At the recent Kentucky General Assembly Interim Session Hearing of the Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee the issue at the heart of the proceeding and taking up the last half of the hearing was Veterans and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Three representatives of the Louisville VA specializing in PTSD were on hand along with 2 Veteran PTSD sufferers.
The VA discussed the many different therapies they use to treat PTSD along with the various conditions that sometimes accompany patients with PTSD, especially depression and addiction. The VA representatives cited a number of 350,000 current cases of PTSD however, this number only counts Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans and does not include Korean or Vietnam War Veterans. The total number of cases is likely closer to a half million Veterans.
VA guidelines for PTSD cover psychotherapy ranging from counseling and group therapy, to exposure and cognitive therapy. These are all educational therapies that would help in most mental health situations. Then they listed the drugs. Drugs with familiar names such as Paxil and Zoloft, Klonopin and Xanax were named. They listed antidepressants, mood stabilizers, atypical antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, anxiolytics and sleep aids not to mention pain meds as most of these patients suffer from physical as well as mental pain. The VA representatives went on to say there is no medication that specifically treats Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
When asked about medical cannabis for PTSD, the representatives of the Veterans Administration stated the old saw that there is no research. That it might work but there are no studies stating so.
The two Veterans to testify were myself, and Vietnam Combat Veteran Danny Belcher. He spoke about suffering PTSD after participating in horrific combat and suffering physically with a broken back and other injuries. He told of alcoholism as a result of trying to live with the PTSD. Of having been through the VA mill of treatment and being buried in pills. Then he discovered that cannabis used therapeutically, eliminated the need for the majority of the pharmaceuticals he had been prescribed and left him with clarity of mind and a vastly improved quality of life.
After Danny, I spoke and started by informing the Committee that the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Department of Kentucky, having ratified a medical cannabis resolution, supports Veteran access to medical cannabis. I was also able to inform them that the PTSD study at the University of Arizona was all set. That for the first time in 77 years the Federal Government is providing the cannabis for the study. The study is currently on hold due to a problem with the University but on the federal level the study is ready to go. I also informed them that preliminary information of the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program has Veteran Patients reporting a 70% reduction in PTSD symptoms when using medical cannabis.
My own story with the exception that my PTSD is from childhood sexual abuse and not combat, is remarkably similar to Danny’s. I also went through alcoholism, street drugs and various forms of treatment. I knew the effectiveness of medical cannabis but until I retired I could not avail myself of it. Now I am living with a good quality of life and managing my conditions, PTSD and chronic pain from degenerative disc disease as a result of using medical cannabis.
There we were, Danny and I telling them that here is a medicine that accompanied with therapy really works. And there the VA was saying, we can’t listen to you! All I could think was what it will take to get the VA to listen and to act!
I had always suspected I had PTSD but I hadn’t been given the test for it. At a routine appointment about 7 years ago I was administered the test. I failed 3 of 4 questions. They sent me to a psychiatrist and technician. I told the psychiatrist the whole 50 year struggle with PTSD and how I had used medical cannabis to deal with the condition and that life was pretty well ok. He looked at me and said, “Well seems to me you are doing alright. I can’t write it down but keep doing what you are doing and call us if you need us.” Until the Veterans Administration is able to ‘write it down’ there will be no progress on medical cannabis as therapy to treat Veterans for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The claim of the Veterans Administration that there are no studies on PTSD is a bit misleading. The Israelis’ have studied cannabis extensively and provide it to their Veterans for PTSD, as do the Canadians. We are allies so I’m sure they both would probably be more than happy to share their research. The VA itself uses Veteran information for all kinds of studies and there is a large Veteran population to draw study subjects from. I venture to say they would be quite willing to participate.
The Veterans Administration could mount a study tomorrow if it deemed it necessary. The University of Arizona under the direction of Dr. Sue Sisley has cleared every hurdle placed in front of it by the Federal Bureaucracy and is ready to go. If a civilian agency can mount a study in the face of Government obstructionism, then there should be no problem with the VA doing so. With a patient population of PTSD sufferers approaching half a million Veterans and the numerous anecdotal reports of Veterans having success using medical cannabis, one would think the VA would be chomping at the bit to do a study.
It is disappointing that the Veterans Administration is not listening to it’s patients and at least trying to do a study instead of throwing their hands up in surrender and not listening to the very Veteran patients they are supposed to be serving. As Veterans we should demand the Veterans Administration stop this ridiculous policy of ignoring the benefits of medical cannabis and begin immediately to mount a study of medical cannabis and it’s effects in treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For the VA to have knowledge of a medicine that can mitigate the suffering of a half million patients and to not at least check out efficacy of medical cannabis is a slap in the face to every Veteran suffering from this insidious condition.