As a former Marine Raider, Bryan Buckley knows plenty of veterans who’ve had issues with drug and alcohol addiction after their service ended. To help those veterans transition back into society, Buckley and two other former Marine Raiders — Andy Miears and Matt Curran — turned to a non-conventional solution: medical cannabis.
At the end of 2016, the three men got interested in researching how medical marijuana could help veterans after Miears revealed he used cannabis to sleep better and to relieve his chronic pain. In 2017, they created a study designed to research marijuana’s effects on veterans.
However, the first study they wanted came with a price tag of half a million dollars, Buckley told The News Station. That was a hefty sum they didn’t have. While trying to brainstorm fundraising ideas, they noticed a Paul Newman salad dressing bottle that said all profits went to charity — that’s when the proverbial light bulb lit up.
“You can take the profit from that and donate it and it’s totally legit, so we were like, ‘Well, what a great revenue stream that could be,’” Buckley recalled. “Why don’t we just form a recreational brand out here in California to…immerse us into the cannabis community, to build awareness of what we’re trying to do, and then also just start taking some of the profits from our sales and put that towards our medical cannabis research?’”
That idea turned into Helmand Valley Growers Company, or HVGC — a recreational cannabis brand dedicated to “help put an end to the opioid and suicide epidemic” among US veterans. The name Helmand Valley comes from the Helmand Province in Afghanistan, an area where the three Marine veterans served together. Buckley said they chose their name to give the company a military niche.
Currently, HVGC offers distilled vape cartridges as well as apparel. Buckley said the company is working on its cultivation facility in the Los Angeles area and plans to distribute more products, such as raw marijuana flower, pre-rolls and live resins in the future. Additionally, the cultivation facility will eventually also grow medical cannabis.
Although the concept of HVGC came about in 2017, Buckley said the company truly started in 2019 when they started collaborating with the recreational cannabis brand Platinum Vape.
George Sadler, president of Platinum Vape, said HVGC found them while looking for a company to help them manufacture their products. Hearing about HVGC’s founders’ passion to help veterans live better lives after their service moved him to help out.
“They’re very sincere about the fact of giving back, and as far as helping veterans, and we just really hit that off,” Sadler told The News Station. “That’s one of the things that we really take close even though we have not served… I can tell you that we support on all levels.”
Platinum Vape initially agreed to assist in getting HVGC’s first products into consumers’ hands. The company continues to manufacture all of HVGC’s products and help with marketing.
HVGC’s funds currently go toward the Battle Brothers Foundation, which is working on the research Buckley, Curran and Miears are most passionate about. The Battle Brothers Foundation, a nonprofit Buckley founded in 2016, helps veterans through a “holistic approach” by connecting veterans to mentorship programs, looking into non-opiate based treatment methodologies, and helping veterans get jobs.
The research HVGC funds is in coordination with NiaMedic, a medical data company. At a 2017 UCLA cannabis symposium, Buckley met Alon Blatt of NiaMedic, who showed interest in the research Buckley wanted to do. Blatt helped create a study design. Right now, the proposal is sitting with an institutional review board awaiting approval so human trials with medical marijuana can begin.
“Once we get that [approval], now we can actually go in and actually start doing our medical cannabis research, which we will do here with about 200 veterans in California,” Buckley said. “We’re gonna dial into genetics, figure out what is working for them, [and go] after the symptoms of post-traumatic stress.”
This first trial is designed to take place over the course of three months, with subjects under medical supervision. Veterans will be provided with recommended cannabis treatment protocols based on physical examinations and DSM-V tests measuring where they’re at with post-traumatic stress disorder. For the first three weeks of the study, NiaMedic staff will call the veterans every week so the patients can report if the treatments are or aren’t effective. Then the treatment protocols will be adjusted accordingly.
After those initial few weeks, the veterans will be “on their own” for the remaining two months of the study while following the prescribed treatment protocols. At the end of the study, the participants will be called in one last time to report on the treatments.
The study doesn’t just stop in California, either — the research will also go into Michigan and Oklahoma, because the two states have high veteran density and also have recently become cannabis-friendly for either recreational or medicinal purposes. These studies will use the same methodologies on a smaller number of veterans to try and corroborate success rates of the medical marijuana treatment protocols across a wide swath of diverse veterans in the various states.
“At that point [after studies in other states], we’re ready to go,” Buckley said. “We can go make our argument to Congress, saying, ‘Here’s your data and here’s your American doctors, so let’s get on with it.’”
HVGC’s overarching plan is to help make medical cannabis federally legal with the study’s data and get cannabis to be prescribable at the US Department of Veteran Affairs (or VA). If that happens, Buckley envisions expanding HVGC on a national level outside of their home state of California.
“I’d love nothing more than for vets to get prescribed medical cannabis from the VA,” Buckley said. “We’re mission driven, and this is a mission of love to help out our veterans who’ve done so much for us.”