Donald J. Trump says vets are treated worse than illegal immigrants. But help is on the way. The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to make it easier for veterans to get access to officially-approved marijuana. Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), a physician, argues that the proposal is “absolutely insane.”
It is estimated that nearly 30 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. But Rep. Fleming notes evidence that marijuana “enhances psychosis and schizophrenia” in some people with these psychological problems.
Dr. Christine Miller asks, “Does no one remember Eddie Routh, the vet thought to have PTSD, who was diagnosed by psychiatrists for the prosecution with cannabis-induced psychosis, and who killed both Chris Kyle (“American Sniper”) and Chad Littlefield?”
The effort to authorize marijuana for vets was led by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and was co-sponsored by Representatives Joe Heck (R-NV), Sam Farr (D-CA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Tom Reed (R-NY), Dina Titus (D-NV), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) and Jared Polis (D-CO).
Dr. Miller, who has studied the link between marijuana and mental illness, asks, “Don’t these members of Congress have any staffers capable of reading the study out of Yale of thousands of vets with PTSD showing that the marijuana users were less likely to improve and more likely to be violent?”
The Yale study referred to by Dr. Miller involved more than 2,000 participants who were admitted to specialized Veterans Administration treatment programs for PTSD. The study was titled, “Marijuana Use Is Associated With Worse Outcomes in Symptom Severity and Violent Behavior in Patients With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.”
“In this observational study,” it found that “initiating marijuana use after treatment was associated with worse PTSD symptoms, more violent behavior, and alcohol use. Marijuana may actually worsen PTSD symptoms or nullify the benefits of specialized, intensive treatment. Cessation or prevention of use may be an important goal of treatment.”
The Routh case included testimony from Dr. Randall Price, a forensic psychologist who testified as the prosecution’s medical expert. He said Routh’s heavy marijuana use caused a “substance-induced psychotic disorder.”
Routh’s attorneys argued that he was a mentally ill veteran who suffered from PTSD and paranoid schizophrenia. The prosecution said that Routh was a heavy user of marijuana and other drugs and suffered from cannabis-induced psychosis the day of the killings. Routh was found guilty of capital murder in the slayings and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
CNN reported that during Routh’s trial, “Texas Ranger David Armstrong said investigators searched Routh’s residence and found drug paraphernalia, including a pipe commonly used for methamphetamine as well as ‘a ceramic pipe, what’s believed to be a bong, a grinder used to grind different substances and a loose leafy green substance’ which lab tests confirmed was marijuana.”
CNN added, “Routh’s uncle, James Watson, testified that on the day of the slayings he was rousted out of bed by a call from Routh’s girlfriend, asking him to come over because she and Routh had been arguing. He said he showed up and smoked marijuana with Routh, offered fatherly advice about women and played a hymn from his phone. They smoked marijuana together occasionally, Watson said, and Routh smoked ‘not every day, but pretty regular.’”
In Colorado, where marijuana is legal and has been linked to several cases of violence and psychosis, a group called Grow for Vets boasts that it has given away hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of marijuana to military veterans “from across America.”
The sponsors include companies in the for-profit marijuana industry.
The increased availability of marijuana across the country can be directly linked to the Obama administration’s decision not to enforce federal laws against the use and cultivation of the mind-altering drug.
America’s veterans, who have been terribly treated by the VA and subjected to long waits for treatment, are now being told that their salvation lies in a drug that can make their health problems worse by triggering psychosis and violence.
The results from the Yale study showed that “those who never used marijuana had significantly lower symptom severity 4 months later than those who continued or started use after treatment,” the publication Medscape Medical News summarized.
The results were delivered at the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry (AAAP) 25th Annual Meeting by lead author Samuel T. Wilkinson, MD, from the Yale University School of Medicine. He told conference delegates that “we found that marijuana is not associated with improvement in PTSD and that initiating marijuana was associated with worsening outcomes in a number of measures.”
Nevertheless, the House on May 19 passed an amendment to a Fiscal Year 2017 military appropriations bill to make it easier for veterans to get access to “state-legal medical marijuana.”
Rep. Fleming, a practicing physician and a veteran, had argued against the proposal, noting that the scientific evidence indicated that “Smoking pot increases psychotic episodes by a factor of two to four times normal. The conversion to schizophrenia, a permanent mental disorder, is enhanced by pot by a factor of two—double.”
The National Center for PTSD in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledges, “…there is no evidence at this time that marijuana is an effective treatment for PTSD. In fact, research suggests that marijuana can be harmful to individuals with PTSD.”
David W. Murray, who served as Chief Scientist in the Office of National Drug Control Strategy during the administration of George W. Bush, argues, “To insist on marijuana for America’s veterans is the political equivalent of ‘friendly fire,’ and puts the VA in the position of doing active harm to their interests.”
Vets being drafted into this “friendly fire” situation are guinea pigs who are putting their own health and the health of others, vets and civilians, in mortal danger.
Cliff Kincaid is the Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org