How War & Cannabis Created the Wellness Soldier
Veteran Cody Lindsay can credit the Canadian military for helping and hindering him in equal parts.
Without his training and experience as a cook in the army, the 34-year-old Victoria resident wouldn’t have developed the culinary skills he currently uses to teach others how to cook with medicinal marijuana in healthy and nutritional ways.
As the Wellness Soldier, Lindsay is known amongst veterans and marijuana activists for his cooking demos at cannabis expos across the country. His popular live seminars aim to educate medicinal users on the best ways to incorporate cannabis oils into food like sauces, salad dressings and risottos.
“I teach them how to make real meals, so it’s not only the regime of eating a cookie or only eating a head or feet off of a gummy bear,” Lindsay tells Leafly.
But while his seven years in the military nourished his culinary capabilities, it also corroded the core of his mental and emotional foundation.
An Ongoing Series of Flubs
It all started in 2005, when Lindsay received a call from his chief, asking if he wanted to go to Kandahar. At that point, he had spent about five years training as a chef on bases in Quebec and Ontario, before being stationed in Esquimalt, on Vancouver Island.
“I didn’t know where Kandahar was but that’s what I joined the military for,” Lindsay says. “I wanted to see the world and to serve this country so I was like, let’s go. Then realized it was in Afghanistan.”
Once there, it didn’t take long for Lindsay to realize he was well out of his comfort zone. Other military members were flabbergasted to learn Lindsay, who served as a private, mainly served on a Navy base, and hadn’t received any of the standard intensive training required for all service people working in combat arms. That includes nine months pre-deployment education and orientation on culture, language, weapons, and nuclear and biological threats. Lindsay hadn’t received any training beyond his time on Canadian bases.
Ill-Equipped in a War Zone
Lindsay’s overseas job would involve setting up a base camp outside the airfield for two months, which a touring unit from Edmonton would eventually take over.
Lindsay felt different the moment he arrived in Afghanistan. He experienced heightened levels of anxiety living and working in a war zone with no equipment or combat training.
“Try being the navy guy showing up on a military war zone base with a uniform that doesn’t fit. boots that don’t fit, and magazines in your pocket because you don’t have the proper gear to carry them or the proper rucksack to carry sleeping gear,” he says. Lindsay’s brain went into overdrive. He continually reminded himself that he wasn’t prepared or qualified to be in a war-torn country.
“I was constantly running 10,000 scenarios through my head to offset being unprepared, and that’s how my brain works now,” he says. “I was sent over there with nothing but my dick in my hand.”
Lindsay hadn’t received any training beyond his time on Canadian bases.
Despite the intensity of his circumstances, Lindsay never talked to his superiors about what he was experiencing internally. He credits this to military culture.
“You don’t complain,” he says. “You take it as you go. You adapt and learn.”
Unfortunately, Lindsay did not fully adapt to base life and the constant threats that come with it.
A supervisor eventually gave him some of the weapons training required in order to be able to leave the base. During the training, a fellow trainee fired a round of ammunition into the ground, which triggered him.
“All these things are going on and then someone shoots off a gun right beside you when you’re not expecting it,” he says.
Things got worse when he travelled from the Kandahar airfield, which was considered a safe zone, to work setting up the camp for the Provincial Reconstruction Team, which was considered an unsafe zone. While he didn’t witness any combat, he could hear it at night.
Anything from the sound of a chopper landing would trigger his anxiety into overdrive. When he finally returned to Canada, Lindsay felt like a changed man—and not for the better.
Hulk Take Over
A post-deployment review was never issued for Lindsay after his time in Kandahar. Even though his brain was “rolling a mile a minute,” he was never given an assessed by a psychologist or psychiatrist. As a result, there’s nothing in his military files about his mental state post-deployment.
His post-traumatic stress began to manifest when he was feeling overwhelmed. It started happening on occasion, usually when he was stressed out at work. But then it would amp up. Anything from his kid nagging him for attention to being in a crowd would set him off.
“I was made to feel like an addict, a loser, scum of the earth because I was using (cannabis).”
“I call it ‘The Hulk’,” he explains. “I can go from being completely calm, cool and collected to snapping at a moment’s notice. If it’s too much at once, I can’t handle it and snap.” Lindsay started to self-medicate with marijuana, which he soon discovered was helpful for slowing down his thoughts.
About a year after returning from Afghanistan, Lindsay was smoking pot in his condo when a neighbour smelled it and reported him to military police. He was called in to his chief’s office and instructed to pee in a cup. When his results came back, they tested positive for cannabis.
Lindsay claims his superiors belittled him for smoking weed, which wasn’t in the grey zone of legality at the time—it was treated as an illegal substance. He was discharged from the army as a result.
“I was made to feel like an addict, a loser, scum of the earth because I was using it,” he says.
Getting Back to Normal
After being discharged, Lindsay finally saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed him with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and continued using doctor-prescribed medicinal cannabis. In 2014, through some research, he eventually discovered that Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) could help cover the costs of medicinal marijuana. That prompted him to file a grievance with the department.
“I told them I’d been using cannabis for an operation stress injury and if they’d done the proper assessment, I’d still have my career, and it wasn’t my fault,” he says. “They actually came back and said ‘You’re right’.”
While they wouldn’t allow him to serve again, VAC changed Lindsay’s reason for military discharge from “drugs” to “drugs, medical.” The department continues to provide support for Lindsay, as well as covering the costs of his medicine.
After building his own website for the Wellness Soldier, Lindsay discovered a passion for graphic design. He enrolled in a program with a local college, which VAC pays for, along with a living wage and childcare. “The military made me the way that I am, but Veterans Affairs Canada has seriously contributed to me getting back to normal,” Lindsay says.
Helping Other Vets
The Wellness Soldier came about out of necessity, since Lindsay wanted to help other veterans get the support he didn’t immediately have available. He’s now an active member in the veteran’s community, helping to organize annual sponsored dinners and working with homeless veterans. Through his cooking demos and volunteer work with Soldiers Helping Soldiers, Lindsay has helped hundreds of other people who were in similar situations.
He admits some people are wary when they discover his association with cannabis but he aims to add another perspective to the conversation.
“Some veteran organizations shy away from working together because they don’t want to have that association,” he admits. “But it’s starting to get better as the stigma dies down, and people come to realize that cannabis can actually help.”
Even though Lindsay’s main focus will now be on his emerging web design career, he’s still committed to helping veterans and educating others through his cannabis cooking techniques. He has a cooking demo scheduled in Victoria, B.C. on October 6 and The Wellness Soldier’s Veterans Dinner, which partners with local businesses to sponsor veterans meals, will take place at the end of October.
To learn more about the Wellness Soldier, visit his website.