Colorado’s PTSD Patients Will Persevere for Access to Medical Marijuana

On July 15, 2015, the Colorado Board of Health rejected adding post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of eligible conditions for medical marijuana treatment.

The Denver-based hearing ended with a devastated group of PTSD patients speaking out against the decision. “There’s blood on your hands,” a patient called out after the decision was announced.

Despite 2.5 hours of patient testimony from a number of military veterans, as well as victims of domestic violence and rape, the Board of Health cited the lack of scientific evidence proving the efficacy of cannabis in treating PTSD to back up its decision. “The decision was frustrating,” said Matt Kahl, a military veteran who suffers from PTSD and testified at the hearing. “I’ve lost three comrades in the past six months. That’s all from the same unit. We have so much anecdotal evidence and when you  piece these stories together, you start to get the data.”

While the board’s decision is not surprising, it is illogical considering the state’s progressive recreational marijuana program as well as the lax process to acquire a medical marijuana card, also known as a red card, in Colorado. Nine other states currently consider PTSD an eligible condition for medical marijuana treatment, and the state of Washington added it as an eligible condition on Friday, July 24.

The distinction between “medical” and “recreational” users is already getting murkier within Colorado as the data suggests that patients are migrating from the medical market to the recreational market. Forget the arguments that PTSD victims can just seek out recreational marijuana—these are the top issues with the status quo of the system:

 

Some PTSD patients are not over the age of 21.

Post-traumatic stress disorder does not exclusively affect the population eligible to walk into recreational dispensaries. According to Kahl, one of the testimonies at the trial was from the mother of a 2-year-old boy who had been a victim of child molestation. Additionally, military veterans can enlist in the military at the age of 18, and then return home from service well before their 21st birthday. These veterans are eligible for a slew of antidepressants and addictive psychiatric medications, but would have to lie about their condition to access legal marijuana.

 

Many PTSD patients are military veterans struggling to make ends meet.

“Some of these vets are receiving $400 to $600 per month in social security checks,” Kahl said. “They have to decide between paying for food and medicine.” The cost difference between medical and recreational marijuana can affect a patient’s  ability to afford regular treatment. At Medicine Man, a dispensary based in Denver, medical marijuana customers currently pay $25 per eighth for a strain of Indica, while recreational customers fork over for $33.03.

 

Data will continue to cease to exist.

The Board of Health reported the lack of scientific evidence to explain its decision. But by declaring certain conditions ineligible for medical marijuana, the state of Colorado is encouraging patients to misrepresent their conditions, which further exacerbates this chicken-and-egg problem.

A proposed controlled clinical study to measure the efficacy in treating PTSD with marijuana has already been stalled due to federal legal bureaucracy and the University of Mississippi’s production monopoly. PTSD patients need to have relationships with physicians so they can accurately  report their conditions and their reactions to different marijuana strains and products. Aggregating accurate data from PTSD patients is crucial in understanding cannabis and its efficacy on treating PTSD.

 

PTSD is a national crisis, taking the lives of at least 22 military veterans per day.

Military veterans often retreat into isolation upon returning to the United States, crippled with anxiety and depression and accustomed to living on the right side of the law. The psychiatric treatment options are limited and many of the available medications are addictive or can exacerbate many of the symptoms “There is no time to process what is happening to you,” said Kahl of his experience in Afghanistan. “You live like each day is the only day on earth.” Kahl believes that many of these deaths could potentially be prevented if veterans were introduced to marijuana as a legal and accessible means of treatment for PTSD.

PTSD researchers and patients are not giving up on making this condition eligible for treatment within Colorado and have announced their plans to to appeal the decision through the court system. Other veteran support groups continue to show momentum for this cause; Grow for Vets will be holding a rally on August 1 to raise money and support veterans in Colorado suffering with PTSD. “Even if you lose it’s not necessarily a loss,” said Kahl. “You have to learn to roll with incremental change.”

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