called Louisiana Veterans for Medical Cannabis.

The goal of their involvement is to help veterans who suffer from chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

They also strive to educate and break down stigma and misinformation surrounding the medical use of cannabis.

“There is empirical evidence showing cannabis is effective for both of these issues,” said Bonial, who is a practicing counselor, mostly for addiction treatment.

Many veterans with chronic pain are prescribed addictive opioid medications. These come with a whole host of issues — one being that the body eventually builds a tolerance to opioids.

“The opioid epidemic is a national scourge,” said Landry, who injured his back while serving in the US Navy.

He went through two back surgeries and started on a “20-year odyssey with pain meds.” Landry turned to alcohol when his prescribed opioid drugs no longer remedied his chronic pain.

He has since discovered legal hemp-based oils and balms which have a great effect on the pain.

“I had no life on opioids,” Bonial said. “The federal government is crashing down and doctors are drastically reducing opioid dosages. Some of these people have been prescribed these drugs for over a decade and they aren’t being weaned off properly.”

In this situation these people often start looking to obtain cannabis or other drugs illegally in order to remedy their pain and withdrawal symptoms. This can lead to arrests for buying illegal substances and loss of employment.

“They are making us into criminals and we are veterans,” Bonial said. “We are law abiding citizens. We respect and covet the constitution.”

The beginning of the end of the cannabis prohibition began in 2012 when voters in Colorado and Washington said yes to its legalization and regulation.

Since then a total of 29 states and Washington, DC joined the cannabis-friendly ranks. Some also legalized its recreational use.

“I fought (with the Navy) for all 50 states, not just 30,” Clark said.

Greer, who became a mechanical engineer after his military service, has spent some time in Colorado. While there he tried several different delivery methods and various cannabis strains. “I just scratched the surface,” he said. “Some work extremely well and others are much less effective, medically, for me.”

Greer explained that CBD (cannabidiol) is a hemp or cannabis extraction which has a very low percentage of THC and is “great for inflammation.”

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the chemical compound in cannabis responsible for feelings of euphoria. “THC makes the pain tolerable,” Greer said.

The current legality of CBD is a gray area.

Scientific and clinical research — much of it sponsored by the U.S. government — underscores CBD’s potential as a treatment for a wide range of conditions, including arthritis, diabetes, chronic pain, PTSD, depression, epilepsy, and other neurological disorders.

THC can relieve pain, anxiety, psychosis, seizures, spasms and other conditions, without the disconcerting feelings of lethargy and dysphoria caused by many psychoactive drugs.

“When people with PTSD use cannabis, they are able to let their guard down,” Landry said.

Veterans with PTSD tell of their experiences with so called “zombie drugs.” These are just about any psychoactive prescription drug, Bonial said.

PTSD patients are regularly offered antidepressants, specifically SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) like Zoloft or Paxil. If one of these does not work others such as Prozac, Celexa or Lexapro can be tried.

Another popular antidepressant option is an SNRI (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor), like Effexor.

Such drugs may help ease suffering but some people complain that they do not feel like themselves while taking them. Hence the term “zombie drugs.”

The right strain of cannabis for PTSD provides enough detachment from traumatizing experiences that veterans are able to go out and enjoy the world, Bonial said.

The state of Louisiana technically legalized marijuana for medical purposes in 1978, and then again in 1991. But while the prescriptive side was legally established, there was no framework for the growth and dispensing of the product.

The LSU AgCenter on September 14, 2017 finalized an agreement with GB Sciences Louisiana to produce therapeutic cannabis products for qualifying patients.

Approved medical care providers will oversee patients with debilitating conditions.

Patients who have exhausted other medical options without a positive result may be recommended for therapeutic cannabis by their practitioner through specific delivery methods and dosages.

The Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners has developed stringent guidelines for doctors to recommend therapeutic cannabis, including regular follow-ups and reporting.

Delivery methods are limited to oils, oral methods such as pills, sprays or chewables, topical applications, transdermal patches and suppositories. Louisiana law does not allow for any product to be inhaled, raw or smoked.

The LSU AgCenter is authorized to conduct research on therapeutic cannabis. Research will likely include variety development, growth management practices, extraction techniques, compound identification and isolation, drug delivery methods and efficacy testing.

GB Sciences will be responsible for the cultivation, extraction, processing, and production of therapeutic cannabis and will provide and perform all other necessary activities to provide usable therapeutic cannabis products for patients through licensed dispensary pharmacies.

At present, the AgCenter has not yet begun research. “Some regulatory hurdles are slowing the process,” Greer said.

The first medical cannabis sale in Louisiana could take place by this fall, but there is no sure date as to when this will happen.

Information from: Leesville Daily Leader,

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