Government Foot-Dragging Denies Pot Relief to Traumatized Veterans

Originally appearing here. When he was serving in Iraq, Sergeant Jamey Raines saw friends get “vaporized” right in front of him. After he returned from war, he suffered from sleeplessness, nightmares, “the urge to kill everything in sight,” and an inability to talk to people. The Veterans Administration seemed too busy to find out what was wrong with him and give him the right medicine. He was first diagnosed with “anxiety disorder” and only years later given the correct diagnosis: post-traumatic stress disorder. He was given handfuls of Seroquel, Zoloft, and Ambien—despite growing evidence that these meds are ineffective. Raines told The Fix, “None of it worked. I would sleep, but I would still have nightmares. Their idea was to keep me doped up on as many drugs as possible. And that was a common thing. All of my buddies I talk with had the same thing happen to them.” Then he found out what worked for him: marijuana. “It helped me immediately, just to be at ease,” he said. “I was eating better, I slept better, it helped me go to school.” After he graduated from college and had “more time to work on me,” he decided to phase out marijuana, as well as the other drugs. Marijuana shows real promise for treating PTSD in combat veterans, with early research indicating the beneficial effects of some of the cannabinoids in the drug. The FDA has approved a federal study to measure the effects of pot on veterans with PTSD, part-funded by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). But that was only the first hurdle; now the scientists need to obtain the pot to use in the study. They can’t just go buy some; they have to get it from the government. MAPS Communications Director Brad Burge explained to The Fix that NIDA, a branch of the department of Health and Human Services, has “a monopoly of supply of marijuana that they have been growing for research to show the harms of marijuana,” but are unwilling to supply a study that might show benefits, continually finding often-contradictory “problems” with it. One approval committee member wrote that the study should exclude vets who have previously smoked pot. Another demanded the opposite. (The study proposes to study both as separate samples). “So we’re stuck sitting here with an FDA approved study, but nothing to study,” complains Burge. Raines says of marijuana, “I understand that it’s illegal, but so is opium. And opiates are all over not just the VA, but all of medicine… I don’t understand why they’re not willing to do everything in their power to give vets and even soldiers some relief. These guys don’t know what it’s like to have to look over your shoulder 99% of the time, and the other 1% of the time you’re asleep. It’s like any other med; it works for some and not for others. But they should make it available.” As MAPS founder Rick Doblin said: “These are people who we put in harm’s way, and we have a moral obligation to help them.” The federal blockade on medical marijuana research is directly affecting real veterans suffering from combat-related PTSD. In this short article, Sgt. Jamey Raines, who himself used marijuana to cope with PTSD symptoms after serving in Iraq, calls on the federal government to allow medical marijuana research.