Veterans, PTSD and Medicinal Cannabis

Being tapped on the shoulder to appear on breakfast radio is pretty much a compulsory reason to post a new entry, albeit due to time constraints, a brief and scattered one.

I, along with the indefatigable Jason Frost from Defence Shed Wagga Wagga appeared on 702ABC Sydney’s breakfast show with Wendy Harmer and Robbie Buck this morning. Skip to 23:08 for our bit.

We managed to convey the gist of a complicated situation. The basic rub of it is:

  1. We send our service personnel into harms way under the social contract that the government (by its agency, Dept of Veterans Affairs) will incur all medical costs arising from service.
  2. Veteran’s diagnosed with PTSD have never had to reach into their own pockets to cover conventional medications and therapies (opioids, benzos, SSRI’s, Z-class and Seroquel for example).
  3. Conventional medications have all been tested to the highest clinical trial and product safety standards.
  4. Over the last 20 years, the highest-quality scientific evidence didn’t stop a wave of death and dependency being directly caused by these medications; and
  5. Over the last 90 years, you couldn’t procure the highest-quality scientific evidence on cannabinoids because the botanical source of these drugs was illegal the world over.

Researchers who wanted to research (and patent) single molecule psychoactive medications under the direction of corporate pharmaceutical sponsors usually did pretty well. They helped make prescribed psychoactive medications one of the most lucrative consumer commodities ever known to our species.

For generations, a simple truffle may have been the most expensive thing an average peasant put in their body. Now, the priciest things we neck are more often than not a patented therapeutic good or bananas after a cyclone.

Speaking of truffles, Jah help you if you go near a mushroom for therapeutic benefit in 2021. Stories like this are just the start of the crackdown.

Despite the high-quality scientific evidence, the lived experience of Australian military veterans with service-related PTSD is that taking a cocktail of different pharmaceuticals over an extended period merely (and temporarily) numbs their pain. Double that if you down it with alcohol.

The standard models (if they even exist) for the current pharmacological interventions / therapy combinations are mostly ineffective at treating PTSD. Partial symptom relief appears to the loftiest goal achievable. If I’m wrong, then anyone arguing against reform should wheel out all the recovered vets who have put their trauma behind them with first line medications and cookie-cutter psychotherapies.

Veteran’s are taking their own lives at ridiculously inexcusable rates compared to the rest of us. They bear the load of trauma from “the trauma”, but increasingly, the trauma from “the treatment.”

Cannabis and cannabinoid therapies don’t work for all people. But when they do, the results can be transformative and profound. I am not a doctor. Please don’t stop any psychoactive medications cold turkey or meddle with your pill regime without medical oversight.

Some PTSD sufferers say cannabis provides them with a safe and productive headspace in which to constructively work through their problems, not just block them out as most conventional meds do.

Many Vietnam Veteran’s knew this. That’s why one of them, Dennis Peron, smuggled cannabis seeds back to the US after the war and in 1996 led the charge for the passing of Proposition 2015 and “medical legalisation” in California in 1996.

For our more recent Aussie veterans, things appeared to be looking up Between February and November 2019, with the DVA agreeing to subsidise the costs of medicinal cannabis treatments for vets with PTSD. They didn’t “just agree”, there was an almighty stink to get the first people approved, but that’s another story.

In October 2019, this paper came out which reviewed a bunch of older studies (still deemed “high-quality”) that were carried out with low quality “recreational marijuana”. Ditch Weed, not the standardised and tested medicinal cannabis products prescribed to Australian patients today. Sure enough this meta-analysis drew the conclusion that patients (and the governments that pay for their medicine) are just fine sticking with the existing pharma-cocktail with the proviso that further research into cannabinoids is needed.

In December 2019, the DVA formed the view that insufficient high-quality scientific evidence exists for the use of medicinal cannabis in mental health related matters and would no longer be subsidising the costs of these medications.

That won’t stand.

But that’s where we’re at.