An estimated one in 11 people are affected by post traumatic stress (or PTS; the clinically diagnosed disorder is PTSD) in their lifetime — approximately 3.5% of U.S. adults each year — which is even higher for military veterans. Rather than hooking these service members on opioids, three Marine vets are looking to medical marijuana as a non-opiate alternative to pain management.
The Battle Brothers Foundation — founded by Bryan Buckley, Andy Miears and Matt Curran in 2016 — works to support veterans as they transition from active duty back to their day-to-day routine. The foundation takes a three-tier approach to support through personal, medical and economic needs, while also supporting cannabis research.
In 2017, the three United States Special Operations Veterans — now known as Marine Raiders — also joined to create the Helmand Valley Growers Company (HVGC), with multiple locations in California. The company takes 100% profit from medical cannabis and turns it back into Battle Brothers. Their first sale was Feb. 2, 2020.
“It’s not about us. It’s about them and just taking care of our heroes. We’re just very honored and humbled to be in the spot that we’re in.”Bryan Buckley
Buckley, who is also the president and CEO of HVGC, said he first tried medical cannabis after Miears told him about the benefits.
“I tried some, and I thought it was great,” Buckley told The News Station. “I mean, I’m 100% disabled, have PTS. It was really the first night I got a full night of sleep.”
Even though battles in Afghanistan are ending, the fight for many veterans continues back at home. About 7,057 service members have died since 9/11 during military operations, but suicides among active duty personnel and veterans has reached 30,177, more than four times as many.
A driving factor in this rate is opioids, which is fueling a nationwide crisis among both the general population and among service members.
“It’s just wreaking havoc on them, and it’s like you’re essentially numbing people out,” Buckley said. “People with PTS don’t want to live like that.”
This is why Buckley and his fellow veterans are pushing Congress and Veterans Affairs to approve medicinal cannabis, and they’re bringing the research to them directly.
The prospective study is set to launch later this summer, when funding is finalized, and will involve 60 veterans. Their severity of PTS will be tested, and they’ll go out, purchase medical cannabis and get a check in from NiaMedic and American doctors once a week to see how they’re doing for about four weeks. The veterans will then be unmonitored for two months before coming in for a final interview.
Once those results are finalized, Buckely said they hope to start a second study with 300 veterans in California, with hopes another would occur in a different state to verify everything. Then, it’s on to approval from Congress and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
But it’s not as easy as it might seem. Marijuana is still listed as a Schedule I narcotic by the FDA, meaning limited research and many limitations on small businesses like HVGC. Research has also been slowed by the pandemic, with lead researcher Dr. Victor Novack helping COVID-19 patients at one of the largest hospitals in Israel last year.
HVGC was allowed to stay open last year, which Buckley said was useful for many people who needed the alternative.
“Definitely during this time I think for a lot of people being able to utilize some medicinal cannabis was probably a very healthy thing for them to do,” he said.
On 9/11, Buckley, who at the time played football at the University of Massachusetts, said his life was forever changed.
“I just looked at myself in the mirror and said it’s time for me to go earn my citizenship,” he said.
He’s been deployed in Iraq, Africa, Southeast Asia and Afghanistan, particularly the Helmand Province, and he’s a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient.
“Definitely during this time I think for a lot of people being able to utilize some medicinal cannabis was probably a very healthy thing for them to do.”Bryan Buckley
In the 1st Marine Raider Battalion, those who serve in the Helmand Province, become part of the Helmand Valley Gun Club and get an HVGC tattoo. To pay respect and honor those fighters, Buckley said the company’s name was created.
“I’m very happy we did so because … I get to tell the story of the men and women who served in Helmand Province,” he said. “We pulled out of there as of late, and history will tell us if we did anything good or not, but at least maybe what we’re doing right now is we’re going to help save the lives of veterans for future generations.”
Buckley, Miears and Curran have already served the country, but Buckley says it means everything to help fellow service members. Every time they shut off the lights, he said they consider what they did for veterans that day.
“It’s not about us. It’s about them and just taking care of our heroes,” Buckley said. “We’re just very honored and humbled to be in the spot that we’re in.”
Though their research in alternative treatments for those suffering from PTS and PTSD is still in the beginning stages, Buckley said he’s thrilled to be on the cusp of changing the medical landscape of the United States.
“This is not just going to help our veterans … there’s a lot of men and women out there suffering from PTS,” Buckley told The News Station. “It’s not like the federal government’s gonna say only veterans can use cannabis for this, it’s going to be for every patient in America, and that’s something pretty exciting that we’re really looking forward to accomplishing.”