Pubdate: Mon, 15 Aug 2016
Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Copyright: 2016 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Author: Jan Hefler


N.J. Pols, Vets Pressure Guv to OK Pot for PTSD

MILITARY VETERANS and New Jersey lawmakers are lobbying Gov. Christie 
with new vigor to approve a bipartisan bill that would allow 
marijuana use to treat posttraumatic stress disorder. In the past, 
the Christie administration had rebuffed requests to add the 
condition to the list of ailments that qualify for cannabis use.

But Christie did not rule out signing the bill when asked about it 
two weeks ago at a news conference. "I'll read it," he said, 
softening a bit from his oft-repeated previous statements that he 
would veto any expansion of the six-year-old medical marijuana program.

On Thursday, his spokesman would not say whether Christie had yet 
reviewed the bill. Christie "supports a science-based program," and 
he "won't comment until he's ready," spokesman Brian Murray said.

State lawmakers had been reluctant to advance a bill that would face 
a certain veto, but decided to hold hearings in June. The legislation 
passed overwhelmingly.

Nationally, public support for letting veterans and others use 
marijuana for PTSD has been mounting. There are few studies on its 
effectiveness, but a Phoenix doctor is preparing to recruit 
volunteers with PTSD to smoke two joints daily at Johns Hopkins 
University in Baltimore and the Scottsdale Research Institute in 
Phoenix in the next few months as part of a $2.2 million research project.

PTSD is a condition marked by anxiety, insomnia, and irritability 
stemming from the memory of a traumatic experience such as combat, 
sexual abuse, or another horrific event. About 7.7 million American 
adults have PTSD, including up to 20 percent of Iraq war veterans and 
30 percent of Vietnam War veterans, according to the Department of 
Veterans Affairs.

Of the 25 states with medical marijuana programs, 17 currently 
include PTSD. Pennsylvania, which this year approved a program, is 
among them. Four other states are asking voters to decide on medical 
marijuana programs in November, according to the Marijuana Policy 
Project, a nonprofit advocacy group.

"Cannabis is a memory eraser," said Michael Krawitz, a disabled 
veteran who heads Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access based in 
Elliston, Va. "It's been found effective in nightmare cessation, 
too," he said, explaining that combat veterans who have seen a humvee 
explode may get flashbacks when they see "a piece of garbage on the 
street" that resembles debris.

Opiates, he said, are often prescribed for PTSD, leaving the patients 
"feeling like zombies" and at risk of addiction. Cannabis allows them 
to function, he said.

In June, Quinnipiac University reported that 87 percent of the 1,561 
voters nationwide polled in May support giving veterans marijuana for 
PTSD. "If you serve your country and suffer for it, you deserve every 
health remedy available, including medical marijuana in pill form. 
That is the fullthroated recommendation of Americans across the 
demographic spectrum, including voters in military households," said 
Tim Malloy, assistant director of the poll. The poll also found 89 
percent approve of allowing adults to use marijuana when it is prescribed.

A few judges have also weighed in, ordering state health departments 
to include PTSD in medical marijuana programs. In June, an Illinois 
judge issued such an order, after an Iraq war veteran sued. An 
Illinois advisory board had recommended PTSD be included, but a 
governor's appointee overruled it, without a valid basis, the judge decided.

At the hearing before the New Jersey Senate's health committee, Army 
veteran Leo Bridgewater Sr., of Trenton, testified that he uses 
medical marijuana for problems stemming from a knee injury and said 
it helps him cope. He said that veterans with PTSD should also have 
access to marijuana especially because they have a high suicide rate. 
"I had three friends attempt suicide and two were successful," said 
Bridgewater, an Iraq war veteran.

Don Karpowich, an Air Force veteran with PTSD, testified that 
marijuana helped him recover from alcoholism and insomnia caused by 
his memory of finding the bodies of fellow parachuters in a downed 
plane. Last year, Karpowich joined protests held regularly at the 
Statehouse to try to convince lawmakers and Christie to make the 
medical marijuana program more inclusive.

They were unable to get traction on the PTSD bill until this summer.

Testifying against the bill was Joseph Napoli, a past president of 
the New Jersey Psychiatric Association, which opposes medical 
marijuana for PTSD.

"The scientific evidence does not support its use, and there's 
evidence that marijuana can be harmful," Napoli, a psychiatrist of 40 
years, said in an interview. He said a 2015 study conducted by Yale 
University researchers found a correlation between marijuana use and 
incidences of violence. That study, he said, also found marijuana worsens PTSD.

Napoli said he is not aware of any other study with similar 
conclusions, or of any "studies that support marijuana's 
effectiveness for PTSD."

One reason is that the federal Drug Enforcement Administration has 
classified marijuana as a Class 1 drug, the most dangerous and on par 
with heroin, and with no medical value. Researchers have found it 
difficult to get permission to study it for decades. On Thursday, the 
DEA decided against changing the classification, again citing the 
lack of studies and proof marijuana is not dangerous.

Marijuana advocates say studies conducted in Israel, Britain, and 
other countries show cannabis has brought relief from various 
ailments. Anecdotally, thousands of marijuana patients across the 
country are also reporting cannabis has helped them.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom