For me it all began in late 1989 after sustaining a serious injury to my left knee while training at the submarine base in Groton Connecticut. My foot became stuck in my armpit, and as you can imagine, your knee just isn’t built to bend 180deg sideways. But what I really want to speak to you about this Veterans Day, is how you can serve those that have already served our country and sadly relive horrors every day. This demographic is seeking a safe way to function at the high level they once did, and frankly, need your help. Veterans of all ages and ideologies are in favor of medical cannabis more than any other demographic. Every veteran’s organization, representing every generation and political perspective, has overwhelmingly come out in support of a safe access. I personally have had several physicians, within the VA itself, privately support medical cannabis. Please allow me to share a couple of facts with you now.
Late one summer night in 2014, Kevin Keller broke into his best friend’s home. Keller was a U.S. Navy vet wracked with constant pain, and because his right arm had been crippled by a stroke, he had to use his left hand to scrawl a note of apology to his buddy: “Marty, Sorry I broke into your house and took your gun to end the pain! FU VA!!! I can’t take it anymore.” He then drove to his nearby Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Wytheville, Virginia, and pounded on the locked doors of the medical office, probably out of frustration or as a final protest, since the facility had been closed for hours. Keller then put the barrel of his friend’s 9 mm pistol to his head and shot himself. Grieving friends told The Roanoke Times that Keller couldn’t handle how the VA was weaning him off painkillers. His doctors had told him cutting back would extend his life, but Marty Austin, whose gun Keller stole that night, told the paper, “He did not want a longer life if he was going to be miserable and couldn’t do anything because of the pain.”
I can relate directly with Keller. On two occasions I have driven to an abandoned field, pulled out my S&W .40cal, fully intending on ending the demoralizing pain. Under no circumstances should a person in their early 40’s need to have their spouse help them off the toilet or be unable to have a healthy sexual relationship with a spouse of over 20years. You see, since 1990 I have had over 20 surgeries, most orthopedic after sustaining a training injury while serving active duty in the Submarine force and then again after a near fatal motorcycle accident. I live in fear of dependency on opioids, after witnessing as a child the destruction from Methamphetamines, Opioids or Alcohol can do to a family, and will push through enormous pain before taking my prescribed Tramadol or OxyContin. There is no reason someone should have to live in fear and balance one’s own mental health with constant pain. I have lost 3 friends in the last 10 years to suicide, all three because of depression (two with service connected PTSD) two cried out to a medical system that was unable to help either because of no insurance or unwillingness to prescribe opioids. I ask you to imagine yourself in the same shoes as Keller or myself, what would you choose if cannabis was legal for medicinal purposes, a gun, opioids or cannabis?
In 2009, New Mexico became the first state to authorize the use of medical cannabis for people with PTSD. Soon after the New Mexico PTSD regulation went into effect, one of the authors began receiving unsolicited phone calls from people asking to be evaluated as part of their application to the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program. Therefore, the purpose of the study was to analyze data on PTSD symptoms collected during 80 psychiatric evaluations of patients applying. The research, which took place from 2009 through 2011, involved patients who were prescreened via telephone interviews. To be eligible for the study, participants must have met the following: the experience of and emotional response to a trauma that met the DSM-IV Criterion A for PTSD; the presence of several of the major symptoms in re-experiencing, avoidance, and hyperarousal of PTSD when not using cannabis; significant relief of several major PTSD symptoms when using cannabis; and lack of any harm or problems in functioning resulting from cannabis use. Participants were measured using a CAPS method approach. CAPS is an instrument in PTSD research that asks questions about the presence of traumatic experiences and the immediate emotional response to them, then establishes a rating of the frequency and intensity of symptoms on a scale of 0 to 4. Totals were then calculated. The results indicated that patients in the sample reported an average of 75 percent reduction in all three areas of PTSD symptoms while using cannabis, yet further research is still called for by the researchers. “Many PTSD patients report symptom reduction with cannabis, and a clinical trial needs to be done to see what proportion and what kind of PTSD patients benefit, with either cannabis or the main active ingredients of cannabis,” said Dr. George Greer, one of the researchers.
For me it is simple, EVERYONE should have the right to have a healthy discussion with their doctor and decide what is best for their quality of life. I myself have consulted with several of my own VA doctors who all have said they would support or personally prescribed cannabis if it were an option. Sadly, none will go on the record for fear of federal retaliation. Much more is at play than the simple fact of their symptoms and the fact that there is a natural, safe option, yet it remains out of reach for millions, saddens me deeply.
Thank you for your time and please donate to KSNORML to help us fight for your right.
Former Chair, KDP Veterans & Military Families Caucus
State Board of Directors, Kansas NORML
George R. Greer, Charles S. Grob, Adam L. Halberstadt. PTSD Symptom Reports of Patients
Evaluated for the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs,
2014; 46 (1): 73 DOI: 10.1080/02791072.2013.873843
Taylor & Francis. “Cannabis effects on PTSD: Can smoking medical marijuana reduce
symptoms?.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 May 2014.