To coincide with Veterans and Military Families Month, KushyPunch is donating a portion of our profits to leading veteran empowerment charities Team Rubicon, Semper Fi Fund, and Force Blue, and are listing the Veterans Crisis Line phone number on our limited-edition camo packaging. Click here to learn more about the initiative.

For veterans of the United States Armed Forces, one of the most grueling battles they face is reintegration into civilian life.

Often isolated by a rapidly changing world, and hampered by the absence of defined structure, the myriad challenges faced by veterans is worsened by a healthcare system which over-prescribes powerful opioids and antidepressants to treat combat injuries, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The Veterans Affairs (VA) currently treats around 68,000 US veterans for opioid addiction. According to VA Secretary Robert McDonald, veterans are 10 times more likely to become addicted to opiates than the average American.

There are a number of studies emerging indicating that both THC and CBD-dominant cannabis could bring relief to former servicemen and women who are struggling with physical disabilities, chronic pain or PTSD.

Within the veteran community there has been a vocal movement—spearheaded by organizations like the Veterans Cannabis Group, Veterans Cannabis Project and Veterans Cannabis Coalition—to lift the federal government’s ban on medical cannabis distribution through the VA.

Currently, medical cannabis access is supported by 82% of troops.

This is a problem that KushyPunch’s compliance manager Andrew Dorsett knows all too well. Andrew is a 12-year veteran of the United States Marine Corps, with multiple combat tours of Iraq and Afghanistan under his belt. In 2003, Andrew was badly injured in a friendly fire incident in Djibouti, and the delayed repercussions had a debilitating effect on his reintegration to civilian life more than a decade later.

Much to his surprise, Andrew found relief from his chronic pain in CBD, the cannabis plant’s diverse, non-psychoactive compound. Since May, he has been working with KushyPunch to spread the message, challenge the stigma, and move the needle forward on cannabis compliance and legislation nationally.

In this interview, Andrew discusses his time in active service, his tireless work empowering veterans in their path back to civil society, and how KushyPunch is supporting our veteran community at this testing moment in modern US history.

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Let’s perhaps start with how you came into the military.

So, I signed up right after high school in July of 1998. My family has a pretty storied military history. My grandfather, uncle, half-brothers were all in the military, and served in WW2, Korean War, Vietnam and Desert Storm.

But I always knew that if I was going to sign up it would be with the Marines. I was really drawn to their high standards of training, so I knew that in the event of active combat, I would be extremely well prepared. This was a process of taking fear and turning it into preparation, which I think was a really beneficial life skill.

And things were relatively calm in ‘98, right?

Yes. I was based in North Carolina, but I didn’t spend much time out there. I went to Kosovo for a little while, but then I came back and that’s when all hell broke loose.

9/11?

Exactly. Our lives changed immediately and immeasurably. They pulled us out of Kosovo right away, and we were getting ready to go to Afghanistan, and then Iraq.

Shortly after the invasion [of Iraq] in 2003, I was stationed in Djibouti on the horn of Africa. There was a lot of shady stuff going on in that region. We were out on a strategic arms mission, and my team were stationed on a mountaintop. The visibility was terrible that day, and there was some confusion between the team on the ground and the B-52s flying overhead.

To cut a long story short, a series of errors were made, and the B-52s dropped nine 750lbs bombs on us. They killed one of our pilots, Seth Michaud, and injured eight or nine of us. There were some severe injuries. Some men lost limbs.

And how did you get off?

Pretty bad. My ankle was impacted with cooked off .50 calibre rounds, so they had to fix all of that. I mean, legs, ribs, lungs, head, traumatic brain injuries.

I went through about a year and a half of physical therapy, and decided that I wanted to stay in the military. In 2005, I went back to Iraq and did 13 months there. I was stationed on the Iraqi-Syrian border supporting ordnance operations. And it was…heavy.

After that I really needed a break, so I asked for orders and was deployed to Japan and across Southeast Asia, and I ended up getting out in 2010 to work a full-time civilian job.

How did your experiences in Djibouti and Iraq affect you when you returned to civilian life?

At first, not at all. I was super focused on my job and that kept my mind and body occupied. But then out of nowhere, years later, some of the injuries that I sustained started coming back to haunt me.

I went through more physical therapy, but I was starting to get these crippling migraines. They were so bad that I would cower under the covers damn-near balling my eyes for two days straight.

I’ve always been a very happy, chilled out guy. That’s just who I am. But during that period, I wasn’t that person. I was completely lost. The experience annihilated me and those around me.

After a few years of this, I finally decided to go to the VA.

The VA comes under a lot of scrutiny for how manages pain and treatment. How was your experience, and do you think that scrutiny is fair?

Honestly, they were fantastic to me. You hear horror stories of course, but that wasn’t my experience at all.

My one gripe about the VA is that they tend to over-prescribe stuff, though it is getting better. Thankfully I was never given opioids or anything like that. But I was on 22 medications total. I wasn’t sleeping right, but when I was, I was completely out cold. I was groggy all the time, and like I said, I just didn’t feel like me.

How long did that go on for?

I was like this for about a year and a half. It was horrible. Particularly when you add in the fact that I hadn’t properly dealt with the trauma from my experience. When I finally started reaching out to the people who’d been involved in the bombing incident, they were also having issues with it. Reaching out to them and engaging really started my deep healing process.

It was around that time that I started using CBD. It had been such a long time since I’d even thought about cannabis, THC, any of that. But everything I read was extremely promising. And I had to do something. I was falling apart.

And it worked. Immediately. I mean, it was noticeable to everyone around me as well. I was off the meds completely within two weeks. I swapped all 22 pills for CBD.

Since starting to take CBD, I’ve gone from having one to two migraines per week, to having around one per month today. That’s still one more than I would like, but it’s not destroying my life anymore.

It’s remarkable that there are a lot of stories like yours out there, and yet CBD remains prohibited federally. Do you think it’s time that the VA starts to really look at the evidence, listen to its constituents and push for change on this issue?

To the credit of the VA, they have loosened things up recently and there are some doctors in there that will, how should I put this, do the right thing. But since it is federally prohibited, they are still unable to prescribe or recommend it in an official capacity.

But we’re talking about the mental health and physical well-being of people that have put their lives on the line to serve this country. The fact that we forbid access to a proven medication with minimal side effects and yet prescribe lethal opioids which rob people of their dignity and destroy lives is a national disgrace.

There’s no excuse. And I will say this honestly, as someone that has been through this, it’s a human rights violation to forbid veterans access to cannabis.

You have literal CBD refugees in this country. Veterans that live in states like Indiana—which is where I’m from, where there is no recreational or medical cannabis, and up until this year, even CBD was prohibited—crossing state lines to find relief from pain.

I personally moved back out to California to get access to the medicine that I needed to live a happy, healthy life. That’s not the freedom we fight for.

It’s clear that solving this problem is extremely important to you Andrew. Can you tell me about the initiative we’re running with KushyPunch?

For the month of November, we’re going to be distributing a portion of our profits to three veterans charities—Team Rubicon, Semper Fi Fund and Force Blue—and putting the Veterans Crisis Line phone number on our box. We’ll also be completely redesigning our packaging with the camo of the five branches of the military!

These are organizations that I personally believe in. It’s so important to give veterans a mission, and that’s what charities like Team Rubicon do. This isnt about a hand-out. This is about investing in organizations that give our servicemen and women an opportunity to develop new skills and to harness their existing skills in ways that further benefit their communities and the wider world.

These are people that are highly productive, very effective and capable, but they need a little support reorienting that as they navigate civilian life.

And you believe in the plant, clearly.

CBD has given me my life back. It’s that simple. I’m very grateful to be working with KushyPunch, and to be in a position where I can help other people find relief from pain and suffering with a natural remedy.

This company became successful extremely quickly and we’re scaling up rapidly, but through initiatives like this, our other philanthropic pursuits, and the tight knit family feeling we strive to foster, it’s clear to me that we’re a force for good, both in this industry and in the wider world.

Andrew Dorsett is KushyPunch’s compliance manager. He is the writer and an executive producer of forthcoming feature Tango Down, which explores the brotherhood that exists between military veterans. 80% of Tango Down’s crew are veterans, and the full-length feature will be screened at Sundance and Palm Springs International Film Festival in 2019.