Though countless veterans say the plant helps ease their ailments, cannabis remains illegal at the federal level (in a recent concession the VA now allows its doctors to discuss the potential treatment but not to prescribe it).
Nevertheless, some veterans and soldiers still use it, and some active-duty troops have ended up vaping synthetic cannabidiol (CBD) in their pursuit of relief. CBD is a nonpsychoactive cannabinoid that is proving to be useful in treating everything from anxiety to epilepsy, and a twelve-year-old girl from Texas who suffers from a seizure disorder is currently suing the Department of Justice for her right to use it in her home state.
But in a public health alert issued this week, the Army disclosed that “Approximately 60 patients with medical conditions potentially related to vaping products marketed as containing CBD oil have been seen at Womack Army Medical Center, Fort Bragg, NC, and the Naval Medical Center at Camp Lejeune, NC.”
The issue has also reportedly affected 33 troops in Utah, and there have been an additional four reports of incidents in North Carolina, according to the alert.
“Symptoms ranged from headache, nausea, vomiting, palpitations, dilated pupils and dizziness to confusion, disorientation, agitation and seizures, all of which are consistent with synthetic cannabinoids,” the warning said.
Interestingly, though the government and military officially ban the use of authentic CBD and all other forms of cannabis, the army’s commentary acknowledged that “Pure CBD oil has not yet been associated with adverse health effects,” effectively admitting that synthetic cannabis is the culprit.
According to the Fayetteville Observer, an outlet based in North Carolina, “Officials said complications from the seizures may have resulted in significant neurologic damage in one soldier and accidents resulting from seizures are blamed for the deaths of two Marines.”
Use of all forms of marijuana, including synthetic varieties, is prohibited in the military, and the Army also notes that “Per AR 600-85, Soldiers are prohibited from even using hemp or products containing hemp,” as well as “any other substance similarly designed to mimic the effects of a controlled substance.” Synthetic cannabinoids are largely illegal for the general public, as well, though last year the DEA granted approval for the production of synthetic cannabis to an opioid company that campaigned heavily against cannabis legalization in Arizona.
Meanwhile, veterans are regularly arrested and penalized for using the plant to treat their ailments despite their repeated assertions that it helps them cope far better than the pharmaceutical cocktails the VA provides to them.
As soldiers continue to exercise their freedom despite what federal laws say, they apparently also face the pitfalls of prolonged prohibition, one of which is apparently adulterated supplies that have the potential to cause serious medical harm.
UPDATE: The Associated Press changed its original story several minutes after our report was published, now saying the two deaths cannot be confirmed to have been caused by synthetic cannabis oil and adding that the figure 33 hospitalizations in Utah is closer to 40 but addresses the public, not military.