Veteran's Voice: How Does Marijuana Help Former Soldiers Cope with PTSD?

Category:  News
Thursday, March 31st, 2016 at 10:36 AM
Veteran's Voice: How Does Marijuana Help Former Soldiers Cope with PTSD? by George Schmidt
Veterans have been using marijuana to cope with PTSD.

Have you ever seen commercials advertising weight loss or diet supplement pills? Most of them state, “If you try this product you’ll lose 60 pounds in four weeks.” Well, it seems there’s a drug for veterans suffering from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) known to many as marijuana.

In a recent article published on March 22, The Associated Press stated “they’re (veterans) increasingly using cannabis even though it remains illegal in most states and is unapproved by the Department of Veterans Affairs because major studies have yet to show it is effective against PTSD.”

The article goes on to state that “While the research has been contradictory and limited, some former members of the military say pot helps them manage their anxiety, insomnia and nightmares. Prescription drugs such as Klonopin and Zoloft weren’t effective or left them feeling like zombies, some say.”

When I was in the Walter Reed Army Hospital, I was on these type of drugs and I can attest to the fact there were days I definitely felt zombie like. Do you remember the film “Kill Bill”? The scene where the heroine is in the back seat of the truck and she says, “Wiggle your big toe.” Well that’s what it’s like being on some of these medications the VA prescribes to veterans. Your brain is awake, but your body just refuses to respond, especially in the morning. The best thing for mental health is sleep. If you can’t sleep, then you take prescription medicine to help you sleep and stay asleep. So, in the morning when you wake up, it’s one of two feelings: either “Kill Bill” or “Walking Dead” zombie.

I remember talking to one vet at Walter Reed in the morning after our first formation, which was at seven in the morning.

He said, “Wait, was I at formation? How did I get here?”

I replied, “Yeah bro, you were there, you stood right next to me the whole time, then we walked back over here to have a cigarette. Can’t you remember?”

“No. Last thing I remember was taking my meds and passing out.”

So he had woken up, gotten dressed properly in his uniform, made it to formation on time and never recalled having done any of it. And these are the pills that are supposed to help us? Who wants to go through life like that?

The AP article also stated that as of 2009, 10 states have listed PTSD among the ailments for which medical marijuana can be prescribed, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, which seeks to end criminalization of the drug. A few more states give doctors broad enough discretion to recommend marijuana to PTSD sufferers.

The studies, including one funded in Colorado, are still underway. These studies are trying to determine the long term effects of marijuana and its effects on veterans with PTSD. The article also mentioned, “in November, the U.S. Senate passed an amendment that would allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to vets in states where it’s legal. The proposal failed to pass the House.”

So, I spoke with my own psychiatrist about the matter. “Well, first off it’s still illegal here in PA,” he explained. “Second I come from a substance abuse background helping vets… so I would strongly advise against it. Marijuana, I consider it to be a gateway to worse things.”

I spoke to one Iraq War veteran, who said regarding marijuana, “I was able to cut [out] six of my eight daily medications. I feel great. I am more outgoing and less anxious all the time.”

This veteran still seeks therapy treatments and has counseling sessions with his therapist.

“For me, it removes the underlying anxiety that is always there,” another Iraq War veteran said. “ When you suffer from PTSD you get used to the symptoms. There’s the anxiety and apprehension [of] being out and about doing your normal dayto- day things. Marijuana removes that for me.”

He stated he doesn’t have to smoke everyday, but he does smoke several times a week.

“When I haven’t smoked, I can really feel my anxiety building up and my outbursts become more frequent.”

He lives in a remote area outside the coverage of the VA where the closest facility is over an hour away. So therapy or counseling is not a real option for him.

If you’ve ever seen the movie, “Born on the Fourth of July,” you can see the stereotypical veteran living off their VA checks and getting high on anything they can get their hands on. Granted, public opinion may change on marijuana but the “Pothead” stigma is still attached to it.

What these veterans are trying to do is not what was portrayed in that film. They know they need something to help them cope and the medications the VA supplies have side effects that are not desired. They’re trying to medicate on their own terms in an attempt to find some type of normalcy and to fit into a society that does not or simply will not understand them.

From my own experience, I am on my eighth different “cocktail” of medications and take around six to eight pills daily to function. Using marijuana intrigued me greatly. As an adolescent, I used marijuana as a “party drug,” mainly to loosen up and talk to girls. But now, here I am at nearly 40 years old, a husband, father of three children (who are or are close to being teens themselves) and I am asking myself “Do I really want to go down this road?” I mean what kind of message would I be sending to them?

My children are not naïve to my PTSD. They know full well “Daddy came back different” or “Daddy has issues” but do I want to add the stigma of being a “Pothead” to that as well?

George Schmidt is a Staff Writer for The Spectator.

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