In North America, it is estimated that between 10 and 20 percent of veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder in any given year, a mental health condition for which there are very few treatment options. While cannabis is revered for its medicinal properties especially in the context of PTSD, many veterans still find themselves overcome by fear of stigma associated with the plant, and are hesitant to use it.
At a network of medical cannabis clinics in Canada founded by retired Sargeants Fabian Henry and Michael Southwell, staff are working to build a safe haven for veterans who are seeking support and solutions for their mental health. Canada House was built to offer veterans not just a clinic, but a community where they can consult with other vets (and medical professionals) about cannabis.
“For us as veterans, the Canada House name comes from a building that was erected on the Canadian military base in Kandahar, Afghanistan,” says Southwell. “It was a well-known safe haven and gathering place for Canadian and allied soldiers to visit while they were on the tour.”
Southwell and Henry created Canada House (formerly Marijuana for Trauma) to assist veterans of the Canadian Forces and their families gain access to Veterans Affairs programs and services, and provide them with the help they need to gain access to cannabis.
Southwell says Canada House served as a “home away from home,” a feeling he very much wanted to emulate in a cannabis clinic setting. Canada House, he says, is a place where vets and first responders can go to be taken care of and provided solutions to help renew their lives. So far, it has helped secure $2.6 million in claims for Canadian veterans.
While Southwell served in the Canadian military, cannabis was still illegal in Canada, “so prescribed medication and liquor were the medicine of choice for me,” he says, “however, like many other veterans it just made my overall mental health symptoms worse.”
“Cannabis is a safer, natural alternative for prescription medication that allows me to live a better, healthier lifestyle. I sleep better, I am in less pain from my injuries and have fewer stomach issues that came from taking so many prescription pills,” he says.
Glen Coyle, retired Corporal, is a veteran and a Canada House ambassador who Canadians might recognize from the home improvement reality TV series, Holmes On Homes. As an ambassador, Coyle is focused on connecting with other veterans by planning and hosting events and says after transitioning from a job in construction to this one, he feels like he’s doing what he was meant to do.
“When you think of the word ‘veteran,’ a lot of people will think of older generations, like grandfathers, but it’s people my age, too,” says Coyle, who is 39.
“It’s important for me to keep that legacy going and get more veterans out of the house and involved with activities with other veterans. A lot of veterans get left by the wayside when they get out of the army, and they don’t have that brotherhood anymore. If I can be the one to bridge that gap, that’s what I’m here for.”
The Canada House Experience
Walking into one of 14 Canada House clinics across the country (Coyle provided a digital tour of the Barrie, Ontario location), visitors are greeted by a nurse and a warm, comfortable lounge offering couches, a fireplace, and a big screen TV. Smaller clinic rooms offer a space for veterans to consult with medical staff, as well as other vets like Coyle, who is in the clinic daily offering a sense of familiarity and support to potential new clients. Another location is set to open soon.
The inviting atmosphere is intentionally designed to make veteran-specific support more accessible. Specialized programs and personalized treatment plans “help veterans that have slipped through the cracks or have fallen on difficult times,” says Coyle.
To drive down stigma further, Coyle is planning several community-oriented events at the Barrie location, including hockey nights and events geared to the whole family. He says Canada House is intended to feel more like a lounge and less like a medical facility because for many veterans, there is immense fear around seeking help.
“When you say you’re going to a clinic, automatically in the military, there is something wrong with you,” he says. He’s hoping that his presence at Canada House creates a sense of trust in veterans who have doubts and are feeling unsure of where to turn.
“If I needed help with my paperwork or benefits that I don’t know I’m entitled to, or I needed a doctor or a nurse practitioner, I would hope that someone might have a military background,” he says. “I’m hoping that me being here makes it a more positive experience for people.”
How Industry Collaboration is Improving Services for Vets
Canada House has always worked closely with producers to ensure that its patients have consistent access to the cultivars and products that improve their quality of life. Earlier this year, parent company Canada House Wellness Group (CSE: CHV) partnered with licensed producer MTL Cannabis, enabling it to expand its product offering via the Abba Medix medical platform.
MTL Cannabis is currently moving towards the acquisition of CHV, which is expected to be completed in the coming months. MTL Cannabis chief commercial officer Jenn Larry says working together to support veterans through Canada House is a natural fit for the company.
“As a flower-first company, founded by brothers, the opportunity to stand with those who have served on the front lines is one that is aligned with our values and goals. The Canada House and Abba patients’ need for high-grade dried flower reinforces the position that it’s okay to smoke cannabis,” she says. “It was incredible to learn how the veterans choose smokable cannabis as one of their primary tools of care based on its fast-acting relief impact, and we are proud to have a product that meets their needs,” she says.
A handful of cultivars from MTL Cannabis and the Abba Medix brand have proven popular among veterans, including MTL’s Sage n’ Sour, which is particularly high in the cannabinoid CBG. Abba Medix also offers two cultivars grown with veterans in mind: Vet Star Day and Veteran Kush.
“These clinics are there not just to help the patient get a ‘script, but really to let veterans know that there is a place that they can come together and create that next phase of modern community, which I think all patients who have chosen cannabis as a tool are really looking for,” says Larry. “We are so proud to see the work that Canada House has done to allow veterans to feel that it’s okay for them to step into a space where cannabis will bring them relief.”