According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, up to 11% of veterans serving in Afghanistan and 20% of those serving in Iraq return home with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In addition to the staggering human costs of this epidemic, PTSD treatment costs billions of taxpayer dollars. So, naturally, government officials claim they're searching far and wide for the most effective PTSD treatments for these returning vets. But what if a real solution was right under their noses?
Currently, researchers are exploring everything from MDMA-assisted psychotherapy and antibiotics to virtual reality and video games as potential remedies. But when it comes to medical marijuana, which thousands of PTSD sufferers already use to treat their symptoms, some federal agencies not only refuse to investigate it, they also go out of their way to block research that others are attempting to undertake. For example, the nonprofit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has gained the required FDA approval to study marijuana for use by veterans with PTSD in the hopes of turning it into a prescription medicine. But the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) refuses to let researchers legally buy the marijuana needed for the study.
Sgt. Ryan Begin (United States Marine Corps, ret.) is part of a growing movement of veterans and researchers calling on the government to change course and allow this vital research. In 2004, during his second tour in Iraq, Ryan's unit was hit by an improvised explosive device. He lost his right elbow, endured over 30 surgeries, and was prescribed numerous psychiatric and painkilling medications. He spoke with HIGH TIMES about how cannabis helped him, and how he wants to help others in turn.
Your petition on Change.org calling on NIDA and the DEA to stop blocking medical-marijuana research garnered over 16,000 signatures. What did you hope to accomplish?
I know the benefits I've received from medical marijuana, and I know it can help others. I'm tired of people suffering needlessly when there's a medicine that is readily available in this country that will help. Mostly, I wanted to encourage others who feel the same way to be public about their beliefs. Instead of complaining about things behind closed doors, we need to complain directly to our representatives and then make them earn their paychecks.
What treatments did the VA provide for your pain and PTSD?
The VA used psychiatrists, recreational therapy and in-house PTSD treatment programs, but psychiatry only goes so far. Primarily, they depended on prescription pills.
When I informed my psychiatrist that I had my medical-marijuana referral, he gave me two options: pills or pot. After choosing pot, the first thing I noticed was that I wasn't so irritable and could be in social settings for longer periods of time. Also, the pain pills I was prescribed had damaging effects on my stomach, and marijuana settled my stomach. Now, marijuana is the only medicine I use.
What would change if marijuana became available by prescription?
It would decrease the amount of time it takes veterans to process back into society. It would also help them avoid the harmful side effects of prescription pills. But remember, medical marijuana is just a step. True PTSD healing requires finding a new way to think about your problems and coming up with a solution.
For more on MAPS's medical-marijuana research, visit www.maps.org.