American Legion: CBD Advocate Asks for Legion Support With Legislation to Create FDA Regulation

By Steven B. Brooks

FEB 25, 2024

Paige Figi first realized the benefits of cannabidiol (CBD) when she was trying to find a treatment to address Dravet Syndrome, which was causing her young daughter to suffer from hours-long seizures throughout the day. After the treatments began, her daughter’s seizures dropped to less than three per month, allowing her to live a normal life.

And that prompted Figi to push to legalize the medical use of CBD nationwide through the founding of the nonprofit Coalition for Access Now. With that having been accomplished, Figi now is pushing for the Food and Drug Administration to regulate CBD as a dietary supplement – and she’d like members of The American Legion to assist her efforts.

Figi spoke during the Legion’s TBI/PTSD/Suicide Prevention Committee meeting Feb. 28 during the organization’s annual Washington Conference. She’s hoping for, by the spring, passage of H.R. 1629, the Hemp and Hemp-Derived CBD Consumer Protection and Market Stabilization Act of 2023; and S. 2451, the Hemp Act and Consumer Safety Act. She said the 45 million users of CBD – including veterans – deserve to feel confident in the product they’re using.

“It needs to be regulated as a dietary supplement by the FDA,” Figi said. “At the very basic what that does is we need third-party testing. We need to test what’s in there. And you need labeling, so we have confidence and accuracy. That’s at the base of what the dietary supplement regulation would do.

“You can’t responsively legalize something and expect the market to be responsible and do the right thing and grow this and sell these products perfectly.”

Figi said getting hemp and CBD legalized through a 2018 agricultural law was the hard part. “But they never got that second part,” she said. “So, since 2018, it’s been the wild west. It’s been this unregulated marketplace. It’s the last mile. The big, hard part was legalizing CBD. Every day, 45 million Americans wake up and take CBD. But we don’t know what they’re taking, because the FDA has not acknowledged that they need to be regulating this.”

Figi said the necessary legislation has no organized opposition. “We are just facing inaction … because everyone has access. We’ve lost our urgency,” she said. “The bill I’m working on are that last piece. This is a very, very simple, doable, actionable thing. What I need help with is reaching out to these legislators who are for the bill. They just need to hear from their constituents.”

In the time since CBD was legalized and now, Figi said states are now starting to add new restrictions to its use, which now also is being taken recreationally after being synthetically altered.

“That industry is ruining the whole reputation of this amazing medical product,” Figi said. “Some states are rolling back their laws. They’re working very hastily. It’s kind of frightening.

“They’re rolling back CBD laws that these veterans and these parents fought very hard for access to CBD. They’re throwing the CBD into these (synthetic) things. They’re using a sledgehammer and getting rid of all of it out of fear.”

Figi is afraid that without FDA regulation, those currently using CBD legally in their states will be forced to break the law or move to continue using it. “This is my hill that’ll I’ll die on, this issue,” she said. “And that’s why I’m here to talk to you about.”

She said veterans are probably the largest users of CBD. “We should care to support their use of it,” Figi said. “We should care what they’re taking, and we should show them we care … by getting this done. If we don’t do this, this health product is going away.

“If you support your community using these products, if you support trying to put another tool in the toolbox that’s safe, non-intoxicating … let’s support the people that are saying it’s successful. And let’s show them that by getting this bill done.”

The committee also heard from Paul Bertrand, National Capital Region Training and Delivery Manager for LivingWorks Education USA. For more than 40 years, LivingWorks has delivered suicide prevention and intervention training to communities, organizations, businesses, active-duty military and first responders.

Bertrand likened suicide prevention training to teaching CPR in that you don’t have to be a doctor to either learn or perform CPR. “When you have a heart attack here, or at home, wherever you are, do you need a cardiac surgeon with you right there?” he said. “Absolutely not. But what you do need is someone who is trained in CPR. We’re training people in that first step.”

LivingWorks provides three different types of suicide prevention training: the two-day ASIST course, the four-hour safeTALK course and Start, an online course. All three have overlapping portions.

“We teach people that people often do give off invitations to get involved and invitations that they need help,” Bertrand said. “People aren’t going to walk right up to you and tell you, ‘I’m thinking of suicide.’

“But what they do, very often more than not, is give off invitations that something big is going on, and they could use a little help right now. We specifically teach people to recognize those invitations. How to explore those invitations. What to say. How to specifically ask.”

Bertrand suggested American Legion departments and posts look into hosting training sessions so they can reach members who might be at risk but aren’t ready to talk about it.

“If they want to be the one, they have to know how to do it,” he said. “Veterans … oftentimes they’re not really comfortable seeking help. They want to be able to handle everything themselves. (They) are very good at compartmentalizing, not letting people in and to see what is really going on.”

The American Legion Department of Virginia is conducting LivingWorks training at both the state and post level. Bertrand said grants are available to help Legion posts and departments host training sessions; Bertrand said LivingWorks would help write the grant for the Legion, which they could then submit.

Also addressing the committee from Columbia University professor emerita Dr. Jean Stellman, who is teamed with her husband and The American Legion to conduct a ground-breaking study linking Vietnam War veterans’ illnesses to Agent Orange sprayed by the U.S. military as an herbicide and defoliant.

Stellman shared results from a study she began in 1984 tracking a group of Vietnam veterans’ health at different stages in the past 40 years – what the data said about PTSD in those veterans.

Stellman noted that her study has shown that “the more combat you were exposed to, the more (PTSD) symptoms you were you going to have, and this was going to last, on average, your whole life. There is a very, very, very high correlation between combat exposure and the PTSD symptoms.”

She noted that there is a relationship between PTSD and metabolic syndrome, heart disease, diabetes and other diseases. “When we talk about PTSD, we are also talking, we believe, about chronic health effects,” Stellman said.

But Stellman also noted that social support, such as through The American Legion’s Be the One program, can make a difference. She shared a graphic that showed veterans with PTSD who’ve received some form of social support are significantly different from those who did not.

“Any way that you look at it, these programs can have an important effect,” she said. “You have had the wherewithal to be a part of this organization, and that itself is social support.”