BREAKING NEWS: Treating PTSD with medical marijuana could curb veteran suicides

The following article is available at the Canadian Veterans’ Advocacy website. I am reposting it here with my comments in BOLD ITALICS. BONNIE

Treating PTSD with Medical Marijuana Could Curb Veteran Suicides

by John J. Walters, Mar. 22, 2013 1:45 pm

Reposted on Homecoming Vets from Canadian Veterans Advocacy’s data pool for PTSD

Source: Lorazepam pills and bottleCredit: Christian “VisualBeo” Horvat / Wikimedia Commons

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U.S. Military - Dog Tags ... U.S. Military Sui...

When T.J. Thompson returned from serving in Iraq, the Veterans Administration put him on Lorazepam, a high-potency, short-acting drug used to fight anxiety, insomnia, seizures, and aggression. It didn’t work. Thompson’s anxiety worsened until it almost killed him. In Thompson’s own words: “I took 28 pills and blacked out one night. I also drank an 18-pack of beer in that same night. I declared that I would never take nor have that medication in my house again.”

His brush with death is, tragically, more common than you might think. U.S. military veterans are committing suicide at increasing rates—averaging 22 per day. That’s 20 percent higher than in 2007. (Pay attention Canada! If it’s happening to our American brothers and sisters at this escalating rate, it’s happening to our Canadian military and veterans as well … BONNIE)

Prescribing powerful psychotropic (mood altering) drugs like Lorazepam for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety is common practice among military doctors, but thankfully that’s starting to change in response to the many negative side-effects and an almost total lack of observable positive effects.

According to Dr. Grace Jackson, a Navy psychiatrist who resigned in 2002 in protest of the “pill pushing”: “Clinical studies… have shown these drugs to be no better than placebos—but far more dangerous in the treatment of PTSD.”

Part of the problem with treating PTSD with high-intensity (and generally highly-addictive) pills is the tendency for veterans to self-medicate, according to Alec Dixon, a U.S. Navy veteran and the Director of Client Relations for SC Laboratories. “Veterans—whether Iraq, Afghanistan, Gulf, Korean, or Vietnam War vets—have largely self-medicated as a form of personal coping and treatment with PTSD. Often it is excessive binge consumption of alcohol alone or combined with a cocktail of other prescribed medications. Most vets and active duty military turn to alcohol from an inebriate standpoint due to the ‘zero-tolerance’ policy on cannabis within the UCMJ and, historically, within the Veterans Administration.”

Army soldier doing yogaCredit: Military Health / / CC “But to say that the Veterans Administration (VA) is turning a blind eye to the appalling number of military suicides, however, would be unfair. To their credit, they are open to alternate ways of solving the problem. Michael Krawitz, Executive Director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access (VMCA) and a plaintiff in Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Agency, admits that the VA is trying to make progress.

The Army and Veterans Administration are trying their best to deal with these issues and have gotten pretty creative: employing meditation, yoga, and even service dogs to assist vets dealing with PTSD. But they haven’t yet discovered cannabis.

Should they? The VMCA has collected an impressive amount of studies that suggest that medical marijuana is a safer and more effective way to treat PTSD and anxiety. They submitted it to the State of Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (MDLRA) in an attempt to convince the Michigan Medical Marijuana Review Panel that PTSD should be a qualifying condition for patients to be prescribed medical marijuana. They have also sent in similar packets to New Mexico and Oregon.

(You can download the studies in the same format as they were submitted to the MDLRA here: Packet 1, part 1 of 3, Packet 1, part 2 of 3, Packet 1, part 3 of 3, Packet 2, Packet 3.) FILE ARE LOCATED BELOW

Thompson has already turned from Lorazepam to marijuana after his frightening experience. He says, “I can use marijuana to help with the same [anxiety] symptoms and not worry about overdosing.”

Cartoon depicting a medical marijuana patient threatened at gunpoint Credit: Latuff2 / / CC: Other vets are learning the same thing—but are forced to live in constant fear of arrest because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, even in cannabis-friendly states like Colorado. Former U.S. Navy Corpsman Jeremy Usher is one such example. He had to obtain an expensive prescription for Marinol, a synthetic version of marijuana’s active ingredient, THC, to manage his PTSD symptoms while on probation for three DUIs—all of which he accrued after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003. He is a poster-boy for the self-medication that is all too common among the shell-shocked vets who don’t receive effective treatment.

Admittedly, asking the DoD (U.S.) to turn a blind eye to recreational use of marijuana in states where it has been legalized seems a bit much. It is understandable for them to assert that soldiers and defense contractors must meet certain standards of readiness.

But this outrageously outdated stance on marijuana that the military takes—which ignores the rapidly-growing amount of scientific research which shows that medical marijuana is a cheaper, safer, and more effective means to treating PTSD—hurts our veterans. It kills them.

How many could we save by switching our treatment strategy away from psychotropic drugs and towards medical marijuana? It’s worth finding out. 

It’s a question we here in Canada have to ask too. BONNIE

REFERENCES: Related articles


About Bonnie Toews and John Christiansen

Bonnie's Blog Posts invite our readers and free spirits everywhere to share life's adventures with us. I talk about writing my novels, reading books, chatting with other writers and John's and my journeys around the world. We welcome your anecdotes to our experiences and discussions.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan vets, Canadian Armed Forces, Canadian Peacekeepers, caregivers, CNN News, depression, emotional trauma, estrangement from family, federal government, Homecoming Vets, mental illness, physical disability, post traumatic stress disorder, social workers, suicide, veterans' affairs, veterans' assistance programs, VRAB and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to BREAKING NEWS: Treating PTSD with medical marijuana could curb veteran suicides

  1. Sadly Bonnie many Canadian Suicides go unreported. Also for every one Suicide there are 100’s of attempts. But it goes unreported. We need to remove the shame of PTSD and educate all that it is a wound, not a lack of bravery. The Troops must be made to understand this. So it’s up to the Officer corps. to take the lead and drill it into the Soldiers to report the wound.

  2. I agree whole heartedly, Rob, and all of us will keep reporting it until someone takes notice. Indeed, those who read this website and CVA, take what you learn and pass it around. Education is also the result of word-of-mouth.


  3. geronimo55 says:

    I have a hard time understanding marijuana as a drug to help PTSD. My unit got into serious trouble because marijuana when they were in Panama and it was totally unacceptable and our whole unit was punished because of some of them get caught with it. If it helps someone from harming themselves I have no problem with that, I just don’t understand how and how is a drug like that going to help someone when it has addicted and ruined so many lives. People that I know that use it don’t want to do anything but smoke pot and its taken over their lives. I wish there was a drug that could help you but not addictive and destroy other lives and I do feel there is other medication like that.

  4. You make a valid point. In this article, the reason medical marijuana becomes preferable is because the psychiatric drugs prescribed have far worse and more addictive effects on the veterans or civilians suffering with PTSD. In the PTSD FORUM we are providing on Homecoming Vets, we are collecting non-drug approaches to relieving and coping with PTSD symptoms. Drugs are always the very last solution of choice.

  5. Dileas Gu Bas says:

    Marijuana ranks lower than heroin, cocaine, cigarettes, alcohol and COFFEE as an addictive substance. The numbers of highly productive people in North American society who happen to use marijuana are very high. Marijuana has never, in all its history, killed anyone. Not all marijuana strains have the same effect on people, and even the same strain will not have the same effect on different people. I am guessing you also did not know that some strains of marijuana have a motivating effect on the person using it? I came home from Afghanistan with an OSI, as well as asthma, and marijuana has had a positive effect on both. I declined to use the drugs the military “health” system tried to push on me, as there have been no satisfactory long term studies done on their effects, and their negative side effects are legion. Education brings about understanding. Please read about it if you really want to understand…there is SO much information out there on the subject. Some sources are not (surprise, surprise) unbiased, so a critical eye and an open mind both help.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Dileas. It’s great that you have enjoyed positive results for both your asthma and OSI symptoms by using marijuana instead of going on prescribed drugs. Education makes the difference in so many situations, and this is another one where an open mind can make a huge difference.


      • cindasana says:

        You’re welcome.. After re-reading my post, I wanted to apologize if I came across as “looking down my nose” at anyone, or anything of the sort. I did the usual experimentation with marijuana, alcohol, etc, as a teenager but ever since, have misguidedly believed the “war on drugs” rhetoric and, aside from which, would not have dared think of doing marijuana for the decade + that I was employed by the military. Since tripping over information related to marijuana’s various health benefits, I have been madly researching the topic and feel very disappointed that I did not find all this information much, much earlier, because it was not readily available as it is now. I truly believe that, if our populace looks into all of the scientific information that exists on what an amazing health resource marijuana is, policy will have to bow to the demands of the people. All I can do is be one small voice to hopefully point at least one person in that direction.

  6. Pingback: PTSD FORUM with Dr. Dee Rajska | Homecoming Vets at the Crossroads of Humanity

  7. elizabeth says:

    Interesting about Lorazepam. Prescribed medications can be extremely dangerous and may cause one to act completely out of character. Dr. Peter Breggin and Dr. David Healy have all the updates.

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