The Push is On for PTSD and Medical Marijuana [FEATURE]

Access to medical marijuana continues to expand as more and more states embrace the healing power of the herb. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of veterans of America's decade of wars are returning home burdened with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition as old as war itself, but that in years past went either unrecognized or was seen as a soldier's personal failure, his "shell shock" or "battle fatigue." Could medical marijuana help?

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/scott-murphy-iraq-deployment-200px.jpg
Scott Murphy Iraq deployment photo
Scott Murphy of Newton, Massachusetts, is an Iraq combat veteran who uses medical marijuana for chronic pain. "I use medical cannabis for chronic pain from a motorcycle accident that was aggravated by my military service," Murphy said. "I had a severe accident when I was 18, I have a rod in my femur and four plates in my hip. The pain is to the point where it is affecting my walk."

But Murphy also wants to ensure that his state's new medical marijuana law provides for access to the plant for PTSD. A man Murphy described as his "best friend," a fellow veteran, committed suicide at age 22 after being kicked out of the Army for misconduct related to his mental issues rather than being given a medical discharge as promised.

"He had been showing signs of PTSD," Murphy recalled. "He was a good soldier, but when he got back from his second deployment he was having problems. When they kicked him out of the Army, he went home and killed himself."

Amid increasing evidence that medical marijuana can have a beneficial impact in helping people cope with PTSD, the push is on to expand access to the healing herb. Murphy spent Monday morning testifying at a public hearing on draft regulations for the Massachusetts medical marijuana program. Although voters voted for the initiative that listed specific qualifying conditions -- not including PTSD -- as well as "and other" conditions, state regulators are considering changing that to "and other debilitating" conditions, a change that Murphy and others fear could limit access to medical marijuana for PTSD patients.

In some medical marijuana states, adding PTSD requires going through a medical marijuana regulatory commission; in others, it is being pushed through the legislature. In Oregon, for example, Senate Bill 281, which would add PTSD to the list of treatable conditions, was approved by the state Senate last Thursday, and now moves to the House. In Michigan, by contrast, hearings on PTSD and medical marijuana were held recently by Michigan's Advisory Committee on Medical Marijuana (ACMM).

State legislatures are proving to be an easier path than unelected medical marijuana overseers, said activists. "There have been a number of states that have tried to petition to get it added to the list that have so far failed," said Kris Hermes, media liaison for Americans for Safe Access.

Air Force veteran Michael Krawitz of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access (VCMA) and a plaintiff in Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Agency, a case which seeks to see marijuana moved out of the Controlled Substance Act's Schedule I, agreed. "That Oregon effort is moving in the legislature because the state oversight panel was so intractable," said Krawitz, who was deeply involved in the effort there. "Any time we've had to go through the process provided by the state to address expanding access to medical marijuana, we've had trouble. Michigan is another example. There, there was a petition to add PTSD, but there was no actual process to do so. They were essentially keeping the process from moving forward until [vaunted Michigan marijuana attorney] Matt Abel sued them. Now, we have hearings before the advisory committee."

The need to do something for veterans is a major impetus behind the push, but PTSD effects lots of people who aren't veterans as well. "It isn't just veterans who suffer from PTSD," Krawitz said. "At that hearing, there were many veterans, but also other people who had suffered trauma -- child abuse survivors, rape survivors, emergency response workers."

Michael Krawitz testifying in support of Oregon bill
Still, veterans mustering out after more than a decade of US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are coming home with PTSD in record numbers. A 2004 study in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that 18% of returning Iraq combat veterans had PTSD. And a 2008 RAND Corporation report estimated that up to 225,000 veterans will return from the wars with PTSD.

The trauma of war is reflected not only in the number of vets suffering from PTSD, but even more ominously, in sky-high suicide rates. US military veterans are committing suicide at a rate of 22 per day, up 20% from just five years ago. And according to a Veterans Administration study released in February, that number almost certainly undercounts the number of veteran suicides because of data limitations.

The military and public health workers are keenly aware of the problem, and are attempting to address it through means both conventional and unconventional. The military and the Veterans Administration have been open to therapeutic interventions including yoga, meditation, and the use of companion dogs; they have also armed themselves with the arsenal of psychotherapeutic drugs -- anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, tranquilizers -- available in the standard pharmacopeia. But those drugs can have some nasty side effects, and their utility in treating PTSD is questionable; noting reports of negative consequences, the Army has warned against over reliance on them.

In the search for succor, more and more vets and other victims of PTSD are turning to medical marijuana. But there is a problem. Not only do a majority of states not recognize medical marijuana, even in those states that do, many of them do not allow its use for PTSD. Despite mounting evidence that medical marijuana can help with PTSD, only a handful of medical marijuana states have approved its used. According to Americans for Safe Access, only California, Connecticut, Delaware, New Mexico and Massachusetts would allow for its use for PTSD, and as we have seen above, it's still up in the air in the Bay State.

"As we find more and more people, especially veterans, benefiting from its use, we see the unfortunate absence of availability for patients across the country," said ASA's Hermes, "It's only approved in five states; that means well below half the medical marijuana states recognize the need for patients to use it for PTSD."

Americans for Safe Access supports expanded access to medical marijuana for PTSD, according to Hermes. "We wholeheartedly support the efforts to petition where patients can do so to get PTSD added to the list of conditions, and we're also pushing for recognition inside the Veterans Administration, but that's an uphill slog," he said.

And it isn't only PTSD treatment that's at stake for veterans. "I'm not only pushing for chronic pain and PTSD, but other stress-related combat issues, and that language is one of the things I asked [the Massachusetts Department of Public Health] to clarify today," Murphy said in an interview following the hearing. "Does their definition of 'debilitating' include PTSD? If they're going to use a broad definition of 'debilitating' so that it covers the full spectrum of vets' injuries, that would be one thing. But it's unclear if PTSD or other mental conditions will be covered. I think we should leave the wording with "and other" -- that's what the voters voted on. I don't think we should have to wait until someone's PTSD is so bad it's life-limiting to be able to get access."

Massachusetts regulators were supposed to have their draft regulations ready by May 5, but in the wake of the Boston bombings, that is now up in the air.

Part of the problem with winning acceptance of using medical marijuana for treatment of PTSD is the relative paucity of clinical studies on its safety and efficacy. When the state of Arizona considered adding PTSD to its list of qualifying conditions, researchers hired by the Department of Human Services found very little of use in their review of the literature.

But studies do exist. Krawitz and Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access compiled an impressive set of studies suggesting marijuana is safe and effective in treating PTSD and anxiety for Michigan regulators. (They are downloadable as submitted at the following links: Packet 1, part 1 of 3, Packet 1, part 2 of 3, Packet 1, part 3 of 3, Packet 2, Packet 3). That same packet also went out to New Mexico, where an effort to remove PTSD from the list of treatable ailments was foiled, and to Oregon, where the PTSD bill moved forward this week.

"While we don't have a lot of studies titled 'PTSD Response to Cannabis Therapy,' we do have a preponderance of evidence that shows cannabis works in various ways, including for symptoms of PTSD," said Krawitz.

Scott Murphy at 2013 press conference (courtesy ASA via YouTube)
One important reason the hard science officials would like to see on the efficacy and safety of marijuana for PTSD is federal government obstructionism. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), for instance, has been attempting for years to win approval for its study of PTSD and medical marijuana. But it's still waiting and still patiently trying to satisfy the endless niggling of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Department of Health and Human Services. The DEA and the courts haven't helped either -- the agency in 2011 denied a request by UMass scientist Dr. Lyle Craker to grow marijuana for research purposes, disregarding its own administrative law judge's recommendation to approve it, and a court last week sided with DEA.

Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence on marijuana treatment for PTSD is helping to move the issue forward. The site ProCon.org, which features a major section devoted to medical marijuana, has posted several readers' comments on the subject:

"I had severe reservations about 'smoking pot.' It is illegal and I am a health care professional," one anonymous commenter wrote. "Still, I wanted to feel better, to be myself again, and to be the person I was before the PTSD. I smoked the pot. Immediately I felt relaxed and calm. I smiled and laughed. I finally felt at peace for the first time in two years. I slept my first night in three years without the sleep medication. The next day I felt refreshed and renewed. I had hope again. My son told me that he was so happy to see the old me again."
 

"I was shot thru the right sub and supra orbital sections of the right side of my head exiting over my right ear. They rebuilt 1/4 of my skull," wrote another commenter. "Epilepsy, PTSD, and other issues such as severe anxiety, constant pain and depression... I am still alive because I smoke [marijuana] every day. Empirical evidence has proven to me that failure to utilize generally causes a seizure and at minimum I get really aggressive... I will not live on narcotics. Ibuprofen or aspirin all have side effects worse than any temporary pain. Replacement liver from the damage of man-made drugs? No thanks."

In the meanwhile, veterans and others continue to suffer from PTSD and continue to use marijuana for relief. In states that do not have medical marijuana laws, that makes them criminals. In states that do have medical marijuana laws, but don't allow it to be used for PTSD, they are criminals, too -- unless they hide what they're actually using it for.

"These state medical marijuana control boards are willing to allow vets to have it for pain, but not PTSD, so in states like Arizona, vets suffering from PTSD are using a pain diagnosis to be legal under state law, and that's problematic. We're trying to get people suffering from PTSD to actually come in and get help, and it's difficult because there's a lot of stigma around it. What are we telling our soldiers when we tell them 'tell the doc you have pain, don't say you have PTSD'"? Krawitz asked. "What are we saying about the validity of their condition?"

That leads to other problems, too Krawitz said.

"When we can't recommend medical marijuana for PTSD, we're pushing people to use chronic pain as a qualifying condition, and that leads to police and prosecutors seeing all those pain recommendations and saying there must be fraud in the system," he said. "There are a lot of patients who would otherwise have had recommendations for PTSD."

PTSD sufferers are not waiting for peer-reviewed, clinically-controlled studies to tell them what works. PTSD is a real and growing problem, and medical marijuana appears to do some good. The scientific studies that would satisfy legislators and state review boards need to be done, and that is happening, albeit too slowly, but in the meanwhile, people are suffering because the government they served at risk to life and limb is now obstructing the research that would legitimize their treatment.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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i think MDMA for PTSD (and

i think MDMA for PTSD (and tons of others psychological disorders) is the way to go. just my opinion though.

hey cj, i dig that anti-war

hey cj, i dig that anti-war poster! i've never tried mdma (better known as 'ecstasy') but have read a lot of very interesting and encouraging reports on it's therapeutic benefits for a variety of psychological problems. thanks for sharing!

http://www.ecstasy.org/experiences/index.html

and just for laughs:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tl4VD8uvgec

Extreme Pacifist's picture

Freedom for Everybody: Decriminalize, Not Legalize Marijuana

No! Not just for murdering soldiers of the USA Babylon Empire! Make it legal for anyone anywhere! Why do we have to fight so hard for things that we should be free to do and be?! We must resist the temptation of small victories in different states while the majority of people in the US remain oppressed by marijuana laws. Florida just passed a bill through the House, headed to the Senate, making bongs and pipes illegal. The people in power will never concede their power willingly, they must be forced to give it up, and one of the biggest sources of power is draconian drug laws that allow the police to watch over and question all of us, and allows the courts to intimidate, punish and steal from us. As long as marijuana, and now smoking devices in Florida, are illegal, the people in power within the government have an excuse to suspect, stop, question, and violate our rights to be safe and secure from their aggression. We must find a way to unite the people of every state in one common goal: To decriminalize marijuana completely. Not just making it a misdemeanor, that still allows the police to violate your liberties, and steal your wealth through fines, like some twisted sin tax. The tax and regulate approach only gives the government more control over the individual citizen, and creates an environment where they will allow businessmen to set up shop, for a fee, and forbid the individual citizens to have and share their own marijuana. Furthermore, we must resist the potential marketing of marijuana by the corporations and ad companies, that will ultimately see the profit potential for billions of dollars, through slick ad campaigns to impressionable young people. They will spend millions of dollars enticing young people, because they know advertising works. Let people decide for themselves if they choose to use marijuana. We must draft a manifesto for decriminalizing marijuana for all people in every state, without giving the state or federal government, or corporations, any control or authority over this natural plant and flower.

I was with Spc Murphy and Spc Shaefer in deployment

I went to baic training with spc shaefer and we both came to fort stewart together. They did him wrong just like they are doing to me. I had a suicide attempt nov 22, 2011 and now they are trying to chapter me out as a army substance abuse failure when i have not drank since the day of my suicide attempt. I also lost another good friend here spc steverson who commited suicide a few months after my attempt. It's because of this unit we are in. They dont care about soldiers, they use us for deployments and kick us out when we cant deploy what I am going through or as soon as they get back. I have severe disk degeneration and a herniated disk in my neck from the military. I should be getting out medically but my command wants to chapter me so I lose my benefits and do not get any money for my injuries i recieved in the military. I am currently workingbon my masters degree and they stopped my tuition assistence too because of this. I have been in almost six years and had 2 deployments to iraq and came back with an alcohol and drug problem so i could forget about the nightmares that happened over there. I never had a problem until i came back from iraq and now they want to kick me out. Thanks for listening.

Murphy/Sheaffer

Hey Auguste, sorry to hear what you are going through. You should contact both your Senators by letter and send to all of their offices. They will do a Congressional Inquiry. If worse comes to worse check yourself into a mental institute outside of the military and they will have to hold you for a minimum of 3 days. Are they sending you to one before they kick you out? Sheaffer was suppose to go for one week and stayed a month because they felt it would benefit him.

I don’t know how much

I don’t know how much this will help with today’s vets, but the VFW might be able to help since we’re pretty good at pulling strings.  You should write to them.  I’m a member and we’ve mostly got the Nam-vets in our group, but a few of us younger ones are on the scene as well.  I’m in the VFW for multiple reasons: one being for your rights to not suffer from PTSD and the bureaucratic BS; 2. to let the politicians, civilians and vets alike know that the war on drugs finances most of our enemies . . . I was lucky enough to be in an Infantry Company that worked in a prison in Baghdad (Infantry doing MP work, go figure).  Our Prison held members of the Italian and Russian mafia . . . Nigerian gangsters (the nation with the most drug smugglers, makes Mexico and Columbia look like a lemonade stand), and we had Latin American traffickers.  If you picture an America that never outlawed meth, heroin, coke, pot etc (which influences global drug policy), you’ll still see the World Trade Center Towers standing . . . if it was an inside job, it was drug money, or we’ll know the Iran-Contra was a kids cartoon and the CIA is a store to buy ladies shoes.  Had I not worked in a prison, I wouldn’t be spending nearly everyday since reading everything I could from around the world on reports of international drug trafficking and Narco-Terror . . . to assume Iraq wasn’t about the drug money is to claim Iraq is closer to Canada than Lebanon or Iran.  And Yes, you couldn't throw a rock without the CIA seeing it . . . they told all of us that 'organize crime is why you are in Iraq.' . . . some of the bombings and murders in Iraq were seen as 'war' or 'fighting amongst other factions', when we all know they were American (or other nation) ordered mob hits because of the big drug trade and the location of Iraq and how much of a role Iraq plays for the Mafia and cartels.  Not to believe this is to also assume the Mexican cartels don't use drug money to finance and thus wage their war in Mexico.  Logic will set us free, along with knowledge.

I am hoping to enlist your

I am hoping to enlist your help. Although White House petitions have been made in the past, the drug czar hides behind the standard line that marijuana is dangerous. I agree. However, it is not as dangerous as many medications, and the D.E.A. is charged under the controlled substances act to assign risk to medications and other substances with risk of addiction. They improperly assign high risk to marijuana.

President Lincoln founded the National Academy of Sciences, of which the Institute of Medicine (IOM) is part, just for this purpose – to provide the government with unbiased evaluations based on science. The Obama administration prides itself on following science in making policy. It would be hard for them to say no to an unbiased scientific review by the IOM.

 Please help move this forward. Please sign this petition and to spread the word by Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

Link to White House Petition:  http://wh.gov/tI08

Or: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/base-classification-medical-marijuana-science/P7PQ8wJ1

 Thank you,

Charly

"domestic" PTSD

Carry on with the campaign to get fair treatment for vets, but... there's tons of PTSD out here and whatever medicinal cannabis rights are extended to veterans will certainly be deserved by millions of other Americans who have no honorable discharge from anything they can show to the lady at the counter.  This doubtless frightens big pHARMa which $cashes in on hard drug painkillers and other shoot-down-the-enemy (or germ) remedies

Just ONE example: think how many persons have suffered (a) a headwringing binge-drinking bout (they had to prove themselves in front of the other boys) or (b) an injurious AND humiliating traffic accident, or... (c) chronic ANXIETY over debts caused by an accident or medical expenses thereof, etc., see how trauma can build up in a person's life step by step?

Lots of "Depression" (Deep Prison) is really PTSD but an individual was not lucky enough to find the right talk therapist to search down their particular hurtstory and design an exercise/diet regimen (cannabis is an herbal supplement, not a drug) addressing their particular needs (no two alike).  Everyone should think about this because if you're not the victim, you doubtless know someone who is.

Some readers here will remember that I am a partisan for single-toke (25-mg) vape or one-hitter equipment precisely because it avoids adding the TRAUMA of a 500-mg H-ot B-urning O-verdose M-onoxide joint.  Some cannabis use just adds trauma to trauma and the confused user/victim feels relieved and more damaged all at the same time (and it will be blamed on the cannabis).  A "blunt" just adds addictive nicotine delivered in the cigar skin cover (Trojan Horse entrapment).

Point is: not just "marijuana" but the right administration procedure must be specified in order to win this battle over PTSD sufferers' rights!

Why nothing in Congress for this?

Why isn't a bill introduced in Congress for this?  Currently the VA will pull all benefits away if you get on medical marijuana prescription.. if it's one thing politicians of all colors can get on board with, it's the "support our troops" wagon.. this is what reform activists should be pushing into congress.  It'd be the most likely of all the other bills to actually get paid attention to.

The healing power of the herb

Really inspiring in succession and while all the analysis I have feel that this blog is really informative all those quality that qualify a blog to be an excellent.

"Research Paper Spot"

Take 20,000 units of D-3

Take 20,000 units of D-3 ,400mg of ubiquinol 400 units of natural vitamin E,1 tablesspoon of hemp seed and and organic coconut oil should help! :) Try orgone pendants and HHG pyramids too!

Medical pot for PTSD

I used pot for controlling PTSD. The problem, while pot is great for anxiety, it also costs a lot of money, isnt covered by insurance, make you dopey, forgetful as hell, and when pot runs out, if you have PTSD and are prone to violence like I am, coming down from pot, if you are out can be a dangerous situation. 

Every time I was out, I would melt down, needed the stress relief no matter what. When the money is out, the pot is out. 

I would get into fights, I would go after friends, people who never did anything to me. The pot made me so forgetful and dopey, anyone who was in college and started smoking it, knows grades went down, because pot dopes you up. Im not sure this is really an effective treatment for anyone with PTSD other than, someone wants an excuse to smoke it for whatever and be right because they smoke it. 

The fact is, I now hate it. I am off all medications, pot including and I feel better, clearer, and not so grumpy, which is what pot does, makes people grumpy and pissed off. Sure you are mellow while high. After the high, nope.

Realistically, pot should not be used to treat PTSD. And if so, sativa is best, not indica. And should only be used temporary until one can stabilize themselves. 

PTSD can be changed by the person, they have to choose to want to be a certain way or another.

 

PTSD will always be there, but it doesn't have to control you and if you are drugging, drinking or smoking pot, you are not controlling it yourself. You are just doping yourself up and creating an imbalance in the brain that aggravates PTSD.

I would say, if the PTSDer is drinking, offer a pot solution. The goal is to stabilize, not depend on any chemical, or plant or whatever. The PTSDer needs to be clear thinking. 

 

My 2 cents.

 

Why is marijuana

Why is marijuana illegal.....because it's harmful to the people......shit so many legal products in the market are harmful to the public.

Marijuana should be taxed the

Marijuana should be taxed the same as any other regular product. Sin tax exists to "discourage" people from buying a product. When people call out how wrong sin tax is, then they fall back on "we need the revenue".

Medical Marijuana

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