Drug Policy

Obama's Drug Czar Blows Off Iraq and Afghanistan Vets Who Want to Treat PTSD With Medical Marijuana


Once upon a time, President Barack Obama believed that sick Americans should have access to medical marijuana. Today, Obama says that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder should have access to everything but medical marijuana—including heavy duty prescription painkillers.

Obama's refusal to consider treating PTSD with marijuana has led some wounded veterans to defy their doctors, in essence compromising their treatment, and for others to leave the Veterans Affairs system altogether. 

Earlier this year more than 25,000 vets and their supporters led by Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access (VMCA) signed a petition on WhiteHouse.gov titled, "Allow United States Disabled Military Veterans access to medical marijuana to treat their PTSD." What they got in the way of a response was a complete and total brush-off. 

From Drug Czar Gil Kerlikoswke, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy: 

Many brave men and women who have risked their lives in service to our country are now suffering from physical, mental health, and substance abuse problems. We have an obligation to care for our military families and veterans and to improve their lives by increasing access to vital treatment services specifically geared toward our military heroes. While the Administration continues to support research on what parts of the marijuana plant may be used as medicine, neither the Food and Drug Administration nor the Institute of Medicine has found smoked marijuana to meet the modern standard of safe or effective medicine. We will continue working with our partners in the medical community to ensure that veterans have access to science-based medical treatments and get the help they and their families need.

You can read VMCA's response here

Kerlikowske's response, meanwhile, suggests that marijuana is plaguing vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. But that's simply not true. A report released by the Centers for Disease Control in 2008 (and revised in 2011) doesn't even mention marijuana. It names alcohol and prescription drugs as the most abusive substances for veterans: 

Prescription drug abuse doubled among U.S. military personnel from 2002 to 2005 and almost tripled between 2005 and 2008.

Alcohol abuse is the most prevalent problem and one which poses a significant health risk. A study of Army soldiers screened 3 to 4 months after returning from deployment to Iraq showed that 27 percent met criteria for alcohol abuse and were at increased risk for related harmful behaviors (e.g., drinking and driving, using illicit drugs).

That brings us to Emanuel Herrera, a National Guard member who was severely injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006: 

Emanuel Herrera returned from war addicted to painkillers and barely able to tolerate his children's voices.

Last year, despite warnings from medical staff at the local veterans hospital, he began to smoke pot legally under the state's new medical-marijuana program to cope with the physical and mental pains of combat.

"My doctors shunned me and didn't approve of me doing it," said Herrera, a Purple Heart recipient. "One doctor said I could get some repercussions for doing it. But I did it legally. And I know for a fact—I'm a walking testimonial—that it works."

"My family would tell you that, before this, sometimes I was like a madman," he said. "I kicked in my daughter's door and almost threw a bar stool out of the window. Not only has it helped my with anger and irritability issues, it's also helped keep my spirits up."

Here's another veteran interviewed by the Arizona Republic:

Iraq veteran Cory Woodstock believes the VA abandoned him after he began smoking marijuana illegally. He suffers from a traumatic brain injury, PTSD, depression and physical pain.

While serving in the military, the security convoys he rode in were involved in three bomb attacks within 38 hours.

By the time the Purple Heart recipient returned home to Apache Junction, he was on 23 prescriptions, taking 57 pills a day. In 2009, he smoked marijuana for a short time after veteran friends told him it would help stop the voices in his head and the pain radiating through his body.

But once the pot showed up in his urine tests, he said, his VA doctor cut him off all prescriptions, which he still needed to manage his pain. He stopped ingesting marijuana, afraid federal officials would strip him of his benefits because they still consider pot to be illegal. He sought treatment outside the VA system but said it hasn't helped as much as the marijuana did.

"It was an experiment, and it worked," he said. "I was able to sleep. I wasn't so conscious about not being able to speak (well). I told the doctors I tried it and it helped. They said it voided my contract with the VA."

And another veteran, this one from Maine

Begin told doctors in federal health centers high-grade medical marijuana was his only hope for tamping down the innumerable nightmares, flashbacks and fears that followed him from the battlefield.

"My mood's stable now—no peaks and valleys, just stable ups and downs," he said.

His mother, Anna—"a little bit apprehensive" about medical marijuana at first—is a believer.

"When he started the marijuana, it was like having my son back," she said.

Doctors in the federal veterans' health care system aren't as convinced. The substance remains illegal under federal law, and guidelines for federal health centers don't support medical marijuana.

That ended Begin's relationship with the federal health system.

Two years ago, the Department of Veterans Affairs came halfway to grips with veterans' preference for marijuana, and released a directive stating that while VA doctors can't recommend medical pot, they also can't deny treatment to vets who use medical marijuana in states where it's legal. But the halfway approach clearly isn't cutting it. 

NEXT: How Many Men Does It Take to Overcome the 'Superhuman Strength' of a Perp or Patient Fortified by 'Bath Salts'?

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  1. Once upon a time, President Barack Obama believed that sick Americans he should have access to medical marijuana.

    1. Good one, Pip. Enjoy your visit from the Secret Service.

  2. science-based medical treatments

    It’s settled you deniers.

    1. It’s not science unless they take a vote.

  3. I mean really, it’s only one of the most benign substances known to man… wouldn’t want one of these poor veterans getting reefer madness or jazz fever would you?

    1. Jazz fever is a horrible disease. Why it’s even been known to make people do the Charleston!

      1. And use lingo like “hep-cat”

  4. I am sure it will be a lot better if they self medicate with alcohol. That will turn out well I am sure.

    1. Alcohol is perfectly safe, John. You can tell because it’s legal.

      1. It is not like anyone has ever died from alcohol poisoning or anything.

        My father when he was younger used to have a terrible temper. One I sadly inherited from him. And my siblings and I used to have a joke that we needed to just start putting pot in his coffee to chill him out a bit. And you know, there was something to that. I think a lot of people with tempers and “anger management” issues would probably benefit from using pot rather than alcohol.

        1. Let us know how the self-experiment goes. We will be pulling for you.

          1. If only. I have to admit the day the VA starts handing out prescriptions for medical marijuana, I might feel a PTSD surge coming on.

            1. We’ll be dead and in the ground before the VA starts handing out pot for PTSD. If the VA handed it out, the military would have an impossible situation because the services would deby it to active duty. There is no possible way the military will cave on drug use in my lifetime.

              1. I agree. So instead we will feed these people anti-psychotics and let them suffer with the horrible side effects. It is just sadistic.

                1. I’d rather be crazy than be on anti-psychotics. I’m reasonably sure one of the reasons my sister is drinking herself to death is because she couldn’t handle the side effects of the psych meds and went back to self-medicating with booze.

                  1. I have a sister with the same issue. She is bi polar. And frankly, I don’t blame her for drinking instead of taking those things. It is one of the reasons I get so angry when people talk about drug use like it is always bad. For some people, going through life totally sober is not really an option. I will never understand why the clean living fucks can’t get that through their heads.

  5. PTSD treatment for Veterans found ineffective.

    Eli Lilly made $65 billion on the Zyprexa franchise.Lilly was fined $1.4 billion for Zyprexa fraud!
    The atypical antipsychotics (Zyprexa,Risperdal,Seroquel) are like a ‘synthetic’ Thorazine,only they cost ten times more than the old fashioned typical antipsychotics.
    These newer generation drugs still pack their list of side effects like diabetes for the user.All these drugs work as so called ‘major tranquilizers’.This can be a contradiction with PTSD suffers as we are hyper vigilant and feel uncomfortable with a drug that puts you to sleep and makes you sluggish.
    That’s why drugs like Zyprexa don’t work for PTSD survivors like myself.
    -Daniel Haszard FMI http://www.zyprexa-victims.com

    1. The anti psychotics are nasty drugs. The can make people psychotic or suicidal. You only take those things if you are literally barking mad and nothing else works. It is just sadistic to feed them to someone with ordinary PTSD. And doubly sadistic to do that while denying them a benign drug like marijuana. I mean what is the worst that will happen if you give them marijuana? They will suddenly find day time TV entertaining?

      1. Are you saying that daytime television isn’t entertaining? Do you really want to go there?

        1. It is entertaining as hell, if you are stoned.

  6. Good and Plenty Clause bitches!

    Wait, what?

  7. We live in one fucked up world.

    And drug warriors are the scum of the earth.

  8. Tell me again how Democrats, and especially hyper-progressive Democrats like Obama, are better than Republicans on the drug issue.

    1. I guess “They” (whomever They are) would say the Republicans do it because they are evil and enjoy putting people in jail, whereas the Democrats do it because they care so much about you they are willing to ruin your life to save you.

  9. Does anyone else see the irony of this? We defend the Opium fields of Afghanistan for corrupt Afghans and then we can’t use Medicinal Cannabis that is legal in 16 states. It’s all bullshit! Young people need to stop fighting Obama’s wars. Don’t join, don’t fight and don’t go. Let Obama go fight his own wars. That’s what he has his drone-toys for.

  10. So let’s get rid of this idiot. . .

    1. Get rid of his boss.

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