In 2011, a now 76-year old disabled veteran named Lee Carroll Brooker was arrested for growing three dozen marijuana plants in his home. Under Alabama state law, Brooker received a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole, and the Supreme Court last month refused to hear an appeal arguing the sentence was cruel and unusual.
Brooker's case attracted advocates clamoring for a change in sentencing laws, but perhaps the worst part about this case is it is by no means unusual.
There are plenty of cases out there where veterans, suffering from disability or post-traumatic stress disorder, turn to marijuana as the only way to feel better. And these people who have served our country are thrown into jail as a result.
This cannot stand, and laws restricting veterans from marijuana must be changed.
Research has shown marijuana can help to alleviate the effects of PTSD and relieve pain. And there is no reason our veterans cannot make their own decisions about how to cure their own pain.
The Effects of Marijuana on PTSD
The first thing to understand is how marijuana can help PTSD sufferers. It is true the US Department of Veterans Affairs states, “There is no evidence at this time that marijuana is an effective treatment for PTSD.”
But given the federal government currently has plenty of reasons to scoff at marijuana's benefits, such a conclusion is hardly surprising.
Instead of looking to the government, we should all look at the ordinary veterans who improved their lives with marijuana. Brooker was certainly one case, but there is also the story of Mike Potter, another veteran who used medical marijuana to treat PTSD and anxiety.
While some doctors may worry about how marijuana may work in combination with other medications, Potter was up-front with VA doctors about his marijuana usage. The VA doctors had no problem, which shows an interesting contrast between the official, bureaucratic statement and the actual prognosis of the experts on the ground.
These are just a couple of the countless stories that show how marijuana can improve the lives of veterans. And this is no mere placebo effect. Studies have shown real scientific reasons for how marijuana can help improve, if not outright cure, PTSD.
According to SFGate, part of the San Francisco Chronicle, patients with PTSD have an endocannabinoid deficiency, which results in “impaired fear extinction, aversive memory consolidation, and chronic anxiety.”
Because of this, marijuana consumption could add more endocannabinoids, which can lead to a more normal brain less troubled by PTSD. This does not have to be done through smoking; cannabis-infused edibles and topical treatments can also help to soothe body and brain.
It may be argued perhaps more studies are needed to determine the effects. But thankfully, the DEA permitted a Colorado study which will further test how marijuana will effect PTSD. Even this is a big step compared to a blanket government policy of assuming marijuana as some total evil.
The Nature of Freedom
More studies are certainly good, but in some ways, asking for more studies is missing the point. While it could be possible marijuana may not be as beneficial for PTSD as some believe, it is clear at this point marijuana is, at the very least, not actively harmful, and many veterans believe it can help.
From that perspective, what is wrong with letting veterans use marijuana? Americans should have the right to use drugs for the benefit of their bodies. Perhaps this might be limited if they intend to inject themselves with poison or truly harmful drugs.
But, marijuana is not like that. Even if marijuana is nothing but a placebo effect towards helping PTSD, that is no reason to deny it to veterans. The right to individual liberty is a cornerstone of America, and if that means letting veterans use drugs to improve their minds, then so be it.
If there is anything to be thankful about, it's that the people and the government appear to be slowly coming around to how veterans can benefit from marijuana.
Of course, there are the 24 states as well as the District of Columbia that allow medical marijuana. And just a few weeks ago, Congress approved a measure that will allow VA doctors to talk to patients about medical marijuana in states where it is legal.
But, even that is not enough. Given the aforementioned benefits of marijuana, as well as this country's belief in individual liberty, it is time veterans across this country have the ability to obtain marijuana to improve their lives.
It would be a small step toward battling the power of PTSD, but it would do so much to show that politicians do care about the lives of the soldiers that their decisions placed in harm's way.
Citations: Senior Citizen Loses Life Sentence Appeal (US News & World Report), Marijuana Use and PTSD among Veterans (US Department of Veterans Affairs), Veteran denied medication due to medical marijuana (LasVegasNow), War veterans suffering from PTSD are using medical marijuana — Here's why (SFGate), DEA gives approval to Colorado-funded study on marijuana and PTSD (The Denver Post), Drug Rehab Guides for Addiction & Mental Health (American Addiction Centers), 24 Legal Medical Marijuana States and DC (ProCon.org), Congress Approves A Major Step Forward For Medical Marijuana (ThinkProgress)