Author: Mark Baldwin
(Officer, United States Marine Corps)
Disclaimer: These are my personal views and do not represent the opinions of the Marine Corps or the DOD.
The 2018 Farm Bill made sweeping changes to America’s quest for long term self-sustainment; though the real benefit of the bill was the declassification of the hemp plant. Hemp, previously illegal due to the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, has been a part of our nation since its inception and was even used to create the sails, lines, and caulking for The Mayflower¹. Our Navy was literally built around the plant and it helped sustain the southern states for decades. It was called the “New Billion-Dollar Crop” by Popular Mechanics and it wasn’t until a machine was invented which reduced the manual field labor required to produce the final product that southern aristocrats determined they should focus on other crops such as cotton, thereby, leaving our Navy to trudge on without their precious time tested hemp ropes².
It was called the “New Billion-Dollar Crop” by Popular Mechanics and it wasn’t until a machine was invented which reduced the manual field labor required to produce the final product that southern aristocrats determined they should focus on other crops such as cotton, thereby, leaving our Navy to trudge on without their precious time tested hemp ropes².
Hemp is also the plant that primarily produces a higher concentration of cannabidiol (CBD). In order to meet the federally mandated legal definition the plant itself must contain less than 0.03% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
US Secretary Changes Stance on CBD
Shortly after the hemp products were being marketed throughout the United States the Secretary of the Navy released an ALNAV that required all Navy personnel to refrain from using hemp products because of its “perceived potential” to cause harm to personnel. More specifically, the memo stated plainly that “these products may contain appreciable levels of THC, yet without any reference to THC on the label³.
This broad statement gives the impression that newly founded companies in a brand new market, where literal billions of dollars will be made for reputable companies, would voluntarily market CBD products infused with THC. Surely, this is possible, and even more likely in states where marijuana is recreationally legal but why don’t we feel the need to address the same level of scrutiny to supplements (which are also not regulated at all, yes even those you buy at a GNC at your base)4? Sadly, these false notions would be same culprit that caused the plants demise nearly 100 years ago – except this time we had the entire world’s knowledge at our fingertips and we still refuted the possible medicinal value of the plant before a decision was made.
Veterans Claim CBD Works, But Research is Still Underway
Veterans, including Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer, though antidotal, have confirmed empathetically the value that medicinal CBD plays in their daily lives in order to function at their very best5. Due to the past federal classification of hemp as a controlled substance long term studies on the effects and efficacy of hemp derived medicine has been slow to reach mainstream audiences because of the lingering effects of prohibition. However, more recently, promising results seem to be abundant in peer reviewed journals and in the academia sphere on its true curing potential.
Troops Want Holistic Solutions
In 2019, Resaul Cesur, an associate professor at the University of Connecticut, confirmed what dozens of other reports stated; “We have an opioid epidemic in the military population”6. As late as 2015, the Executive Branch was addressing opioid misuse in our nation and specifically directed a more balanced approach to treating chronic pain and other ailments that required prescription medication7. Opioids have been shown, and undercover investigations confirmed, to be habit forming for the sole purpose of benefiting big pharma. Though Primary Care Managers have continued to work toward reducing repeat opioid prescriptions, it is abundantly clear that our current policies don’t fully embrace holistic medicine. We do, however, gladly support holistic support for physical training as shown through the Marine Corps “full steam ahead” approach to the Force Fitness Program (a decision that has clearly benefited every single Marine) and even allow chiropractors to operate on our bases even though the scientific density of the art is very minimal8.
So why than would the Marine Corps decide that CBD should be stricken from the shelves of Marine Corps Exchanges (MCX)? The answer is likely more complicated than I would like to approve of, but in short it seems we just can’t trust adults to make quality decisions… unless they are in a combat zone where one wrong decision could literally mean life or death. It’s clear that problems with hemp in its flower form would be hard to distinguish from the marijuana plant and could unknowingly jeopardize a Marines career. The same could be said for hemp products sold in gel, liquid, and even vape modules. However, the real problem is that Marines are faced with these odd situations daily when they purchase anything from a less than reputable source including vape pods from smoke shops, energy drinks from China, or even supplements at GNC.
A Different Way to Approach CBD
The correct solution for the equation of how to maintain good order and discipline while allowing for mature health conscience Marines to seek out holistic treatment that has proven to be beneficial should have been for the our esteemed cohort of Naval doctors to conduct research to identify quality hemp growers that conduct third party testing on each batch (a federal requirement that is adhered to by any reputable and licensed hemp business) that could be approved by the Marine Corps to sell their products to the MCX. This would allow for service members to at least attempt a different approach to healing and thereby prevent unnecessary over-prescribing of far harsher actual drugs.
Early Research on CBD & Troops is Promising
As of the writing of this article, more than 50 peer reviewed journal articles or completed studies, related to conditions most closely associated with active duty Marines, can be found ranging from topics associated with sleep disorders, PTSD, and even tobacco cessation. In addition, our legislature branch has already passed an amendment to the FY21 NDAA that would direct the Department of Defense to allow CBD use by military members but without military buy in the likelihood of it being passed by the Senate is slim9.
As we continue onward in our quest to mold forward thinking Marines, maintain whole body fitness throughout the rigors of military service, and outperform our adversaries we should remind ourselves that the first knee jerk reaction to nearly all change is normally founded on a bad experience or likely has little real evidence to support the final conclusion. The future will most likely host a plethora of oddities that most conventional warfighters will find hard to embrace including the potential use of magic mushrooms10. It saddens me to admit that the policy concerning CBD is likely not going to change, but I am only hoping that when the next breakthrough in science occurs we wait just a bit longer before we rewrite our orders. Patience in this regard will guarantee we bring the fight to the enemy vice becoming the enemy to ourselves.
1 “The Mayflower and Her Log”. Azel Ames
2 “New Billion‐Dollar Crop”. Popular Mechanics Magazine, February 1938
3 For the full text of the SECNAVs memo see ALNAV 057/19
4 Cara Welch, Ph.D., senior advisor for the FDA’s Office of Dietary Supplement Programs
5 Dakota Meyer’s full text on the use of CBD and even THC for depression and PTSD can be heard on the Joe Rogan Podcast
6 For additional information on the study conducted by Professor Cesur see the study titled, “Did the War on Terror Ignite an Opioid Epidemic?”
7 The White House, Office of the Press Secretary. October 21, 2015. Fact Sheet: Presidential Memorandum ‐ Addressing Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Use. Available from https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/thepress-office/2015/10/21/presidential‐memorandum‐addressingprescription‐drug‐abuse‐and‐heroin.
8 Multiple studies have been conducted on the practice of chiropractic care and the potential benefits associated with its ability to relieve minor back and neck pain but the practice itself is still widely regarded as holistic. For more info see the study, “Evidence‐Based Practice and Chiropractic Care”. 3 September 2012. DOI: 10.1177/2156587212458435
9 HR 6395 was passed by the House of Representatives on 20 July 2020 and is currently awaiting Senate consideration. https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/116/hr6395
10 “Microdosing”. Major Emre Albayrak. Available at https://mca-marines.org/wp-content/uploads/Microdosing.pdf.
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