In the general American population, few are more admired and respected than our soldiers. There are nearly 1.5 million men and women on active duty in the US, another 800,000 in reserves; and each and every day, their lives lie in the hands of politicians and the terrorists that plague our world. The rigors of military life take their toll, not only in terms of physical injury resulting from the act of going into combat itself but also in the price of mental illness, which claims the livelihood and lives of many soldiers even decades after the war is over. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has a lasting impact on the welfare of our veterans.
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines PTSD as the following:
PTSD is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.
It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people recover from initial symptoms naturally. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger.
The US Veterans Administration estimates that nearly 30% of Vietnam War veterans, 12% of Gulf War veterans, and up to 20% of veterans from other middle-East conflicts suffer from PTSD as a result of the trauma they experience and witness while in the military. In addition, a significant ratio of military personnel will experience Military Sexual Harassment (MST) during their enlistment. One in three men enlisted in the military and more than half of the female recruits will experience sexual harassment during their military career. These experiences can leave life-long scars on one’s psyche, and according to a report from the VA in 2012, nearly 22 veterans a day are taking their own lives.
Traditional Therapy Not Working
As with most mental disorders and chronic pain cases, doctors in the VA (and in civilian medicine) often resort to prescribing pharmaceuticals; and in many cases over-prescribing these medications which can lead to lethal combinations, accidental overdoses, and increased health complications. In May 2013, a Fox News reporter interviewed one veteran living with PTSD, who stated at one point he had 25 prescriptions for 25 different pills. His own physician called it a “poison cocktail.”
While yet another writer for the American-Statemen, Jeremy Schwartz, wrote about his findings while researching military expenditures:
“...the military drug purchases also paint a picture of a fighting force increasingly reliant on antidepressants, psychotropic drugs and powerful narcotic painkillers that critics call dangerous and that have been involved in a growing number of prescription drug overdoses. The military spent at least $2.7 billion on antidepressants and more than $1.6 billion on opioid painkillers such as Oxycontin and hydrocodone over the past decade. More than $507 million was spent on the sleeping pill Ambien and its generic equivalents.”
Cannabis and PTSD
Veterans are now fighting a different battle right here on American soil against the very entity that they sacrificed so much for. Despite the growing archives of anecdotal stories about cannabis helping to treat the symptoms of PTSD, chronic pain, and depression, the federal government refuses to recognize any medicinal value in the plant, and thus, patients are being left without alternatives that could save their lives. In fact, the only references you’ll find to cannabis on VA.gov are in regards to “Cannabis Use Disorder”, because the government and all its subsidiaries still view cannabis as a Schedule I drug, meaning all use is illegal.
However, veterans all over the country who are finding relief with cannabis are banding together to urge the government to change its stance in regard to the healing herb. Organizations such as Grow For Vets and Veterans for Medical Marijuana are campaigning for the laws to change to allow cannabis therapy. However, even as recent as March of 2017, during a conference discussing the benefits and harms of cannabis in PTSD and chronic pain, the government panel concluded that there is not sufficient enough data to show any medicinal value, even referring to historic myths about the substance within their argument.
How can they not know?
With over half of the nation now living in a state where cannabis consumption is legal in some form, we are seeing more and more stories of people whose lives have improved through responsible cannabis therapy. If so many people are finding their own alternatives to deadly prescriptions and curing themselves of chronic illness, how is it that the government cannot see the potential benefits?
In an article penned by Aaron Gregg for the Washington Post, John Hopkins University may have recently uncovered that answer. The university joined a federal program for researching the effects of cannabis in treating PTSD. However, before a patient could even be seen, the school backed out of the project shortly after one of the researchers publicly cited poor quality and mold contamination in the samples provided by the only federally authorized cultivation facility. If the government is only using bunk cannabis for its testing, then obviously, its scientific test results are also bunk.
As the current administration is taking steps in Syria and preparing more troops for yet another battle. We need to urge the same decision makers to change the laws, regarding cannabis consumption. We are living in a society where over 52,000 people died in 2015 from prescription overdoses, and the dangers of war on the very heroes that protect our freedom haunt them for years after they’ve served, sacrificed, and survived for our country… shouldn’t the administration that sent them into the hell of war, also provide every option available to help them heal from the mental, spiritual, and emotional damage that was done as well?