War veterans are crying out for medicinal cannabis funding, with the drug reportedly easing PTSD and pain more than traditional treatments.
The Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA) accepts applications to use cannabis for pain, provided it’s approved by a specialist.
But many pain specialists are reluctant to tick off the treatment due to a lack of research in the space, instead prescribing opioids veterans don’t want to take.
The DVA doesn’t approve cannabis for PTSD or any mental-health related issues, leaving antidepressants and sleeping pills as options.
Without the DVA’s financial support, veterans are struggling to keep paying for medicinal cannabis.
Vietnam veteran Michael, who asked for his full name not to be used, has struggled with PTSD since the war.
He stopped taking antidepressants and painkillers after discovering cannabis.
“A few years ago, a friend of mine said, ‘Man, you need to chill’. I was on antidepressants, anti-anxiety tablets and quite a few other ones,” he said.
“I now don’t take any antidepressants, I don’t take any of the painkillers. I’d been self-medicating and staying away from those tablets for some time and now they’ve made (medicinal cannabis) legal, I’ve dropped off even more blood-pressure tablets.
“I now just vaporise – you don’t have a puff, you vaporise – and I’m good. I laugh a lot more, I have joy in my life, my quality of life is superb.”
But Michael said he was “screaming out” for financial support from the DVA, with six weeks’ worth of medicinal cannabis costing him around $450.
“It’s crazy. Absolutely bloody crazy,” he said.
Chris Goulding, who served for five years, dislocated his shoulder while serving and now has arthritis in his back.
Mr Goulding was on tramadol for a decade, experiencing anxiety and depression as side effects before discovering cannabis prescriber Dr James Stewart through a friend.
The 30-year-old swapped tramadol for medicinal cannabis and felt markedly “healthier”.
But Mr Goulding is a father of three and can’t afford to persist if the DVA doesn’t amend its protocols. He estimated he’d spent around $10k on the treatment in only two years.
“DVA have said they’re not approving medicinal cannabis for depression, anxiety or mental health because the side effects are too much of a risk. So they’ve cancelled that and said it’s only for pain,” Mr Goulding said.
“I’m a family man, I’ve got three kids, I can’t afford to keep this up.
“I’ve slowed down my intake of medicinal cannabis because of the cost. Sleep’s gotten worse, so I spoke to my pain specialist and he prescribed me tramadol again.
“So after two years of finally kicking tramadol, I go back for an appointment and he gives me tramadol.
“They can look at the side effects of different medications over the long term. Ten years on tramadol, I never had anxiety before, now I’ve got that diagnosed.
“It’s little things like this. It plays with your depression and mental health in general.”
In an email exchange between Dr Stewart, fellow prescriber Dr Jim Connell and the DVA, the veterans’ department said it would consider the doctors’ views when it reviewed its cannabis protocols.
But it is unclear when – or if – a review is planned.
Dr Stewart offered to rewrite DVA protocols for free, arguing current guidelines are outdated and unreasonable.