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Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access: Marine Vet Thrives With MMJ

Picture of Sarah Rudder against a lavender background

Veterans across the country have experienced the life-changing benefits of medical cannabis.

Yet, due to federal regulation of cannabis, many veterans are still unable to access the therapeutic benefits of cannabis for medical conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain, which many struggle with daily.

In honor of Veterans Day, we wanted to share one veteran’s story and their journey with medical marijuana and discuss the barriers to access that still exist today.

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Veterans for Weed: One Marine Vet Shares Her Story

Sarah Rudder knew she wanted to be a marine when she was 12 years old. She enlisted at 16 with parental consent and finished boot camp by the time she turned 17.

She was traveling to Washington, D.C., for her promotion ceremony when everything changed. The ceremony was held on September 11, 2001 — the day that the World Trade Center was hit.

During the ceremony, those in attendance didn’t know what was unfolding in New York and that the Pentagon would be the next target. What was supposed to be the happiest day of Rudder’s life quickly turned nightmarish.

“There was a huge explosion, and the ground shook, and we were just like, what the hell was that? And then we just turned and looked, and you could just see a huge cloud of black smoke all up in the air. And we were only about 400 yards from where it was hit. So we immediately sprinted to the Pentagon to provide any aid that we could.”

She and the other service members who were present began helping evacuate survivors and removing non-survivors.

“And when we were in that process, I was walking backward, and I stepped into a hole when I was carrying somebody, and my ankle was crushed pretty much.”

She underwent various reconstructive ankle and leg surgeries trying to save her leg, but ultimately, there was no choice left but to amputate. Her multiple surgeries led her at one point to be on 16 different medications a day for treatment, which caused various other medical problems.

“I couldn’t continue feeding myself all these pills. That was one, sticking me in the emergency room or two, keeping me in a zombie state…I know that it’s going to end up killing me if I continue to be on them.” That’s when her doctor asked if she’d heard of medical marijuana.

That conversation was a turning point. Despite the stigma ingrained in Rudder from the military and general society, she began to look into patient stories and do some research online. Her findings led to the decision to give medical cannabis a try.

Once she began her medical cannabis journey, she started getting off the medications, and her symptoms began decreasing over time as well.

“It literally saved my life, and now I am healthier and fitter than I have ever been my entire life.”

Cannabis for Veterans: Advocacy and Overcoming Stigma

Today, Rudder is an outspoken advocate for veteran’s access to medical marijuana due to her own success story.

She works, volunteers, and sits on the board for Catch A Lift. This organization helped thousands of post-9/11 combat-injured veterans regain their mental and physical health through fitness, nutrition, and personal support networks.

When asked what the most pressing issue for veterans is in 2023, she responded, “Many people think that because the war is over, then everything is fine. What people don’t understand is that war never leaves us. We are constantly reminded by sounds, smells, dreams, locations — It is a never-ending battle.”

Far from being the only one who has found relief from medical marijuana, many of her peers have also had success stories. “There are lots of veterans in the program who use cannabis to shed anxiety, relieve pain, and most importantly, get off the meds.”

Despite society’s negative attitude toward cannabis use, she says the results speak for themselves. “The stigma attached does not reflect us poorly in any way. We are choosing a healthier path with more clarity and function.”

Veteran’s Affairs (VA) and Medical Marijuana Policy

When Sarah was visiting her VA doctor looking for alternative treatments, it wasn’t legal to recommend or prescribe cannabis. VA doctors are still not permitted to recommend medical cannabis due to federal prohibition.

However, today, veterans are allowed to participate in a state-sanctioned medical cannabis program and not lose their VA benefits. VA providers can discuss cannabis use with veteran patients and adjust care and treatment plans as needed.

Why is this a critical policy development? According to Rudder, “So the veteran community can continue to live a normal life as possible without all the meds. We needed meds to go to sleep, to wake up, for pain, for anxiety, for dreams, for all the side effects of the medications. We were constantly given a bandaid when we needed a tourniquet.”

Veterans Day 2023: Events and Organizations to Donate To

If you’re looking for events to participate in this Veterans Day, then check out this event being put on by Catch A Lift. Veterans Day marks the death of the CEO and founder’s brother, who died in the war. The event will honor him and his story.

If you’re looking for organizations 100% for the veterans to donate to this year, Rudder recommends Catch A Lift Fund and  SemperFi & America’s Fund. Check out local veterans organizations to get involved near you.

The Bottom Line

Medical marijuana is helping veterans across the country get off a laundry list of prescription medications and live fuller lives. If you’re a veteran interested in getting a medical marijuana card, contact Leafwell and connect with a prescribing doctor to find out if medical marijuana is right for you.

Head over to our YouTube channel to hear more patient stories from medical cannabis patients who have found relief with MMJ. Plus, watch the full interview with Sarah, telling her incredible story and journey with medical cannabis in her own words.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which day is Veterans Day?

Veterans Day is November 11th.

Why is Veterans Day celebrated?

Veterans Day celebrates and honors the sacrifices of the millions of Americans who have served in the United States military.

Can veterans use medical marijuana?

Yes, veterans can use medical marijuana if it is legal in their state. Veterans participating in a state-run medical cannabis program will not be denied VA benefits, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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