Sunday, January 03, 2010

10 Reasons the U.S. Military Should (Officially) Use Pot

By Penny Coleman, AlterNet. Posted December 29, 2009.

Medical marijuana may have a host of advantages over other treatments for traumatized vets, but the VA won't even study its efficacy.
More stories by Penny Coleman

"There’s a lot of things I’m passionate about, but getting a prescription for my marijuana from the VA is probably at the top of my list. I’d be like a kid waiting up for Santa if I thought he might be bringing me one of those. Haha!"

On top of a 100 percent disability rating with PTSD, "Charlie" -- who asked that his real name not be used -- came home from Afghanistan with a traumatic brain injury, a back injury and gastrointestinal problems. The VA pulled every magic trick out of its bag to treat him. But nothing worked.

What did work was marijuana.

Shirak-e-Mazar, the milk of Mazar, is what got Charlie through his deployment in Afghanistan. Shirak-e-Mazar is what Afghanis call the paper-thin sheets of hashish that sell for about $1.50 an ounce. It’s a 5000-year-old recipe, perfected in the Mazar-e-Sharif region, for preparing the compressed resin glands of the marijuana plant, and unless things have changed since Charlie left Afghanistan in 2004, it’s available, well, just about everywhere.

So was alcohol, but according to Charlie, it didn't provide the same kind of relief: "You get some drinks in you, you get nice and loose; you drop your inhibitions and think you're invincible. But you haven’t dealt with the stress; you've just kind of blocked it; you don't really understand the possible outcomes of what you’re about to do—or you don't care.

"Smoking though ... you can appreciate the stresses and understand everything that's going on, but you’re still relaxed enough to do what you have to do, and do it well."

Since he got home, he says he is “smoking about one and a half grams a day, depending on how I'm doing. I go through an ounce in three to four weeks. I'm medicating for PTSD, but also a back injury and gastrointestinal problems, so if I had to do things like shovel the walk ... I would have to smoke a little more."

Unfortunately, Charlie does not live in one of the 13 states that have authorized the use of medical marijuana. In the rest of the states, federal law still applies, and according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug. Schedule I drugs are those deemed most dangerous, more so than cocaine, oxycodone and methamphetamines, all of which are Schedule II.

“Me and the rest of my veterans' group talk about it all the time," he says. "Most of them also medicate with marijuana. If you asked any of us what, out of everything, was most effective in PTSD treatment, we would tell you marijuana." But the VA is a federal agency, so even in the 13 states where doctors are at liberty to suggest that patients try marijuana, they are prohibited from dispensing it.

The first two years after he got home, Charlie and his wife were still active duty. Marijuana was too risky, so he drank. A lot. So much that he almost killed himself and his wife. "Alcohol seemed to exaggerate all the negative feelings, the anger, the rage, the depression, the desperation."

Since Charlie was discharged in 2006, the VA has pulled an astonishing variety of medications out of its magic bag. Charlie's list is an impressive one that many, perhaps most, vets who have gone to the VA for help with post-combat stress and pain issues will recognize.

“I’ve been on six different antidepressants, lorazepam for anxiety; two sleep aids, Ambien and something else; three medications for my stomach problems, including omeprazole; and Topomax and amyltriptomine for migraines.

“Even if the sleeping pills got me to sleep, I’d still wake up in the middle of the night from nightmares. The only difference is that WITH the pills I'd wake up dizzy and disoriented. The disorientation made for a smooth transition into flashbacks, and if you want to see a vet have a bad episode, make sure he/she is completely disoriented and wake them suddenly in the dark. (Don't try this at home -- danger, danger!)

“The lorazepam was prescribed for the anxiety caused by the antidepressants, but it turned me into some kind of shuffling Ozzie Osborne zombie. I didn't have the physical energy to do anything but lay on the couch. Topomax and amyltriptomine turned me into a sloppy, silly bedlamite, groggy like I’d had too much to drink and babbling like a face-painted Anna Nicole Smith. Oh, and the Topomax had me hurling up last year's Christmas dinner.

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Penny Coleman is the widow of a Vietnam veteran who took his own life after coming home. Her latest book, Flashback: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide and the Lessons of War, was released on Memorial Day 2006. Her Web site is Flashback.

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