Nick Giambruno’s Note: Todd Scattini isn’t your typical marijuana entrepreneur.
He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1996, and became an Army officer.
But Todd recently hung up his fatigues to serve as CEO of Harvest 360, a marijuana consulting and management firm.
My colleague Justin Spittler, editor of the Casey Daily Dispatch, recently met Todd at Harvest 360’s headquarters in Denver. There, they discussed how he’s using cannabis to solve one of the military’s deadliest problems.
Todd’s story could completely change how many people think about cannabis.
Below is a transcript of their conversation. I encourage you to share it with anyone who still sees marijuana as just another “street drug.” It may just change their mind…
Justin: Todd, I’m not used to seeing “cannabis” and “Army officer” in the same sentence. So, can you tell me how you became interested in the plant?
Todd: I became interested in 2011. I was in Paris at the time, and I was asked to serve as a special advisor for General John Allen. He was the Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) back then.
ISAF was a NATO-led security mission. It’s the largest military coalition ever assembled. At the time, it was 51 nations.
Its main purpose was training the Afghan National Security Forces and assisting Afghanistan in rebuilding key government institutions. It was also engaged in the war with the Taliban insurgency.
I was helping manage the General’s relationship with the Coalition through bilateral engagement and normal security cooperation functions.
One evening, our special staff was asked to come up with creative ways to engage with the Afghans using the domestic resources they had so that they could create an industry without relying on outside assistance.
And I thought, “Geez. The Afghans don’t have many resources.”
They had minerals, but the Chinese had purchased the rights to them long ago, and it would take nearly a decade to build the infrastructure to mine them effectively.
They had heroin, too, but I certainly didn’t think that could be the basis for an industry.
And they had cannabis. A lot of cannabis that they grew was smuggled outside of the country and sold on the black market for huge profits to fund terrorist operations.
So, I thought, “why don’t we transition them to a hemp industry?” It has 25,000 different uses such as food, fuel, fiber, and medicine. And humans have been using it for 8,000 years. We have essentially evolved with this plant.
Justin: How’d that suggestion go over with your supervisors?
Todd: It was not well-received. I don’t believe my concept was ever even briefed to the General. I was kind of laughed out of the room, to be honest. They called me “Major Cheech & Chong” and things like that.
But I learned so much about the plant by studying it, including its medical potential.
And I thought, “there are some military applications here.”
So, I continued to read, study, and talk to everyone I could about the plant. I learned so much that I became a master at talking to generals, other officers, and ambassadors about marijuana.
Justin: So, do they still call you Major Cheech & Chong?
Todd: I still get a giggle or pot pun when I talk about it. But I’m no longer laughed out of the room. So, yes, I’ve convinced a lot of people that this is a very interesting proposition and might be a way to address reducing suicides from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and chronic pain; all significant issues that often result from our service.
Justin: How did you change people’s minds?
Todd: I just became so passionate and well-studied about the plant, the roots of its prohibition, and its potential to help people.
So, now when speaking with generals and other senior leaders I tell them, “Sir, this is serious, and I think it could save soldiers’ lives.”
I always point them to the federal government’s patent on cannabidiol as a neuro-protectant, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant. This is U.S. Patent 6630507.
Justin: Why’s that patent so important?
Todd: These days, many of our soldiers encounter improvised explosive devices (IED) on the battlefield. An IED strike can be devastating to multiple vehicles and soldiers in an instant.
And, if an IED goes off near you, there’s a good chance you’ll experience a TBI. TBI is a very serious concussion possibly leading to permanent or temporary impairment of cognitive, physical, and psychosocial function. We find that soldiers who have experienced a TBI are at a higher risk for PTSD and suicide.
Justin: How does an IED give TBI?
Todd: When an IED goes off near you, there’s a massive blast wave. The air from the blast creates a wall of pressure that hits a soldier’s hard skull and rattles the soft brain around inside of it, and a dangerous chemical process begins inside the skull.
This can lead to a stroke, which is what usually kills a TBI victim.
Justin: How does the military currently treat TBI?
Todd: Today, there’s very little done to treat it. And, aside from improvements made to some vehicles, there’s really no protocol for preventing this sort of injury.
I want to change that with my project, The Athena Protocol.
I want to use formulations of non-psychoactive cannabinoids (especially cannabidiol) and a few added elements as a daily supplement to essentially “armor a soldier’s brain,” and help protect the brain’s neuroreceptors. Studies suggest that this approach could also increase the elasticity of the neurons, preventing them from calcification and potentially reducing the instance of PTSD among our soldier and veteran population.
Justin: How do you plan to prevent these sorts of things?
Todd: Well, we do this in two phases. The first is the prep phase. This happens “left of the boom,” as we say in the military. This means this is the preparation done prior to an IED strike. This includes the supplementation of cannabinoids which help “armor the brain” in preparation for a traumatic event.
Hopefully no one ever gets “right of the boom,” or experiences an IED strike. But, if they do, I would propose administering an immediate supplemental dose of non-psychoactive cannabinoids and other elements very, very rapidly.
Justin: What made you want to focus on TBI?
Todd: I became interested after I lost a platoon leader of mine. His name was Captain Andrew Houghton.
Andy was a fellow West Point graduate. He was class of 2001, and he was like a little brother to me.
In 2004, he was struck in the head with a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) while deployed in Iraq. The RPG didn’t explode. But it did massive damage to his head.
The battlefield medics, which are so good today, performed a soldier-to-soldier blood transfusion on-site in his vehicle. They stabilized him in-country and transported him to the Army hospital in Germany.
There, his brain continued to swell.
The rocket did so much damage that they had to remove a large portion of his brain to release the pressure. He was then sent to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where I was present when they pinned a Purple Heart on him. He passed away the next day.
If I can prevent something like that from happening again, I will be very satisfied and feel that I will have done my duty.
Justin: I’m terribly sorry to hear about your loss, Todd.
But it’s inspiring that you’re trying to prevent this sort of thing from happening to other soldiers.
That said, how can you be so confident that The Athena Protocol will work? After all, no one’s ever done anything like this before.
Todd: So, a portion of that is the federal patent I was telling you about. This study says cannabidiol is an effective neuroprotectant and anti-inflammatory.
More recent studies have also shown that victims of car accidents who have THC (an active ingredient in marijuana) have a higher percentage of survivability in TBI incidents.
Plus, we know that cannabinoids pass the blood barrier much more rapidly than most pharmaceuticals.
So, we’d be able to administer and see anti-inflammatory effects very rapidly.
But, you are right. Of course, this theory must be tested. The unfortunate thing is that we are prevented from testing this in the United States due to cannabis’ Schedule I status on the federal government’s list of Controlled Substances. I would propose to circumvent this by studying this outside of the U.S. or gaining special permission to do so in the U.S.
Justin: Would The Athena Protocol only be used to treat TBI injuries suffered in combat? Or are there applications beyond the military?
Todd: Absolutely. Soldiers aren’t the only ones who suffer TBI injuries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2.5 million people go to U.S. emergency rooms every year for TBI. And about 300,000 of those people die from their injuries.
This includes everyone from car crash victims to people who slip and fall.
So, this kind of treatment could really be used everywhere. And the sooner first responders and hospitals can administer this, the better.
Justin: And how’s the project coming along?
Todd: Right now, we’re at the research and development (R&D) level, but we have submitted for a provisional patent for the entire protocol and sub-patents for each formulation and method of administration. Specifically, we’re working on jamming as much cannabidiol into a single drop of water as possible. And we’ve already gotten some incredibly high levels of concentration. So, it’s coming along very nicely.
Justin: Got it. You’re doing some incredible work, Todd. But I have to ask you one last thing before I let you go… Where’d the name, The Athena Protocol, come from?
Todd: The name, and I’m not kidding, came to me in the middle of the night. I shot out of bed and wrote it down.
Athena is the Greek Goddess of Wisdom, Good Counsel, and War. She also wears a helmet. And Athena’s helmet adorns the West Point crest.
Justin: Wow. It sure seems like you picked the perfect name.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. And best of luck with everything.
Todd: My pleasure, Justin.