Pubdate: Wed, 23 Mar 2016
Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune (MN)
Copyright: 2016 Associated Press
Author: Ben Finley, Associated Press


Studies have not found marijuana to be effective.

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - A growing number of states are weighing whether 
to legalize marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. But 
for many veterans, the debate is already over.

They're increasingly using cannabis even though it remains illegal in 
most states and is unapproved by the Department of Veterans Affairs 
because major studies don't show it is effective against PTSD.

While the research has been contradictory and limited, some former 
members of the military say pot helps them manage their anxiety, 
insomnia and nightmares. Prescription drugs weren't effective or left 
them feeling like zombies, some said.

"I went from being an anxious mess to numbing myself with the pills 
they were giving me," said Mike Whiter, a 39-year-old former Marine 
who lives in Philadelphia, where marijuana is illegal.

Others, though, have seen little benefit from the drug. And the VA 
has documented a troubling rise in the number of PTSD-afflicted 
veterans who have been diagnosed with marijuana dependence, which 
some experts say can hamper recovery from war trauma.

Sally Schindel, of Prescott, Ariz., said the VA diagnosed her son 
Andy Zorn with PTSD after he served in the Army in Iraq. The agency 
later diagnosed him with marijuana dependence as well as depression 
and bipolar disorder.

Schindel said her son was using marijuana not for recreation but as 
self-medication, particularly to help him sleep. He killed himself at 
age 31 in 2014, writing in his suicide note that "marijuana killed my 
soul & ruined my brain."

The stories of vets such as Zorn and Whiter have helped fuel the 
debate over whether states and the federal government should legalize 
the drug for PTSD treatment. Lawmakers are increasingly sympathizing 
with vets like Whiter, despite the lack of scientific evidence. While 
some limited studies have shown that marijuana helps people manage 
PTSD symptoms in the short term, another suggested it may make symptoms worse.

Starting with New Mexico in 2009, 10 states have listed PTSD among 
the ailments for which medical marijuana can be prescribed. A few 
more states give doctors broad enough discretion to recommend pot to 
PTSD sufferers.

Similar measures have been introduced in Georgia, Illinois, New 
Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Utah. In 
November, the U.S. Senate passed an amendment that would allow VA 
doctors to recommend medical marijuana to vets in states where it's 
legal. The proposal failed to pass the House.

Federal law requires controlled trials to prove that a drug is 
effective before VA doctors can recommend it. Such studies are underway.

"There surely is not enough scientific evidence to say marijuana 
helps PTSD," said Marcel Bonn-Miller, a University of Pennsylvania 
professor who is leading the Coloradobacked studies. "But we'll get a 
heck of a lot closer to getting to know the answer in two to three years."

Since 2002, the percentage of PTSD-afflicted veterans who have been 
diagnosed with marijuana dependence has climbed from 13 percent to 
nearly 23 percent, according to VA data. That translates to more than 
40,000 veterans.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom