Weed the Answer to PTSD?
When I was a junior in high school I remember watching a news segment about a veteran that used marijuana as a treatment for his PTSD. He talked about his struggle with opioids that were prescribed to him at the Veterans Affairs hospital (VA). I watched in astonishment as this man risked being arrested for buying marijuana off the streets all because marijuana was helping him overcome his PTSD better than the countless prescription medications given to him at the VA hospital.
Watching this video initially got me interested into the topic of marijuana legalization. It led me to research many topics that supported my claim that marijuana should be legalized such as how the drug war cost countless of dollars, and how it also was a form of racial discrimination towards minorities. Through this I came back to what I saw as a x-factor in the debate, the use of marijuana to treat veterans with PTSD.
How it works
As Americans for most of our history and especially in our recent history we have supported our veterans and for good reason, those men and women who have served deserve our respect. It seems though that sometimes we do not act upon our respect. These men and women struggle because of what they have done to help us. We need to be willing as a society to do anything we can to help them. As Americans though, we also have a negative view of marijuana. Now some veterans are using marijuana as a treatment for their PTSD and the federal government is reluctant to allow this.
Many people when referring to the United States of America’s “War on Drugs” often point to the policies of Ronald Reagan that he put into place in the 1980s. In reality it started with president Richard Nixon in 1971. Nixon became president in 1968 in the peak time of the “hippy era,” During this time, drug use was pretty excessive. With the ideas of spreading love and peace, these hippies did not match the traditional family values that resemble life in the 1950s under Republican president Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Instead these hippies challenged the traditional family values, having unprotected sex and throwing massive concerts like Woodstock (my own grandfather was at the original Woodstock). With this it is easy to see why a Republican president like Nixon would try to put the blame on drugs. The thing is though, the American people did not want such policies, as less than half the population supported Nixon’s “War on Drugs”. Still in spite of not having the support of the people, Nixon continued on with these policies. Nixon went on to create the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) in 1973 and really set the precedent for a Republican White House’s view on drugs. While the 1970s saw a loosened policy on drugs in the United States because Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, became president in 1976, the 1980s saw a return to Nixon type policies.
Ronald Reagan became president of the U.S. on January 20, 1981. He brought with him the promise of bringing back American family values with quotes like “All great change in America begins at the dinner table.” While I am not exactly sure what that means, it shows what Reagan was all about when it came to his domestic policies. Part of his innovative to bring family values back to America was a war on drugs. A lot of what Reagans policies on this matter were are just the reinforcement of policies that were established during the Nixon administration.
During Reagans term, the number of non-violent drug related crimes being charged skyrocketed. Reagans era is remembered as the era that really established this anti-drug view as his wife Nancy Reagan even set up a program for kids called “Just Say No” where she would attempt to teach children in this country about the danger of drugs. Reagans policies mixed with how the media portrayed drug use in the 1980s turned the public view on drugs in a toxic way. In 1989 at the end of the Reagan administration and the start of the Bush administration, over sixty percent of Americans viewed drugs as America’s biggest problem. This had changed from just around five percent at the start of the Regan administration.
Despite saying he believed in treating drug users rather than having them be incarcerated, Clinton continued his Republican predecessors ‘War on drugs”. This could possibly point to the people’s attitudes towards drugs at the time. Though George W. Bush continued the “War on Drugs”, society opinions slowly started to turn. During the Obama administration years, and after, American society now does not support the war on drugs. The majority of the American people are now in favor of legalizing marijuana but yet
Roberto Pickering is a former United States Marine corps member. He was a sniper and he had watched his brothers in arms fall on the battlefield. This would be something that would haunt him. After returning from his tour of duty in Iraq, Pickering was diagnosed as being disabled not physically but psychologically from struggles with PTSD. When Pickering got back, he struggled with what he had witnessed. He did anything to try and forget what he had seen. He started with drinking as many soldiers do after to forget what they have seen and what they had done.
This was to stop the nightmares that haunted him every night in a torturous fashion. In an interview with NBC news Pickering said that he was behaving in a way so he did “not feel anything at all”. Pickering was drinking at dangerous levels and at a time in his struggle on top of the drinking he was prescribed fourteen different drugs by the VA hospital. One day Pickering decided to stop taking the drugs and drinking his sorrows away and he looked to an alternate solution, MARIJUANA. According to Pickering this was a last resort saying to NBC news “I stopped all the pills cold turkey,” he said. “And I picked up cannabis, ’cause in my opinion, it was either find relief or suicide.” (Gutierrez and Dubert 1).
Looking at this is astonishing, how an American hero like himself could be going through something so daunting that it would make him consider ending his life. This is an example of the hell a veteran goes through when he or she comes back. Luckily for Pickering, his turn to the use of cannabis for treating his PTSD was a success. He has now been using cannabis in this way for over a decade and he has turned his life around. He has found peace as a vegan and a Buddhist. Now he looks to use his own life as an example to help other veterans with their struggles with PTSD. He has started a non-profit organization based in Los Angeles called The Battlefield Foundation.
What The Battlefield Foundation does is it sets up a program to help veterans with their PTSD. This program is a two-step program where the veteran gets a “big brother” that mentors him on how to deal with his PTSD and then instead of using opioids as their medicine they substitute cannabis. To do this, Pickering has joined up with Dr. Sue Sisley and it is she who handles the medical aspect of the foundation.
If this foundation that was founded just two years ago can have the same success that Pickering and many other veterans have had while using cannabis on their own, we potentially could see a large increase in the use of marijuana as a way for veterans to cope with their struggles with the daunting psychological hell that is PTSD. We as a nation need to be understanding of what these men and women are going through and listen to what they think is right for their health.
While soldiers have always struggled with PTSD it has not always been greatly recognized or understood in society. For a long time, it was not truly understood. In World War I doctors started to notice soldiers being checked into the battlefield hospitals with no physical injury. A German psychiatrist named Robert Gaupp wrote down in 1917 when observing soldiers, “The big artillery battles of December 1914… filled our hospitals with a large number of unscathed soldiers and officers presenting with mental disturbances. From then on, that number grew at a constantly increasing rate.
At first, these soldiers were hospitalized with the others … but soon we had to open special psychiatric hospitals for them. Now, psychiatric patients make up by far the largest category in our armed forces …The main causes are the fright and anxiety brought about by the explosion of enemy shells and mines, and seeing maimed or dead comrades …The resulting symptoms are states of sudden muteness, deafness … general tremor, inability to stand or walk, episodes of loss of consciousness, and convulsions.” (“From Shell Shock and War Neurosis to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: a History of Psychotraumatology.”
Similar reports came from French and English psychiatrists as well during World War I. They called it things like “shell shock” and “battle hypnosis”. The treatments they used during World War I were somewhat minor. Most of the time it was just to rest the soldiers and to keep them at the front because they thought if they evacuated them they would never want to come back to fight having lived back where there was no fighting.
They also used electrotherapy. After World War I psychiatrists looked for answers. They thought that it could not just be caused by recent psychological trauma but rather have some deeper cause. They looked to actual physical damages of the brain or to past phycological traumas, nothing really came of any of it. In World War II they made sure that they treated it immediately at the frontline. It was not until the Vietnam War that the idea of PTSD after the war was over became very prevalent. Around 25% of soldiers that served in Vietnam required treatment for some sort of psychological ailment. Alcohol and drug abuse was prevalent among these soldiers.
As time progressed therapy and prescription drugs became the treatment that was used for these soldiers. These became the conventional practices and they have not always worked. Sometimes the conventional practices the United States has used are also questionable and have led to astonishing numbers among the veteran community with the number of suicides a day by veterans numbering around twenty.These men and women are suffering and for years the solution presented by the federal government has been the use of prescription drugs. This has resulted in veterans being twice as likely to overdose on these prescription drugs or opioids.
This makes some sense as veterans are more reliant on these drugs and a higher percentage of the veteran population are prescribed these drugs in comparison to the general population. Still this is a concern and while one would think that this and the countless veterans that continue to struggle with PTSD would make the government consider other treatment options and make them more open to considering alternative solutions, they have remained steady on the opioid treatment plan. While American society has loosened up to the idea of legalizing weed and it is now legal in 29 states, the federal government still classifies it as a schedule 1 drug. Along with this, some states that have legalized medical marijuana do not classify PTSD as an illness that should be allowed to receive a prescription for it.
Two Iraqi War veterans Jeremiah Civil and Christian Slater, both served in the marines, are now using marijuana as a way to cope with their PTSD. Both men like other veterans saw things that no man should ever have to see. As a result, both of them were diagnosed with PTSD because they suffered with what they had done and seen in their service to our country. Jeremiah Civil was given prescription drugs as treatment and spoke on their addictive nature “They don’t tell you that some of these drugs are extremely addictive,” (Thor Benson 1) and “zombie effect” (Thor Benson).
These words come straight from a veteran’s mouth and show that these prescription drugs are not always the best for these men and women. Jeremiah Civil wanted something better and more effective. In their search for an alternative, both he and Christian turned to weed. Marijuana allowed them to live their lives normally. They did not have to worry about suffering the paranoia of PTSD and the “zombie effect” (Thor Benson 1) of the prescription drugs.
Using marijuana as their treatment helped them to calm down. For these men, marijuana offers them an opportunity to move towards their civilian life’s goals. Jeremiah is currently enrolled in Portland State University and is succeeding but says he would not be able to do so if it were not for marijuana. Both these men believe the VA hospital should give this treatment plan a chance and also believes that the VA is happy to just hand them pills without thinking of the negative consequences.
Americas history with both the use of marijuana and the understanding of veteran’s PTSD has been cloudy. In America we love our veterans as we should because of what they have done for our country. We need to understand what they suffer through with PTSD and we need to do anything we can for them to help them get better. We need to be more understanding that marijuana may be the answer to these veterans’ sufferings.
- “War on Drugs.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, www.history.com/topics/crime/the-war-on-drugs.
- Benson, Thor. “More and More US Veterans Are Smoking Weed to Treat Their PTSD.” Vice, Vice, 7 Nov. 2013, www.vice.com/en_us/article/vdpmwb/more-and-more-us-veterans-are-smoking-weed-to-treat-their-ptsd
- “A Brief History of the Drug War.” Drug Policy Alliance, www.drugpolicy.org/issues/brief-history-drug-war.
- Gutierrez, Gabe, and Michelle Dubert. “Pot Helped Treat PTSD, Some Veterans Say.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 30 Nov. 2017, www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/marijuana-may-hold-promise-treating-veterans-ptsd-n824956.
- Margolin, Madison. “This Cannabis Project Will Help Military Veterans Get Jobs in the Marijuana Industry.” L.A. Weekly, 4, 16 May 2017, www.laweekly.com/news/the-battlefield-foundation-helps-veterans-get-access-to-medical-marijuana-to-treat-ptsd-8224700.
- “From Shell Shock and War Neurosis to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: a History of Psychotraumatology.” Www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181586/