Pubdate: Mon, 24 Apr 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Author: Jim Coyle
Page: A2


Ex-soldiers tell trade show how natural drug has helped them battle
war's after-effects

Trev Bungay says the horror began in 1998 when he was among Canadian
soldiers scouring the beaches of Nova Scotia in cleanup operations
after the crash of a Swissair jet just off the Atlantic coast.

"That was really my look at trauma for the very first time," Bungay
told a panel discussion on Sunday at the inaugural O'Cannabiz
Conference and Expo.

Then came international missions in Africa, Bosnia, Haiti and four
combat tours in Afghanistan.

Little did the 39-year-old infantry veteran and medical cannabis
activist know, however, that the worst was yet to come. For five years
starting in 2007, he began to know something "was seriously wrong," he
said. "And I collapsed."

He began seeking mental-health assistance on his base. "I was issued
20 pills a day and sent home."

It is by just such means, the conference heard, many veterans are
introduced to drugs such as Percocet and OxyContin, he said. Along
with it comes addiction and life lived in a cycle of rage, emotional
estrangement from loved ones and thoughts of self-harm.

"As a regular Newfoundlander, the happy-go-lucky kid, I can tell you
right now suicide has never, ever crossed my mind," Bungay said. Until
he took those pills.

"Within three months was my first attempt. Those pills completely
rewired my brain. I had no clue where I was anymore."

Three months later, "I attempted suicide for the second time," he

Over those nightmarish years, Bungay had 15 personal friends who
committed suicide, he said. "That number is staggering when you think
of it. Every one of those guys was on prescription drugs. And every
one of them served in Afghanistan."

He began looking for a wellness plan better than a fistful of pills
and a promise to see a psychologist when one had time to see him. "I
felt that if I didn't actually make a change right now I was dead. I
was a dead man. There was no coming out of it."

Bungay said he had heard about the medical benefits of cannabis. He
tried it. And it "really started to change my life."

He soon felt better and began helping other veterans with
post-traumatic stress to "get rid of the pills, get on something
natural." In 2015, he founded Trauma Healing Centres Inc., for men and
women like him.

Darryl Hudson, a researcher who operates a lab at Lethbridge
University in Alberta and is president of DOC Solutions Cannabis
Consulting, said cannabis is "the most effective medication that we
have to battle the first stages of PTSD, especially with vets coming
home trying to get acclimatized to life at home after the experience
of combat."

It's a significant problem among veterans, Hudson said.

"In the United States, we lose 22 to 25 vets a day to suicide. If you
start to include prescription drug overdoses - which are not
considered suicides - you're looking at over 30 deaths a day in the
United States directly related to the ineffectiveness of treating PTSD."

His research has identified a rewiring of the brain with PTSD and that
cannabis is effective in alleviating symptoms, he said.

"We are getting close to providing the scientific evidence that
corroborates all of this, but we definitely know one thing and that
is, cannabis works. And it definitely works better than all the other
drugs that are out there."

Michael Blais, 60, a Canadian veteran of Cyprus and founder of
Canadian Veterans Advocacy, told the conference "it's important to
know we're not potheads."

"I get that a lot. 'Oh, you just like the pot. You sit there getting
high all day.' That's not true. For people who are mentally or
physically traumatized, this is a viable - not cure, by any means -
but part of a treatment plan."

Blais said he had pain, episodes of rage, chronic frustration and had
become a Jekyll-and-Hyde figure who, his wife said, was not the same

"Medical cannabis changed all of that."

The session was one of many at the trade show that highlighted the
pharmaceutical benefits of cannabis in advance of federal promises to
legalize marijuana by Canada Day 2018.

Organizer Neill Dixon said that whereas the cannabis business once
took place "in the shady underworld," the prospect of legalization,
diminishing stigma and blossoming entrepreneurial opportunities
produced a "very corporate" event.
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