Written By: James Alexander
Interviewed by: Dana Blickensderfer
Cannabis legalization is poised to have a great year. 2020 began with a big bang when the prairie state, Illinois, began legal sales of recreational cannabis—becoming just the 10th in America (and the 2nd in the Midwest) to legalize cannabis fully. And with nearly 18 other states looking to loosen their cannabis laws this year, America could experience something of a Green Sweep before the year is out. But other states aren’t so lucky. States like Georgia, with deeply conservative views and a firmly-established conservative state government, struggle to find a path to persuade their legislators that cannabis is not only an evidence-based solution to easing many disease symptoms but is also capable of reversing certain ailments and illnesses.
An average 59 percent of people polled said they were in favor of medical and recreational legalization, while just 32 percent said they prefer medical legalization. An additional 8 percent of people polled said neither. This means fewer than 1 in 10 Americans today agree with the current federal policy on cannabis.
Today we’re sitting down for an exclusive interview with Georgia native, Joshua Littrell, to pull the curtain back on how he’s championing for legal cannabis for his state, his family, and the military.
Treevana: Hello, Joshua Littrell. Thank you for sitting down with Treevana Magazine. Would you tell our readers a little bit about your organization, Veterans for Cannabis?
Joshua Littrell: Absolutely. Veterans for Cannabis exists to first and foremost really change the verbiage and the understanding of what cannabis is across the country. Through education and information, we can try to relieve the stigma that’s been associated with cannabis in general. So, we do not use the ‘M-word.’ The ‘M-word’ is a terrible word to us. That’s why we utilize the term ‘cannabis.’ If we can talk about cannabis, it actually breaks down the doors.
So, we exist to advocate for change in our community at the local, state, and federal levels. That means getting laws changed and making sure that people have access to the treatment they need. In essence, we are fighting for a choice. That’s all we want. We want veterans to have a choice to utilize cannabis over pharmaceuticals through the Veterans Administration.
Treevana: How long ago did you start the organization?
Joshua Littrell: I founded Veterans for Cannabis in 2014-2015. In 2014, I started advocating for medical cannabis. I actually spoke here in Macon, Georgia, for the first time in front of the House and Senate committee. So, that day I got up and told my story. I had gone to Vermont, got my medical cannabis card, and when I came back I wanted to fight for access. After speaking about how cannabis helps me reduce my pharmaceutical dependency, there must have been seven or eight people that walked up to me and said, “Hey, your story is so similar to mine and my grandfather’s.” Or my grandmother’s, my aunts, my uncles, my moms. And I was like, “Wow, this is really something. This is bigger than just me.” That day I went home and said to myself, “All right, what can I do?” Then, Veterans For Cannabis was born.
Treevana: What obstacles do veterans face when it comes to accessing and using medical cannabis today?
Joshua Littrell: Those obstacles are oftentimes more in the veteran community than they are in the civilian world. The biggest obstacle that veterans face is that they can’t go to their normal qualifying physician through the Veterans Administration and get a recommendation for medical cannabis. Federally, it’s still illegal. So, we can’t even have an open dialogue with the physicians that we utilize on a daily basis through the Veterans Administration.
In fact, they recently changed their protocol to say something along the lines of, “Okay, you can actually talk to your veteran, patient about medical cannabis.” But it’s more of just listening. We’re really advocating for us to come in, Veterans For Cannabis, educate your physician base so we can help them understand what this is. Then, they can actually have a legitimate, genuine conversation with those patients and veterans who are interested in it.
Treevana: Do you think you’re finally getting their attention?
Joshua Littrell: Yeah, we are. However, if they test positive for THC, then they’re going to get their medicine pulled from the VA. From a legal product. So, it’s a huge issue at the moment. But, we’ve made a lot of headway over the last five years in this process by educating.
What we’ve done is taken the stance to where we do education. We do our health and wellness expos, where we try to educate the veteran community on what that dialogue should be with their physicians. “Hey doc, I would really love to learn about medical cannabis,” or, “I’m in a state that has medical cannabis. Can you tell me what you know about it?” Or even better than that, if they’re in a medical cannabis state where they’ve already got their certification, and they’ve titrated down from their medicine, tell the doctor that, “Hey Doc, I’ve reduced my opioid dependency, or my benzo dependency, because I’ve been on cannabis for six or eight months.” So being able to have those conversations makes a tremendous difference in our community.
Treevana: Are you seeing veterans refuse medical cannabis, because it remains illegal under federal law, despite being made legal in certain states?
Joshua Littrell: I’ve got so many brothers and sisters who absolutely refuse to break the law, specifically here in Georgia. We have a medical cannabis program, but we don’t have the access. There is no way that we can get that medicine. We can’t cross the border, and it is a federal offense as soon as you cross the state line.
There are so many of them that are refusing to utilize the state-administered programs because they don’t want to break that federal law.
Treevana: Do you feel like veterans are religious people? So that’s why it’s not legal?
Joshua Littrell: Yeah. That’s a lot of it. There’s a lot of moral issues that come along with it because we signed up to serve our country, our family, and our friends, and do things the right way. So breaking federal law, or even breaking state law, is oftentimes hard for them. They want to use cannabis, but they can’t because they don’t want to do it illegally.
Treevana: And they don’t understand the product?
Joshua Littrell: Correct. I understand because I come from a religious background.
Treevana: So, on a personal note, you served as a United States Air Force combat veteran, serving two tours overseas. Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
Joshua Littrell: That’s correct.
Treevana: So, how did you discover medical cannabis? Were you seeking it? Were you doing it under the radar? What was your story with accessing medical cannabis and trying it?
Joshua Littrell: I’ll give you the backstory on that. First and foremost, I grew up in Northeast Georgia in a really conservative community. Weed was either going to make you hurt, rob people, or kill, right? So, I never utilized it. Even though I had my first drink of alcohol when I was 12 or 13 years old. My dad wouldn’t mind me drinking moonshine, but I couldn’t smoke. I come from like five generations of alcoholics because moonshine’s all we ever did. That’s how we made money.
The crazy thing is, it wasn’t my thing. I got in a fight with my best friend during my senior year in high school over him smoking a joint. That same best friend actually followed me to the air force. That same best friend also took his own life in 2004. So, I’ve seen this on both sides—the opioid dependency side and the suicides that are afflicting our veteran community, as well.
So I get out of the military six years in, and I got injured in the desert in ’03. When I came out, I had tons of medicine that the VA had just thrown at me, right? So, I go to college. I’m at my buddy’s house one Saturday, and we’re watching college football and drinking beer and having a big time. They’re like, “Here, try this.” I smoked a bowl and I told them that day “Guys, you know? I feel really good, you know?” Everybody was like, “Oh, you’re just high, you know, whatever.” And I was like, “No, I really feel good.” The problem was they didn’t know how bad I felt. Because in our veteran community, we keep this big persona, if you will. Tough macho men and women both.
Treevana: Men don’t cry.
Joshua Littrell: That’s right. You keep pressing forward, no matter what. Let’s complete the mission. It doesn’t matter how you feel. So, what they didn’t know was I had a pocket full of pills, so I pull my medicine out, and I’m like, “This is what I have to take on a daily basis.” And they said “Whoa. Wow.” I said, “Guys, you don’t understand what it’s like to live inside this body every day. This makes me feel really good.”
So, I knew then. That was in ’07. I was probably in my sophomore year in college. I was like, “Wow, this really works.” So, that’s when I started utilizing cannabis illegally. That was my introduction to it.
Treevana: And was that aches and pains, or was that mental?
Joshua Littrell: It was more the aches and pains than anything because the pain exacerbates my PTSD. About 80 to 85% of PTSD patients suffer from chronic pain. Mine’s more of the anxiety-induced PTSD, where I’m still super on-edge all the time. I mean, while driving, if I see a backpack or something on the side of the road, it freaks me out. I’ve got to get over, or speed past or do whatever I can. When I pull up the red light, I look every single way. I’m looking at people walking. I mean, it’s crazy. Always on alert. But, nobody’s talking about it from this aspect. They think, “Let’s throw meds at it. Let’s mask it. Let’s let it do what it does,” and that’s it. Instead of saying, “Let’s fix the root cause.”
Treevana: And you were in for?
Joshua Littrell: Six years.
Treevana: Six years. So that did a number…
Joshua Littrell: Yeah, absolutely. Because it’s immersive. Six years of immersive experience in a different place. And then, I’ve met people that have gone, and then they couldn’t function, so they went back.
Treevana: How do you function in a normal society?
Joshua Littrell: It’s hard. Therapy from the VA is typically just throwing pills at you. They offer counseling, but most of the time, it’s in the group settings. But, they do cover all the costs for us, so that’s a positive thing about it. There is no cost, but the issue is you may have a four or five, six months wait. When you try to outsource it, you’re just miserable. You go see a civilian downtown that doesn’t understand what you’re talking about. They can help you manage it, but they don’t understand.
Treevana: It feels like, now that I’m hearing this, like you have your own community.
Joshua Littrell: We do. Because you have to stick together.
Treevana: Did you have any other conditions you were dealing with after?
Joshua Littrell: Mine was just chronic pain and the PTSD. Our whole objective now has been, let’s take a new approach from the medical standpoint. Let’s get back to food-based medicine, where we can teach them about alternative treatment methods like psilocybin. Mushrooms are a really great treatment option that they’re seeing with micro-dosing, things like that. So, let’s look at the natural alternatives, instead of making sure the pharmaceutical companies stay trillionaires.
Treevana: How do the conditions that you are dealing with impact your daily life, before and after using medical cannabis?
Joshua Littrell: Sure. So pre, I was on about 12 different medicines. I was taking, you know, 20 to 30 pills at a time. I was… At one point in time, I was on 3,600 milligrams of Neurontin every single day. That was 12 pills, 300-milligram pills. That was just nerve pain. That was one medicine for one issue, and then I had issues from that.
So, in 2010, I go to Vermont and get my medical cannabis card and started growing organically in my own apartment, hydroponically. I get up there, and I was able to reduce my opioid dependency by 80% over those four years.
Treevana: How did you learn?
Joshua Littrell: I just read and fully immersed myself. In fact, the number-two reason I went to Vermont was that they had just passed their medical cannabis program. Living here in Atlanta, I was in the insurance and financial services world. I was doing great. I was vice president of sales, and I had a great position and opportunity, but I didn’t have the medicine I needed. I made a move at a point in time in my life where I was still single, didn’t have any kids. I could do that and try to get better. I go up there, cultivate in my own apartment, and the therapy of growing a plant is something people never talk about as well. So, what we try to do is bring to light the things that people aren’t talking about. Agrotherapy is an absolutely true thing, and that’s really what we want to focus on with our nonprofit side. Veterans for Collaboration is to teach veterans how to get back to agrotherapy. Get their hands dirty, and that’s not just growing cannabis. That’s growing cucumbers. That’s growing vegetables. That’s growing fruits. That’s eating your medicine.
And then, you can get better from the inside out. So I was up there, started growing, cultivating, and then was able to reduce my Hydrocodone. My Tramadol. My Percocets. All the things I was on by 80% over that three-and-a-half-year period.
But the issue is cannabis works, let’s say, 25 days out of the month, right? It’s crazy because I tell people all the time who don’t deal with chronic pain. “You don’t understand because there, I can go two, three months. I can have a great three months and then go a month where I can’t move. I can’t even get out of the bed. I have to roll over and push myself.”
It’s crazy how chronic pain just comes and goes too. I’ve got a plate and eight screws in my ankle, you know? So, there are still days that I have to utilize the medicine, but man, it’s a tremendous difference in the amount that I have to take. Plus, my liver functions have gone back to normal. My body feels normal again.
Treevana: So tell me a little bit more about grow therapy.
Joshua Littrell: It’s a new form of therapy. Agrotherapy’s really something that’s on the forefront now, that few people are talking about. I’ve seen a mom that lost her kids. She was on benzos where she was zombied out. You know, she didn’t care. She gets into a field out in Colorado, and I saw it over about six months in this grow operation, where she was helping them transplant the plants, water them, feed them, you know, do everything they needed to do.
I watched her get better over that six-month to eight-month period, to where she came out of that funk she was in and came completely off of her meds. She got her life back just by working in the field, growing cannabis.
Treevana: Did she see that awakening?
Joshua Littrell: Yes, absolutely, and her family saw it. This is the kind of impact we can have. When we get out of the military, most of our PTSD stems from losing that sense of mission. What we’re really focused on is providing them a new mission in life, whether it’s growing cannabis, if it’s growing fruits, whatever. If it’s extracting, if it’s making products. It’s marketing, trying to get them involved in the cannabis industry. That’s a huge part of it. The agrotherapy part of it is something we want to teach them how to do through our nonprofits.
Treevana: So, the nonprofit, or the initiative, is not only the education, getting them to use cannabis that suits their needs, but it’s also getting them more entrepreneurial?
Joshua Littrell: Correct.
Treevana: That’s great. You can do the healing and the benefit financially. It’s the whole package.
Joshua Littrell: It’s a new mission. That’s all you’re doing because they get out, lose that sense of mission. And then that’s where your suicides come from.
Treevana: The loss of purpose.
Joshua Littrell: That’s correct. And we’re giving them a new purpose and we’re trying to do it from that fully well-rounded ability where we can hold their hand during that process. But the issue is we can’t get the funding we need. Because there is no funding available, we couldn’t even get the Veterans for Cannabis Foundation that’s on my shirt. We couldn’t get a 501C3 for that, because it had cannabis in the name. They wouldn’t rule against it, but they wouldn’t rule on it.
Treevana: So it just sat?
Joshua Littrell: That’s right. And we spent $2,500 trying to get that done and got nowhere with it.
Treevana: So what is it now?
Joshua Littrell: So Veterans for Collaboration. That’s why we’ve rebranded everything. We’ve got the for-profit Veterans for Cannabis, which is our product with everything and then Veterans for Collaboration is the nonprofit arm.
Treevana: Because of the funding you need.
Joshua Littrell: The training, education, job health, the ability for us to go out and get grants, and things like that.
Treevana: So, let me go through this. Back to a few points we already talked about. What are a few side effects taking opioids that you’d like to talk about then, and then after you switched, what progress are you seeing in your body?
Joshua Littrell: Sure. So tons of side effects, you know. From bowel issues, issues with libido, that kind of stuff. Focus is a huge issue. Drive, actual literal drive, where you want to get up and do something in the mornings.
Treevana: Because of all, like, the handful of stuff you were on?
Joshua Littrell: Correct. And then, the side effect of being numb. Now granted, a lot of people think that being numb is a good thing, but I don’t.
Treevana: Because then you don’t feel alive.
Joshua Littrell: That’s right. Most of the time, our brothers and sisters aren’t taking their lives because of the perils of war. They’re taking their lives because they are a zombie. They take their life because they feel like they’re nothing, and they don’t have the motivation to do anything anymore, and they feel like they’re not useful. That’s why they’re taking their life. Not because, “Oh, you know, I saw some bad stuff” or “I had to take a few lives.” Not because of that. They can do with that. It’s just the medicine they put them on makes them a zombie, and they don’t care about anything anymore.
Treevana: How slowly were you seeing yourself being relieved of those challenges?
Joshua Littrell: It’s different for each person, you know? I was one of those that was an interesting entity that took me about a month.
Treevana: That’s not that bad.
Joshua Littrell: No. But I, I’d been on opioids since 2003. I actually got my first Percocet in the desert in 2003.
Treevana: So that’s like ten years of opioids.
Joshua Littrell: Absolutely. Imagine if we had cannabis as an option. That’s what we’re fighting for. We’re really fighting for everybody to have that choice. Active duty, veteran community, everything. Because they should be able to have that choice.
Treevana: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Not just when they’re home.
Joshua Littrell: A little secret that nobody talks about. Active duty can use Marinol, a synthetic form of cannabis. It has THC in it, but very few people actually prescribed it, because it’s a last-ditch effort for them because there’s a whole bunch of rigmarole that has to go through. After all, if they test positive, they have to prove that they had a prescription for it.
So, they like to avoid it, but that’s something that we should fight for, especially from the industrial hemp side with CBD. The issue we’re facing right now is the DOD just put a new directive out in the last month that says nothing with CBD in it. How ridiculous is that?! And they said their reasoning behind it is that you can’t guarantee there is no THC in the product, which is an actual false statement. You can extract and then isolate. When we isolate, there is no THC in it. They just don’t want to open the door for people to be able to have a crutch to go on and say, “I took CBD, and it was laced.” So we’re fighting for that as well.
Treevana: All these new fights every day.
Joshua Littrell: Little battles every day. It’s the lack of education, the lack of information. That’s the big issue. We can’t do studies with a schedule one drug, especially with the DEA.
Treevana: How do you research? Internet or…
Joshua Littrell: Books, books, books. Internet. Trial and error. That’s really what it comes down to. A lot of people want a quick fix. They don’t have the patience to go through the process or the guidance to help them. That’s what we are. When we talk about Veterans for Cannabis, first and foremost, we are educators. So, we really advocate for that. There’s so much misinformation out there. The lack of education is the biggest obstacle.
Treevana: What would you say to veterans to convince them that medical cannabis is the right choice over pharmaceutical medicine?
Joshua Littrell: I typically don’t try to convince anybody. All I try to do is educate and inform them. What I do is inform them of the benefits. I said, “Hey, look. Here’s what’s happening with your brothers and sisters, and if you want to try it, I can help guide you in that process.”
Joshua Littrell: Correct. That’s what it’s all about for us. That’s how you get it to spread. That’s how it has to happen. This is a grassroots effort.
Treevana: How can veterans help you on your mission to remove the obstacles standing in the way of your initiatives?
Joshua Littrell: Well, you know, when we first started this, the biggest thing is that we aren’t just talking about it, we’re walking the walk. The biggest way that they can help is to get involved and become active. Go meet your city council. Give me a call. If you want to go up to the Capitol, let’s go meet your elected officials, your state representative, your Senator. Let’s go to D.C. Let’s go meet the people who can change it at the federal level.
So, it’s about action. It’s a call to action for us, and that’s all it comes down to.
Treevana: Doing something about it.
Joshua Littrell: Correct. Don’t talk about it. Be about it.
Treevana: I love it. Well, thank you Joshua. Thank you for taking the time to talk about this important cause. More than ever, it’s clear that shining a light on organizations like Veterans for Cannabis is not only important but crucially necessary.
Joshua Littrell: That’s what we’re here for.
To learn more about Veterans For Cannabis and Joshua Littrell, please visit: https://vfc.foundation/
About Veterans For Cannabis & Veterans For Cannabis Foundation
VFCF’s MISSION is to reduce suicides associated with PTSD and accidental pharmaceutical overdose deaths in both Veterans and civilians alike. We are doing this through CBD education, scientific verification, studying strain efficacy, tracking/reporting data, and empowering positive life change. We will reduce suffering associated with pharmaceuticals within the Veteran, civilian, medical and legislative communities.