How Vietnam veterans expanded America’s cannabis strains
Veterans in the U.S. and Canada are becoming increasingly open to trying cannabis when first-line drugs aren’t working. But their governments aren’t making it easy.
Soldiers not only used cannabis to cope with wartime stress. They brought seeds home with them, too.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs still refuses to prescribe it, even though many veterans report finding relief from chronic pain and PTSD by using medical cannabis. In Canada, the federal government continues to move the goalposts for veteran access to medical cannabis—most recently reducing the amount of cannabis that Veterans Affairs Canada will help subsidize.
One of the many ironies inherent in this situation: Today’s plethora of cannabis strains, legal cannabis industry, and the tax dollars they generate, were created in part by veterans of past generations.
The most influential generation of veterans may be those who served in the Vietnam War. Soldiers not only used locally-grown cannabis to cope with the stresses of war while in country; they also brought seeds home to North America, where they would become the progenitors of some of today’s most popular strains.
‘It prepared us for battle’
During the Vietnam War about two-thirds of American troops volunteered for service. The rest were drafted. At 18, Bob Luciano entered his local draft office in The Bronx, and at 19 he found himself in Vietnam serving the first of two tours of duty. “That’s where I found out that cannabis is better than drugs,” Luciano, now 69, told Leafly in a recent interview.
The possession, sale and use of cannabis wasn’t legal in Vietnam. But that didn’t stop American troops from developing a taste for southeast Asia’s indigenous varieties.
Bob Luciano recalled the tenor of the times. “In the naval base, when I went to Vietnam, we started smoking weed—pot, at that time we smoked pot,” he said. “The reality was that it was able to prepare us for battle and all the unknown things. We were 18 and 19-year-old kids. The things that you’d see, you’ve never even seen before. It wasn’t like watching the news.”
It helped after service, too
Veterans often face one or many of several conditions that persist well after they have served. Chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are two of the most common. Typically, when a veteran displays signs of PTSD, anxiety, depression, and pain, government doctors put them on a combination of prescription medicines that some veterans ruefully call a combat cocktail.
“Pot, or weed, or cannabis, we found out, enables you to go through what you were going to go through,” said Luciano. It also, he said, helps veterans survive the aftermath of war: “It enables you to deal with what has happened.”
While others drank or used heroin to dull the sensations of war, Bob Luciano discovered the soothing effects of cannabis.
Prescription drugs provided by veteran health care providers, Luciano said, tend to dull the senses for a short period of time—but the mental trauma and pain would only return, amplified, later on.
“Beyond the horrors of Vietnam, I learned a lot of medicinal benefits of cannabis” during his two tours, said Luciano. “It enabled you to go into battle, complete your mission, talk about it, and then go back in to complete another mission.”
When he could, he found some escape. “During battle, we watched what [farmers] did with the soil because we just wanted an escape. You’d smoke weed, and you’d watch the monkeys play in the trees, and watch the farmers grow.”
While others around him drank or used heroin to dull the sensations of war, he was discovering the soothing effects of the local cannabis crop. “Even God and religion wasn’t enough,” Luciano said. “I could never understand why they were allowing me to kill people.”
Long-term psychological harm
Between 1961 and 1975, the ongoing war claimed the lives of an estimated 10 percent of the population of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. In the same period, 56,869 American troops were killed. 153,329 were seriously wounded, and three million soldiers continue to experience long-term psychological damage, the social effects of which are still unravelling.
“Because of the huge trauma they’ve gone through, it’s something unique; it’s almost like the PTSD brain is different because of what they’ve been exposed to,” explained Dr. Mandeep Singh. A psychiatrist with Apollo Applied Research and the Be Well Health Clinic in Toronto, Singh specializes in post traumatic stress. “Because of that, [the brain] actually reacts to both cannabis and traditional medications differently” from a brain that hasn’t experienced similar trauma.
PTSD: Brain and body affected
Singh trained in the United States, but when he started practicing in Canada he noticed that many veterans were enduring rounds of medications that negatively affected their quality of life, or just didn’t work.
With PTSD, he explained, “it’s not just the brain that’s affected.” The rest of the body remains on high fight-of-flight alert. These patients “have high cortisol levels,” Singh said, “and their whole body is out of balance.”
In the course of his work with veterans, Singh has observed that most civilian patients will use one or two grams of cannabis per day, while a typical veteran will need up to ten.
“Ten grams: You’re talking about almost twenty joints worth a day,” said Singh. “But they’re functioning well. They’re not looking euphoric, or high, or out of it. I think that’s something to do with the PTSD brain being different in how it reacts to CBD and THC and so forth.”
Limiting doses, banning recommendations
In 2016, Veterans Affairs Canada reduced the amount of cannabis per day that it pledged to reimburse for veterans whose healthcare providers recommend the medicine. The government agency previously allowed up to ten grams of dried cannabis, or its equivalent in fresh marijuana or cannabis oil, per day. After 2016, that allowance topped out at just three grams.
Meanwhile, in the US, the federal Department of Veterans Affairs still won’t allow VA doctors to recommend cannabis to the nation’s military veterans. Up until a few years ago, VA doctors weren’t even allowed to discuss it with their patients. That’s a hard policy to square with many veterans who’ve seen the help cannabis can offer.
The healing element
“Weed was like the healing of everything,” Bob Luciano told Leafly. “The war happened in the sixties, we weren’t even over segregation yet, we weren’t over equal rights. We had a lot of issues that were happening, like the demonstrations with the burning of the bras. It was a lot of different influences that were in Vietnam, sharing the same gulch or bunker, and whether you like the next person or not, it unified you. It allowed you to discuss why things were changing. It stopped the war, man. Pot stopped the war.”
American soldiers were so moved by Vietnam’s potent sativa that some of them returned home with pockets full of seeds. Today’s “thank you for your service” culture didn’t exist back then. In fact, many soldiers received cold welcomes. Instead of returning to the US, Luciano took his seeds and headed for Jamaica. For five years he honed his skills as a cannabis grower, operated an organic restaurant with his wife, and developed his Mr. Natural brand of cannabis products, from dry flower to salves.
His years in Jamaica allowed Luciano to experiment with cross-breeding, and learn how environmental factors like air quality and soil affected the plant. Local growers turned him on to the mighty cultivation powers of nutrient-rich Jamaican bat guano.
“I knew Columbian Gold at that time period used to make you very relaxed, and a Kush strain that we had developed in California generated more energy and made you forget what you were thinking of; it made you happy when you were negative,” Luciano recalled, telling the origin story of his Cali Gold variety.
Hybrids and new varieties
Learning as he went, but always adhering to organic growing practices, Luciano began creating genetic variations that made the most sense for veterans like himself—strains that calm the mind, ease physical pain and stimulated the appetite.
Today, Luciano medicates daily for chronic pain and PTSD. He reaches out to other veterans, helping them navigate the byzantine ways of the VA so that their cannabis use doesn’t negatively impact their treatment. In the past, testing positive for THC would have automatically ended a VA patient’s ability to receive pain medication prescriptions, but that’s no longer the case.
Because of a change in VA policy, American veterans are no longer denied benefits if they are found to be consuming cannabis. VA medical officials now advise patients to disclose their cannabis use, as it may affect the course of action taken by doctors.
Still, some veterans choose not to reveal details of cannabis use to their physicians. Luciano had the VA note his cannabis use on his medical records ten years ago, and he encourages others to do the same. His message is simple: “Notify the VA that you’re getting more medicinal benefits from it,” he said, to force the agency to recognize the value of cannabis and change its policy.
Why help vetrans with cannabis seed
I created Seeds for Vets with the simple aim of getting high quality cannabis seeds into the hands of US Service Veterans, so that they can grow their own medicine, and benefit from the healing growing process and journey. Purpose Genetics was created to fuel that endeavor and create a platform for small breeders to shine along the way.
Veterans looking to grow are supplied with a generous mix of seeds, and ongoing help if questions and grow issues arise. Their service has paid for it, verification of service is all that is required.
If you live in a cannabis legal state and are interested in helping veterans in your area grow their own medicine, head over to Seeds for Vets Facebook and post how you can help, it’s all appreciated!
And for the Veterans and family members reading, Thank you for your service. Shoot me a note if you’d like to grow your own medicine, it’s on the house.
Seeds for Vets mission is simple, to provide free cannabis, vegetable/herb, and companion plant seeds to US Service Veterans, as well as vitamins, supplements, and helpful teas, so they may grow their own medicine and receive the horticultural therapy it provides along the way – and feel better right away doing it. All that is required from the veteran is proof of service – whether part of an ID, paperwork, or matching pic in uniform – simple. Since starting operations in 2017 SFV has distributed many hundreds of thousands of seeds all across the nation(and world). Thank you for your support.
Back “in the office” taking care of requests as I am able. Seeds(cannabis, hemp. veggies and herbs) and vitamins and minerals and night time and feel better teas now available.
General update on non-profit status/funding:
Non profit status for Seeds for Vets is currently impossible given federal laws – many hours have been spent working on this. (what do you know, a dem president in 2020 doesnt even clear this up, crazy huh?) Since beginning of 2020 SFV has been entirely run on sales from Purpose Genetics and my day to day work, I have not accepted any monetary donations for almost 2 years. As such please be patient if I am in backlog or catching up, I truly appreciate your patience as I work through requests and I do want to get to your request as quickly as the seedbank and resources allow.
On a side note. I am working on a non-cannabis non-profit so that we can kickstart horticultural therapy for veterans across the country in every other arena of growing, and when the fed catches up, well then maybe we’ll enter that space too. Thanks everyone for your support.
(OLD – for record)
UPDATE 6/8 – I will be “out of the office” from June 9th – 13th visiting non profits and farms in Colorado. I have done my best to get up to date with sendouts before leaving, any requests made in the next week will most likely not be responded to until after Monday the 14th.
Currently seed stock is very low and there will be a focus on new requests over restocks. If you need a restock please wait a year between requests, thank you.
UPDATE 3/19/21 – Out of backlog, but resources are fairly limited so please be patient as I work through requests. Restocks must be yearly now to make sure there is enough to go around.
UPDATE 2/11/21 – As many know by now, I had some trouble getting Non-Profit status with the Fed, but we did have some good conversations with the State and are working towards something, it has been a long and tough process maintaining the ear of politicians on the matter. In the meantime SFV is a privately run endeavor(personal expense) without much support or man power so please be patient as I work through requests. Thank you very much to our seed donors they have been really keeping us going through Covid. Check out the latest instagram posts to see the latest donors.
UPDATE 7/15/20 – SFV is working with State agencies to better cannabis laws in the state. SFV and PHV have run into some significant legal difficulties trying to go non-profit at the state and federal level, as such SFV is still a privately run/funded and volunteer organization so your patience with seed requests is appreciated. I will do my best not to enter backlog, but may have to from time to time as the only thing funding the operation is Purpose Genetics sales and occasional donations. PLEASE do not send an email requesting seeds if “Backlog” is at top of page, thank you.
Update 12/20/19 With big thanks to @project_delta518 and @fireintheholegenetics the bank will remain open through the holiday. While seed stock has been graciously replenished, the shipping fund has been depleted. Only new requests for now please no restocks, thank you.
Update 12/19/19 – Holiday has cleaned out the bank, SFV will need to go dark for a brief hiatus while the seedbank is restocked. If you are a seed donor please get in touch concerning a potential seed donation, it is greatly needed and appreciated.
Update 5/26/19 – backlog has been worked through. Currently working on Non-Profit status but having issues with “legislative gaps”, will keep updated.
update 4/2/19 (legal disclaimer)
Seeds for Vets is working on Non Profit status, but currently IS NOT an official “Charity”, after this recent tax season I thought I’d clear this up until things change.
SFV currently is a personal expense of mine and Purpose Genetics, and some friends that help out(greatly). Seeds for Vets does not intend(currently) to purport itself as a Non-Profit Tax Exempt organization. It’s in the works, but is not the case now.
This means I/We don’t receive any formal or sustained funding nor are paid for our time/expenses in running what SFV has become(and I experienced a “loss” this past year). So I have to again ask for some patience from those requesting seeds. Please have the patience you’d have with a self employed individual, not a large organization. If/when you get seeds please treat them as though there will not be restocks/resends, current conditions don’t make restocks an easy thing to do. I’m getting requests for restocks only weeks or a couple months after getting a package, I can’t keep up with that.
Given that I don’t have 501c3 status yet, it’s an even bigger testament to the care and intention of those that have donated, they haven’t been getting any tax benefits from the donations and are just doing it for the good of our nation and vets, so give them a thanks again – most businesses only donate when they know they can deduct it. (The Grumpy Giant , @terp_fi3nd, @fireintheholegenetics, Brian and Papa G, Seeds Here Now, Rick Campanella and Brothers Grimm, Jinxproof, and many more, give them a round of thanks again, it’s a big ask just donating to something on a promise and no tax deduction. (the best thanks is buying their gear )
I’ve had a few people mention my “non-profit” recently and I have to clear it up that SFV currently is not a non-profit, it’s a personal expense, I don’t want there to be legal confusion until there is official certification. (can you tell my tax guy put the fear of God into me?
I’m working on the Non-Profit process and have alot of ideas for growth and new things, and ways to support more veterans more often, but currently am in crunch again and need your patience with requests, thanks!
all this aside, lots of stuff is still going out, happy growing to the vets that are getting their packs Going to be a good seaso