A Civilian Perspective on Veterans & Cannabis

by Jennifer Shewellgfv1Left to right: Mandyjoe De la Torre, Teddy Montoya and Kim West. Photo by Thomas Cashman


When you go college, as I do, you tend to develop a system of labels and stereotypes for just about every group of people you might encounter, it’s just human nature to define things.

When you go to a school with a whole lot of veterans (about 30% of the student body) they are just another group group of students with a label. However, the unintended side effects of such a stereotype creates yet another obstacle for veterans already dealing with re-assimilating to civilian life often while dealing with issues such as PTSD, traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and/or chronic pain of some kind.

One veteran, Thomas Cashman, had this to say; “People would thank me for my service right before slowly backing away.”

That quote is actually referring to a story Cashman relates about his own personal experience at The Art Institute of Portland. Cashman, who is now vice president for the Grow for Vets, Portland Oregon Chapter, does not seem to have that problem anymore.

When asked what made the difference his response was; “I realized that my intensity, my demeanor was off putting. I had to lighten up. I had to open up. Cannabis helped with both of those things”.

Veterans Take on Cannabis

While most people would not typically relate cannabis and veterans there are many who want that to see that change. Grow for Vets is an organization that advocates for cannabis use among veterans. They focus on educating veterans and providing them with medicine. The Portland, OR chapter is even working towards solutions to create opportunities for veterans to work and learn to grow their own medicine.

Cannabis can be a powerful tool to ease pain, anxieties and improve mood, but it does not happen in a vacuum. Isolation is a common side effect of many conditions that veterans are faced with with daily. Cannabis cultivation is a community effort that frequently brings grower, processors and patients together.

As it turns out if you put veterans to work in an environment where they can make a difference, while being able to use cannabis, you can actually see them start to heal right in front of your eyes.

A Civilian Perspective on Veterans & Cannabis

There are many who may have a difficult time accepting cannabis as a viable medical treatment, but I have to say; after spending time with Grow for Vets it is apparent to me that veterans and cannabis just go together.

I am a civilian. As a civilian, I can tell you that it can be awkward to sit and watch a group of veterans bonding over cannabis. Awkward but not uncomfortable. The awkwardness is not because they are unapproachable, rather it is because it is very obvious when you aren’t one of them.

Still, amidst the awkwardness, what you see is beautiful.

A newly discharged veteran approaches the group and there is instant camaraderie. A ‘knowing’ of what it is to serve, strengthened through a common love of cannabis. Laughter, and human connection…an extended family that is always growing and changing. That is what I see when I watch Kim and Teddy and Thomas and the other veterans-A continued love and desire to serve, to give back to this military family that has seen so much death, and destruction.

“I made it through some of the hardest days and nights of my life because of these folks” says Thomas, “I know we can get through any challenge the same way: together.”

These veterans aren’t just healing themselves, they are showing us how it’s done;

One step at a time, one boot in front of the other. Together.