A veteran goes from opioid addiction to cannabis advocacy, and finds new life
65-year-old Roger Martin shied away from discussing his personal life with pain for decades. As a veteran, he chose to keep the suffering and subsequent addiction to pain medication hidden until he realized his story could help others
In 2014, Roger founded Grow for Vets USA, a nonprofit that gives free cannabis and hemp products to veterans. It now is his mission to decrease the high addiction rate of veterans, and ensure they find proper relief for their suffering.
Decades of illness took their toll
For 44 years, Roger has dealt with chronic pain stemming from contracting Hepatitis C, as well as serious leg and shoulder injuries sustained while in the military. It took 19 years for him to receive a diagnosis for Hepatitis C—and another 22 years to be cured.
“By the mid-’80s, I was feeling ill most of the time,” Roger shares. “I was dealing with chronic gastrointestinal issues and kept receiving misdiagnoses.” When he was finally diagnosed with Hepatitis C in 1992, no treatment or cure existed. In the early 2000s, he went through an intense (and expensive) 48-week treatment regimen. “It was a horrendous experience,” he recalls. “I was sick the entire time. I had to take shots in my stomach daily and was hospitalized twice, nearly dying both times.”
Adding to his struggle was the lack of information regarding the disease. At that time, Tylenol, ibuprofen, and aspirin were considered poison for anyone living with Hepatitis C. His doctors instead pushed for the newest miracle drug, Oxycontin, to help with his pain. Roger was suspicious. “I only agreed to take the drug after being assured it was non-addictive and would not damage my liver.”
The addiction began
This was the beginning of a dark period in Roger’s life. “For nine years, I was addicted to what I now refer to as ‘oxypoison.’” Instead of re-evaluating the effectiveness of the drugs in treating his pain, doctors kept increasing his dose and added a sleeping medication. The medications eroded his teeth (he now has dental implants to replace the teeth he lost) and decreased leg circulation, but he didn’t care. He couldn’t function without either of the medications, and even then, his activities were limited.
“Since I had retired in 2000, most of what I did revolved around watching three of my children participate in sporting events all over the country,” Roger explains. (He has six kids in all.) “However, simply traveling to watch them play would require days of recovery. Oftentimes I would retreat between games to the hotel to lie in bed and writhe in pain. It took all the energy I could muster to be there for them.”
His defining moment came in October 2010, when his first grandson was to be born. “I could not emotionally handle my grandson knowing or seeing his grandfather as a prescription drug addict,” Roger explains. “It was at that moment that I promised myself that I would not ‘allow’ this to be his—or my—reality.”
Kicking his addiction… with cannabis
The first 48 hours of withdrawal were bleak; he was in and out of consciousness. It took weeks before Roger came out of the medication haze, and then he still had to deal with persistent, disabling pain and insomnia.
Desperate for sleep, Roger decided to try cannabis edibles. A doctor he had met months earlier at a social event had recommended it; but because Roger had been involved in law enforcement working undercover in narcotics, he blew off the suggestion at first. He also didn’t want to set a bad example for his children. (He now believes he would have been a better role model using cannabis than high amounts of opioids.) But eventually, he decided to try.
Living on the North shore of Lake Tahoe (in Nevada) at the time, he had to drive 45 minutes to South Lake Tahoe (in California) to visit a dispensary. Even though medical cannabis was legal in Nevada, the state legislature had refused to make any provision for allowing dispensaries to sell it, or for people to even legally grow their own medicine.
Dosing took some trial and error
Roger recalls: “I first purchased a bottle of tincture and cannabis edibles that included cookies and infused candy from an ‘old hippie’ behind a counter.” Anxious to get out of pain, Roger ate a quarter of the cookie in his vehicle before he even left the parking lot. Feeling nothing, he ate another half while driving. By the time he got home, he had eaten both cookies, a piece of infused candy, and put several drops of tincture under his tongue.
That evening, he was positive he was having a heart attack and would die from cannabis poisoning. Fortunately, his two youngest sons were home to repeatedly assure him he didn’t need to call 911. Roger has no memory of the next 24 hours.
Roger’s sons were not happy, but they recognized this form of medicine could be beneficial for their father. Together, Roger and his sons came up with a quality source to provide him with tinctures and edibles until they were able to produce their own crop. (His two youngest sons have since become hydroponic growers.)
It took time, experimenting with various cannabis strains and delivery methods, to find the right dose for him. “I sometimes vape during the day if my pain level requires it,” he states. “And I eat a cannabis-infused edible at night to dull the pain enough so I can sleep.” Roger says this is an ongoing process that continues today. “Finding the perfect balance and strain to manage my symptoms changes, and thus, my administration must as well.”
Work with professionals when you can
To anyone trying medical cannabis for the first time, Roger stresses working with a highly educated bud tender or cannabis nurse who knows the difference between cannabis strains, and can provide recommendations for what type may be best for your condition. “If you ask a simple question, and don’t receive an informative answer, you are in the wrong dispensary.” Additionally, don’t write off cannabis after one experience. “You may not have been provided the proper counseling on what to take. Give it another shot.”
Now cannabis controls Roger’s pain level, allowing him to work at least 10 hours a day and sleep around six hours a night. With lower pain, he finds he is a more enjoyable person and easier to live with.
Becoming an advocate: Grow for Vets USA
While he does not believe cannabis is the end-all cure-all, Roger does believe it is a much safer alternative than any prescription or street drug available. He knows opioids serve a purpose, and work well in certain instances. However, from his experience and watching his veteran comrades (especially those suffering from post-traumatic stress), no drug prescribed truly helps—not like medical cannabis—when trying to obtain physical and mental relief.
Roger is frank: “In 2003, while still addicted to my medications, I was telling every medical professional I met that unless their patient had less than a year to live, do not prescribe ‘oxypoison.’ If I knew the effects the drug would have on me, I would have put a gun in my mouth before taking it.”
Had he not discovered cannabis, Roger believes he would not be alive today. Taking edibles gave him strength and pain relief that even allowed him to increase his activities until he was finally cured of Hepatitis C in 2014.
While the ramifications of the disease, as well as his severe injuries, continue to impact him today, Roger has found ways to adapt and live. Walking, weight training, a semi-healthy diet, and working with his dogs round out his wellness routine. He has also learned how to focus on something else when his pain becomes seemingly unmanageable.
Today, Roger passionately advocates legalizing medical cannabis at every opportunity—especially to help veterans. “Most veterans become addicted to medication while still in service,” says Roger. “They are looking for pain relief and a way to diminish thoughts they cannot escape. They become hooked on drugs because the pain is so great, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doesn’t offer the help or assistance they need.”
This is why he founded Grow for Vets USA. It is the first organization to provide veterans with free medical cannabis and hemp products. Membership is free for any veteran, and they can distribute hemp oil products to all 50 states. The organization also provides support and guidance for veterans who have been told they will lose care if using medical cannabis.
Since Roger knows the people who suffer the most are families, Grow for Vets USA is currently establishing a support network for loved ones.
It is not realistic to think anyone can come back from war the same person,
he explains. He has lost track of the wives and mothers who have contacted him, begging for help. “The worst feeling is having to tell someone I cannot offer help because this form of medicine (cannabis) is still illegal in some parts of America. I wish I could distribute more than just hemp products.”
Patriotic and proud, Roger Martin is unwavering in his commitment to help his fellow veterans access medical cannabis. It is his mission to advocate for this form of medicine. As he says, “Try cannabis as a first option. If it doesn’t work, you can still resort to taking opioids. But know that opioids are not a long-term answer. I am alive today because of cannabis, and if I had continued taking my prescription medications, I know I would not be.”
Grow for Vets USA: growforvets.org