Bryan Buckley is dedicated to getting U.S. veterans access to cannabis through Veterans Affairs channels.

The Special Operations Team Commander with the U.S. Marine Raiders now serves as CEO and co-founder of Oceanside, Calif., service-disabled veteran-owned cannabis processor and manufacturer Helmand Valley Growers Co. (HVGC) and founder of 501(c)3 nonprofit Battle Brothers Foundation, mission-led organizations dedicated to making that dream a reality.

“We truly believe we’re going to change the medical landscape here in the next five years or so,” Buckley says.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms among veterans include anxiety, pain and sleeplessness, according to the Frontiers in Psychology study “Disturbed Sleep in PTSD: Thinking Beyond Nightmares.” Additionally, post-traumatic stress can lead to opioid addiction, often resulting from prescriptions, and suicide, per the National Institutes of Health.

This is why Buckley and the Battle Brothers team are launching an observational study addressing veteran cannabis use with Israeli-American medical data and research company NiaMedic, with study-review support from University of California, Irvine Health. In 2021, the study of how cannabis use can alleviate PTSD symptoms among veterans received approval from the national Independent Review Board, an independent committee that reviews research ethics.

In September, Buckley and a group called the Veterans Action Council, for which he serves as a council member, and the National Cannabis Industry Association lobbied U.S. Congress members in Washington, D.C., on advancing cannabis policy by way of measures such as descheduling cannabis so its use can be more thoroughly researched among veterans and others, and elimination of 280E—an IRS code that forbids state-legal cannabis businesses from deducting otherwise ordinary business expenses from federal gross income.

“I would say, overall, what I’m finding interesting is you meet with people who might have been a hard no, and now they’re saying things like, ‘I need to look into it more,’” Buckley says. “And it’s almost coming to the point—I’ve heard a couple people say this—that potentially by the year 2024, it could be political suicide if you’re against cannabis in terms of how much the United States population is for it.”

Buckley says of being a veteran lobbying to Congress: “We have that voice in Congress, and we can move this thing a little bit better than maybe some other groups. I can look at people in Congress, say, ‘You sent me to war. Now it’s your turn to fix me.’ So, we’re not looking for help. We just want to partner with people to accomplish this mission and to go help and save some lives of Americans.”

Advocacy on The Hill

While visiting nearly 30 U.S. congressional offices in two days, Buckley says many conversations were fruitful. He applauds representatives such as Scott Peters, D-Calif., Dave Joyce, R-Ohio, Nancy Mace, R-S.C., among others, for their work on cannabis.

For instance, he says that when meeting with Joyce’s staff, they were already knowledgeable about cannabis. “They were already there,” Buckley recalls. “Some of the other veterans I was lobbying with who have been doing this for years—they said, ‘I have never seen anything like that.’ It was just books open, ‘let’s talk about this, let’s talk about what you got, let’s talk about what we got,’ things that we can work on together.’”

Buckley adds that Joyce and Peters introduced the Developing and Nationalizing Key Cannabis Research Act of 2022 (House Resolution 8540). Dubbed “DANK” for short, H.R. 8540 “directs the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to expand activities concerning cannabis research,” according to Congress.gov.

Buckley says he supports Mace’s States Reform Act, which proposes a 3% federal cannabis excise tax and would leave cannabis legalization up to individual states, and that she had engaged conversations with him and other cannabis advocates on Capitol Hill. Part of the federal revenue generated under the proposed 3% tax would go toward funding veterans mental health initiatives.

“I tell people, I’m like, ‘Listen, you can’t go in there with a partisan look. You’ve got to be very bipartisan on this one,’” Buckley says. “And understand, I really think the Republicans are going to take the cannabis initiative, because they’re the ones presenting commonsense legislation that could work and not just crush businesses, or just allow the big corporations to survive.”

Readying for Research

Anxiety, pain and sleep are the three main symptoms of PTSD the Battle Brothers research will evaluate, Buckley says, adding “the most imperative one being sleep, because that’s how your body heals.”

Photo courtesy of Valley Growers Co.

Vape cartridges from Helmand Valley Growers Co.

“For me, I tell people sometimes I have to pay the toll to the lord of war where you just have these terrible migraines and you’re getting sick and you’re just up all night and feeling terrible,” says Buckley, who sustained a gunshot wound in Afghanistan. “Using some cannabis—that works for me and kind of gets me back to sleep. It just kind of resets everything and makes me feel amazing. So, those are kind of three big focus areas we’ll have on this initial study.”

Veterans who participate in the study, according to the Battle Brothers site, will need “Validated and documented diagnosis of chronic PTSD of at least six months duration and of at least moderate severity as measured by a score of > 40 on the PTSD Checklist for DSM-5 (PCL-5) at the time of baseline assessment.”

Buckley says he hopes the roughly 90-day study will start soon, with microdoses of either cannabis tinctures or pills.

“We anticipate we’ll have a daytime and a nighttime variant,” Buckley says. “A daytime could be like a 1-to-300-ratio type of thing. We all know you need a little bit of THC to get the medicine into your endocannabinoid system to let it do its work. But what we’re also seeing is that [in the] nighttime for veterans to get some sleep—you’ve got to kind of crank up the THC, so that would be kind of higher in the THC content. But that will enable them not just to get to sleep but to stay asleep.”

Meanwhile, Battle Brothers also takes an economic tact, providing resume reviews and conducting mock interviews for veterans. He says HVGC brought four veterans onto its own team in roughly the past 40 days and has plans to bring on more veterans.

Buckley says future plans include teaming up with a VA system in one of the states, conducting another study and proving that it is “repeatable and accessible and having similar results. And then we [will] have taken it about as far as we can, and members of Congress will give us a platform where I can go in front of them all, raise my right hand and then say, ‘Here’s your data, and here’s your American doctors. Can we proceed with FDA double-blind studies?’” (He says that working with American doctors is a must to get this type of research off the ground.) “And once we get that done, then we look to have it moved into every VA facility and have doctors be able to prescribe cannabis to veterans if—and I say if—it makes sense. I’m not saying cannabis is for everyone, but it needs to be a tool in the toolkit.”

Catalysts From Across the World

With Marine Raiders, Buckley served as Special Operations Team Commander, leading teams deployed to Afghanistan, Africa and Southeast Asia.

Photo courtesy of Helmand Valley Growers Co.

As Special Operations Team Commander with Marine Raiders, Bryan Buckley lead teams deployed to Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, Africa and Southeast Asia.

Buckley says the name Helmand Valley Growers Co. comes from the Helmand River Valley in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province.

“The Helmand Province is in the southwestern part of Afghanistan, and it borders right up to Pakistan,” Buckley says. “And you have an area called the Helmand River Valley, and we would refer to that as the Green Zone, so essentially like a triple-canopy jungle in Afghanistan and you’re looking up at mountains with snowcaps on them. It’s a very bizarre world.

“But what would happen is, we had a time called fighting season. Fighting season would go through May and end at the end of October. The reason why that was is, the Taliban would come up from Pakistan, they would have the farmers throw out poppy. The poppy would grow; they would cultivate it into heroin. And then the Taliban would collect the taxes, and that’s how they fueled their insurgency.

“When you were a Marine Raider and you served there, you became part of the Helmand Valley Gun Club, and you got HVGC tattooed on you. And the reason why we went that direction was, like, you know, it gives us an opportunity to talk about the legends of the Helmand.”

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Sharing his commitment to helping U.S. veterans, Buckley says he is not taking a salary and donating 100% of profits from Helmand Valley Growers Co. to fund veteran cannabis research. “This is the most important mission of my life … the only thing I know is mission success,” he says.

“I tell people the time I got shot in Afghanistan, I still kept control of my team, we took the fight to the enemy, we eliminated all of them, and then I had left. So, I was like, ‘Listen, you can literally shoot me, and I’m going to keep coming at you until I accomplish my mission,’” Buckley says. “So, I am determined, and I’m a pretty good guy, but I got a great team around me. And we’re going to do some amazing things together.”

Those interested in donating to Battle Brothers Foundation can do so at battlebrothersfoundation.org/donate.

 

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