From a vet:
I am a veteran from the marine corps. I deployed to Iraq in 08 and since then things have not been the same. Before my deployment I didn't drink, smoke, chew, do drugs or have PTSD. After my deployment I became a full on alcoholic who smoke and dipped constantly throughout the day. After I married my wife and moved in with her she started to notice symptoms about me that were obvious to her but not me. I would drink every night. I would have random anger outbursts over petty things. And the worse was that I would act out my dreams that would involve her getting hurt sometimes. I have since then been kicked out on a general under honorable conditions for being an alcoholic rehabilitation failure. I have now been out of the marine corps for 6 months and I am currently in a program for addiction treatment that helps a little with my PTSD. My main question is how do I ever get over this. Will it ever stop. Can I ever be normal. I miss the old me. I miss the feeling of happiness. I have been in the psych ward at my va 4 times now for suicidal thoughts and major depression. I will not kill myself but I can't stop the thoughts. I need help. Please help me so I can be of use to my family and be a man again and not a scared little kid.
Veterans Struggling with PTSD Want Access to Medical Marijuana
A new campaign to expand medical marijuana access to veterans struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) aims to spread awareness about the drug's efficacy, while urging states with medical cannabis programs to include PTSD in their lists of conditions for which medical marijuana may be prescribed. The Freedom to Choose Campaign -- launched by veterans, the Drug Policy Alliance, and elected officials -- targets lawmakers, physicians, and employers to recognize marijuana as a safe, efficient alternative to other PTSD medications that may not work as well or cause troubling side effects. While they urge lawmakers to adopt legislation that protects veterans' access to medical marijuana, the campaign targets Veteran Affairs (and other) doctors to recognize the benefits of medical marijuana for PTSD, and demands employers not discriminate against employers who are medical marijuana patients with PTSD.
Advocates for the campaign include New Mexico lawmakers Congressperson Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) and State Representative Antonio Maestas (D), who applaud their state for keeping PTSD a condition listed for medical marijuana use, despite a campaign to have it removed from the program, and urge other states to follow their lead. But even in New Mexico, PTSD patients using medical marijuana legally may face discrimination.
Iraq War veteran Augustine Stanley, an advocate for the Freedom to Choose campaign, was fired by the Bernalillo Metropolitan Detention Center for being a legal medical marijuana patient in New Mexico, one of few states that recognize PTSD as a condition for which medical pot may be prescribed. But he is determined to remain a patient, regardless of employer discrimination. "Being a part of the medical marijuana program has given me all the joys of life back," Stanley said on a conference call for the press.
A patient since 2012, he said that after using marijuana to treat PTSD, "I could wake up in the morning and do the things I used to enjoy, prior to being put on all those medications that leave me like a zombie." Prescription pills, he said, drove him into a "deeper depression."
Wife Anetra Stanley said, "When we came back from the war, I did see a difference in him," her high school sweetheart, "And when it got bad, it was awful."
But when he started the program, "I saw the man that I knew forever, and I don't want him to ever go back. I want him to stay on this, and even though it has cost him his job, I would rather search for work and search for money than for him to go back to the way he was. I just really believe in this program."
"It's sad that employers don't recognize the quality of life this medication gives back to the veterans," Stanley added, "We fight for other people to have quality of life, and we should be afforded that opportunity when we get back."
Michael Kravitz, a disabled US Air Force Sergeant who served during the Cold War, has been an advocate for veterans' rights for years. Kravitz lamented what he called "treatment by geography," whereby a veteran in San Francisco, where medical marijuana is legal, may be treated better than one in Iowa, where no medical marijuana program exists. Pointing to decades of research into PTSD and marijuana, Kravitz said "the mechanisms of action" by which medical marijuana works to treat PTSD are more understood than other prescription medications. He said the federal government needs to reschedule marijuana so that its medical use is recognized.
Dr. Florian Birkmayer of the Birkmayer Institute pointed to the terrible side effects, like suicidality and withdrawal, of PTSD medication which he said "are not that great," and lead to the piling on of medications. Certifying patients for medical marijuana, "The benefits I see are profound," he said, including increased functioning in work or school. He adds that "many veterans and other clients of PTSD self-medicate with alcohol and other hard drugs." Noting the "myth" that cannabis is a a gateway drug, Birkmayer said he has seen "hundreds of clients that because of safe, legal access to legal cannabis are able to stop using alcohol and other hard drugs to treat PTSD."
"It's [because of] my commitment to the veterans that I want to help that I am going to continue certifying people for medical cannabis," he said.
Marijuana politics blunt effort to ease PTSD
Antidepressants or antipsychotic medications are among the most common ways to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and the insomnia, anger, nightmares and anxiety that often come with it.
Unfortunately, they're not guaranteed to be much help.
That's what a study in August's Journal of the American Medical Association suggested. Risperdal, a widely prescribed antipsychotic, is no more effective in treating PTSD than placebos, it reported. This finding adds to earlier research on the ineffectiveness of most PTSD medications.
But there is a drug that has been shown to alleviate the symptoms of PTSD. Unfortunately, Department of Veterans Affairs doctors can't recommend it, and the federal government won't allow research to proceed that could prove its effectiveness. What's the drug? Marijuana.
Sixteen states [20 as of 2013] and the District of Columbia have medical marijuana laws on the books, but we are still a long way from general acceptance of the drug as a medicine. If we're serious about seeking an effective remedy for post-traumatic stress, and serving the hundreds of thousands of veterans with the disorder, this needs to change. It's not a guaranteed solution, but sufficient evidence exists to show that it's a treatment that needs to be explored further.
In 2006, one of the pioneers of medical marijuana in the United States, the late Tod Mikuriya, published a paper in a cannabis research journal reporting on his experience with PTSD sufferers. He compared marijuana to commonly prescribed medications and noted that the former worked better to control chronic stressors, without adverse side effects. "Based on both safety and efficacy," he wrote, "cannabis should be considered first in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder."
A few years later, the Israeli psychology researcher Irit Akirav published a study in the Journal of Neuroscience that alluded to the potential benefits of marijuana for PTSD patients. She found in an animal study that cannabinoids - the active chemicals in marijuana - may reduce the effects of PTSD. "The results of our research," Akirav noted, "should encourage psychiatric investigation into using cannabinoids in post-traumatic stress patients."
In New Mexico, where PTSD was added as a qualifying condition to the state's medical marijuana program after an evaluation of the available research, more patients use marijuana for PTSD than for any other condition.
Veterans, if given the option to use marijuana to alleviate PTSD, would probably take advantage of the opportunity. In September, Stars and Stripes published a story about Army Sgt. Jamey Raines, who talked openly about how he had used marijuana to treat PTSD triggered by heavy combat duty in Iraq. Marijuana was not just helpful, Raines said - it was the only substance he found effective.
Of course this evidence is still limited and in some cases anecdotal; for conclusive answers, we need Food and Drug Administration approved research to assess the benefits of marijuana in a clinical environment. Fortunately, earlier this year, the FDA approved such a protocol to study the therapeutic potential of marijuana for veterans suffering from chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD. But that's where the good news ends.
If this were any other drug, the researchers would probably be organizing or conducting trials now. But this isn't a new chemical compound dreamed up by a pharmaceutical company. It's marijuana, and the anti-marijuana forces in the federal government are powerful.
Here is how this research has been stymied. In April, the researchers submitted their protocol to the Public Health Service (PHS) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) along with a request to purchase marijuana from NIDA, which has a monopoly on the supply of pot used for research in the United States. In September, the PHS and NIDA rejected the protocol and refused the researchers' request to purchase marijuana for the study. They criticized the protocol design - the same design that the FDA had approved - and directed the researchers to redesign it and resubmit it, a process that will result in at least an additional year's delay. The reviewers even reserved the right to raise new criticisms after the old ones had been addressed. It is likely that the researchers will never be able to purchase the marijuana from NIDA.
The research, it seems, is a victim of marijuana politics. Under federal law, a drug is considered most harmful - and placed in the most restrictive category, Schedule I - if it has "no currently accepted medical use." Although marijuana was listed as a medicine in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia before its prohibition and was widely used for dozens of conditions, Congress temporarily placed it in Schedule I in 1970, pending the outcome of a government study. The study, produced by a national commission on drug abuse, ultimately concluded that marijuana's harmful effects were so limited for light and moderate users that it should not even be a criminal offense to use it. But its status as a Schedule I drug has not changed.
Advocates have been working toward a change since 1972, when the first petition to reschedule marijuana was filed with the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, the predecessor of the Drug Enforcement Administration. After many refusals to act and a few court rulings, the DEA finally initiated hearings on rescheduling in 1986 - 14 years after the first filing.
These hearings led to an opinion in 1988 by the DEA's chief administrative law judge, Francis Young, who wrote: "Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. ... It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record."
He concluded that the provisions of the Controlled Substances Act "permit and require" the transfer of marijuana from Schedule I to a less restrictive category.
Yet the DEA administrator did not reclassify marijuana. Since that time, the agency has denied two other rescheduling petitions, most recently in July.
It is bad enough that the DEA has repeatedly ignored existing evidence regarding marijuana's therapeutic value in order to maintain the drug's Schedule I status.
But both the DEA and NIDA have taken further steps to block any new evidence from being produced.
Most notably, the DEA has refused for 10 years to grant a license to the University of Massachusetts to cultivate marijuana for FDA-approved research, providing a privately funded alternative source to NIDA's marijuana supply. The refusal has occurred despite yet another DEA administrative law judge ruling that the license would be "in the public interest" and should be granted.
Federal marijuana policy is thus trapped in absurd circular logic. Officials argue that marijuana must be kept illegal because it is a "dangerous" Schedule I drug. They refuse to move it out of Schedule I, claiming that there is no evidence that it has medical value. They refuse to allow private entities to cultivate marijuana for research to demonstrate that it has medical value. And they set up endless obstacles for any researchers who hope to conduct potentially favorable studies with the marijuana controlled by the government. No research, no evidence, no rescheduling. Therefore, marijuana is still dangerous.
The federal government's stance has led to our current state-by-state battles over medical marijuana.
We will continue to fight and will add more states to the pro-medical-marijuana side of the ledger.
But it will be many years, possibly decades, before marijuana is legal for medical purposes in all 50 states.
When current and former service men and women are seriously suffering - to the point where some have even taken their own lives - we at least owe it to them to explore any treatment that might be effective.
It is time for government officials to take this nation's veterans off the medical marijuana battlefield. NIDA should grant the researchers' request to purchase marijuana and allow the FDA-approved PTSD study of veterans to move forward. These brave men and women don't have decades to wait for relief.
Steve Fox is the director of government relations at the Marijuana Policy Project and the co-author of "Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?" This column first appeared in The Washington Post.