Pubdate: Fri, 04 Apr 2014
Source: Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Copyright: 2014 Sun-Sentinel Company
Author: Rob Hotakainen, McClatchy Washington Bureau
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


WASHINGTON - After flying helicopters in Vietnam for 30 months, Perry 
Parks couldn't stop the panicked dreams.

"I was flying through wires all the time and I never hit the wire," 
said Parks, 71, a retired military commander from Rockingham, N. C. 
"I'm a helicopter pilot, so wires scare the hell out of you."

Parks, who has post-traumatic stress disorder, said he took sleeping 
pills for years after he retired. Then he found a more satisfying 
alternative: two or three bong hits at least three times a day.

"I don't have the dreams anymore," he said.

Faced with a skyrocketing suicide rate in their ranks, many of the 
nation's veterans hope that marijuana will be their salve. Federal 
officials and veterans groups estimate that nearly 31 percent of 
Vietnam veterans and 20 percent of returning service members from 
Iraq and Afghanistan are grappling with PTSD.

Veterans such as Parks increasingly are taking their case to 
statehouses and to Capitol Hill, where they plan to lobby members of 
Congress next Monday.

They scored a win in March when federal officials ended a three-year 
fight with a University of Arizona research team, agreeing to provide 
government-grown pot from Mississippi for a PTSD study. Only days 
before the study won approval, organizers had planned to mobilize 
veterans for a protest in Washington.

"Truthfully, it's the activism from veterans all around this country 
that's really moved this forward," said Suzanne Sisley, a clinical 
assistant professor of internal medicine and psychiatry at the 
University of Arizona's medical school. She'll lead the study, which 
calls for giving 50 veterans the equivalent of two joints per day.

Parks said he was diagnosed with PTSD in 2002, five years after first 
seeing a psychiatrist who eventually told him he had all the 
symptoms. In addition to dealing with nightmares and chronic back 
pain, he said he was easily startled and would "jerk big time" at any noise.

"Alot of things like that, I just didn't understand," he said. "I'm 
in excellent shape - that's what always bothered me: Howcan you be 
disabled if you can ride on a Jet Ski?"

Parks may have found his relief, but he's violating federal and state 
law. The federal government's official position is that marijuana, as 
a Schedule I substance, has no medical value.

While thousands of Americans go to jail each year for violating 
marijuana laws, Parks is confident he won't get arrested.

According to the advocacy group Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, 
it's legal to smoke marijuana for PTSD in 11 states: California, 
Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New 
Mexico, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

Al Byrne, a Navy veteran with PTSD who's a cofounder of a Virginia 
nonprofit group called Patients Out of Time that promotes therapeutic 
uses of marijuana, said the federal government faced "a conundrum" 
after sending conflicting messages. Notably, he said, the VA allows 
patients treated at its facilities to use medical marijuana so long 
as it's legal in the states where they live.

"I call it medical treatment by geography: You can live in the wrong 
ZIP code to get treatment from your government, even though you're a 
veteran and you've been wounded," Byrne said.

Veterans groups predict that medical marijuana will become available 
soon in more states, including Florida, where a vote is set for November.

They say they've found a key ally in pushing their message: CNN 
medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, who previously opposed medical 
marijuana, has done two in-depth reports on the issue. "When it got 
on CNN, finally, the rest of the public was able to catch up," said 
Michael Krawitz, an Air Force veteran who heads Veterans for Medical 
Cannabis Access in Elliston, Va.

In many states, however, medical marijuana remains a tough sell.

"You've got to look at the bottom line: Every major medical 
association does not believe that there's such a thing right now as 
medical marijuana - it's a falsehood, it doesn't exist," Republican 
state Rep. Robert Benvenuti of Lexington, Ky., said in an interview.

Benvenuti, a leading opponent of a medical marijuana bill that 
stalled in Kentucky this year, said the issue was best left to 
federal regulators. He said more research was needed, with many 
psychiatrists thinking that smoking marijuana could worsen PTSD, 
leading to paranoia and isolation. And he said it would be "arrogant 
and irresponsible and reckless for a handful of legislators to decide 
what a medicine is."

Byrne said marijuana clearly was medicine. And with government 
statistics showing 22 veterans committing suicide each day, he said: 
"This is a war we're in."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom