I would say if the global society could talk things out and avoid war, that would help. However, that is not reality. Sadly, every generation will experience war. What we need to do is support our heroes in every way possible when they return. Do not treat them like they are a victim, treat them like the heroes they are, and support them.
As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Addiction Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Bryan Buckley, Founder and President of Helmand Valley Growers Company.
As a Special Operations Team Commander with Marine Raiders, Bryan led multiple teams in deployments to Operation Enduring Freedom-Trans Sahara (Africa), South East Asia, and Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan (Helmand Province). Bryan is an accomplished sales and operations leader whose credentials include a distinguished background in leadership, policy, training, management, operations and strategic decision making. His ability to forge productive partnerships among stakeholders and reach high-level decision-makers within sophisticated organizations helps ensure the free and productive flow of information.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit of your backstory?
Helmand Valley Growers Company (“HVGC”) is on a mission to put an end to the opioid addiction and suicide epidemic plaguing our Nation’s Heroes. We believe that by exploring the benefits of medical cannabis we have discovered the most effective way to combat these crises and bring proper aid to those who gave so much to our great nation.
HVGC is owned by Special Operations Veterans that are 100% disabled via our VA disability rating. We know all too well what our heroes face daily.
Talking with members of congress, they stressed to us the days of advocating are over. It was clear that what they need is data backed up by American doctors. We have partnered with NiaMedic (an Israeli-based company with offices in the United States) and together we have submitted our first pilot study evaluating the safety and efficacy of medical cannabis on the stressors of post-traumatic stress management. We have submitted our study for Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval from the USA doctors. We are hopeful that this IRB will be awarded in the summer of 2020.
Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work with opioid and drug addiction?
In 2015, I started to see more and more reports about veteran suicide and opioid dependency. Friends that I served with were struggling. In 2016, Andy Miears — one of our co-founders — described to me the benefits he was receiving from not just utilizing the medicine, but the therapy he was receiving by growing cannabis. This led us to believe that we had an opportunity to help make a difference in the lives of our heroes.
Can you explain what brought us to this place? Where did this epidemic come from?
It is somewhat of a perfect storm. You have a vast number of Americans participating in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. You have a limitation on medical cannabis research due to cannabis being a Schedule 1 narcotic. The VA is limited in the type of medicines they are allowed or able to prescribe for the purpose of treating PTS. As a result of this limitation on medicines for PTS, and of course, physical pain, most if not all veterans are prescribed opiates. You add up the lack of sophisticated medical cannabis research, the availability of opiates, the number of veterans returning from intense combat with physical and mental issues, and you are left with the epidemic we are facing today.
Can you describe how your work is making an impact battling this epidemic?
HVGC and NiaMedic will provide data-driven results on the effects medical cannabis has on the symptoms of PTS. The results will be compiled by licensed American physicians studying American combat veterans with American cultivated and manufactured products. HVGC will then present Congress with the results and make the case for medical cannabis as a viable option to treat the PTS symptoms veterans are suffering from daily.
Without sharing real names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your initiative?
We have had veterans who were against medical cannabis. However, when they witnessed the positive impact that it had on other veterans, they changed their stance. Many are eager to see what our research produces. When asked about the overall improvement, one was quoted as saying “I turned in a bottle for a joint.”
Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?
When HVGC provides our product to other veterans and we receive positive feedback, it makes our efforts all worthwhile. In fact, the best is when we hear that a vet has “kicked the opiates” in exchange for our cannabis. All of a sudden they are getting a full night of sleep, generally feel better about themselves and allow them to re-enter society as a valuable member and individual. We have even had veteran amputees that have reported an improvement in phantom pain. Sitting with that individual and hearing that was unbelievable. You just think about what these heroes did and gave… and you can provide them with some relief, it just reminds you of the importance of our mission.
Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this problem? Can you give some examples?
That is difficult. I would say if the global society could talk things out and avoid war, that would help. However, that is not reality. Sadly, every generation will experience war. What we need to do is support our heroes in every way possible when they return. Do not treat them like they are a victim, treat them like the heroes they are, and support them. If they want to join our fight of proving cannabis is a viable alternative from opiates to help suppress the symptoms of PTS, donate towards our research and spread the word of our mission.
If you had the power to influence legislation, which three laws would you like to see introduced that might help you in your work?
- Remove Cannabis as a Schedule 1 narcotic.
- Increase medical cannabis research.
- Allow medical cannabis into the VA medical system.
I know that this is not easy work. What keeps you going?
Simple: “What have I done for a veteran today?” They went forward to fight for us so we can live the American Dream. Now it is our turn to help them live the dream that they gave so much to defend.
Do you have hope that one day this leading cause of death can be defeated?
Yes. Not only do we want to prove that this medicine works, but we also want to help provide veterans with jobs, so that they have that sense of purpose that they had while serving our country. We believe that this approach, stable mind and body as well as a purpose in our society will save lives.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
The mission, the team, then yourself. Mission is bigger than anyone on the team and has priority. Leaders are not individuals that are served by others. Leaders put the needs of their people before their own. When you accomplish the first two, take time to recalibrate and get ready to do it all over again.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Fall in love with the mission, do not fall in love with the plan. If you saw where we started and how we thought we could accomplish this, to where we are now. Complete 180. The plan changed numerous times, but the mission remained the same.
- Remain optimistic: Many, many things will not go to plan and you will fail. That’s life. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back in the fight.
- Pivot: If something does not work, be humble and not force and bad plan, adjust, adapt, overcome.
- Pay it forward: Leaders need to be humble and accept help. It takes a village. Use the lessons you learned to help others.
- “All it takes is all you got.” — SSgt Chris Antonik. That quote is self-explanatory.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
- Validating that medical cannabis works through data-driven results. Congress sent us to war, now it is their turn to help support us when we come back.
- I would ask members of Congress to provide us with a platform to demonstrate our results and allow us to educate them.
- Allow the VA to prescribe medical cannabis to our heroes.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My high school football coach, Mike Pettine, once told me this while I was a Captain for his team. “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.”
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Michael Smerconish @smerconish. I really respect Mike because he is open-minded on a vast array of topics, plus he played football at Central Bucks West. Just would love the opportunity to sit down with him and tell him what we are accomplishing. Perhaps it’s a story he would like to share.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can reach us on IG and Facebook @hvgcompany / and on LinkedIn at Helmand Valley Growers Company
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!