Veterans push to test marijuana as a life-saving treatment for crippling PTSD

Advocates say drug can save lives

**TUESDAY AUG 18. 2009 PHOTO** In this Tuesday Aug. 18, 2009 photo, Sgt. Jacob Hayes, 25, of Welcome Md., of the U.S. Army's 2nd Platoon Apache Company of 2nd Battalion 87th Infantry Regiment, part of the 3rd Combat Brigade 10th Mountain Division based out of Fort Drum, N.Y., smokes a cigarette at Combat Outpost Tangi in Afghanistan's Wardak Province.  Apache company lost 22 soldiers to injuries and one killed on a month that saw 48 IED's, 7 that were attacks, 41 diffused or destroyed in that timeframe. (AP Photo/David Goldman)**TUESDAY AUG 18. 2009 PHOTO** In this Tuesday Aug. 18, 2009 photo, Sgt. Jacob Hayes, 25, of Welcome Md., of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Platoon Apache Company of 2nd Battalion 87th Infantry Regiment, part of the 3rd Combat Brigade 10th Mountain Division based out of Fort Drum, N.Y., smokes a cigarette at Combat Outpost Tangi in Afghanistan’s Wardak Province. Apache company lost 22 soldiers to injuries and one killed on a month that saw 48 IED’s, 7 that were attacks, 41 diffused or destroyed in that timeframe. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
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Sean Azzariti, a former corporal in the Marines, says medical marijuana saved his life.

Two tours in Iraq in 2003 and 2005 left him with post-traumatic stress disorder, and he was barely getting by on a cocktail of antidepressants, Adderall and sleeping pills. With few options, he said, he did some research on marijuana and began taking it shortly after leaving the Marine Corps in 2006.


SEE ALSO: Colo. lawmakers get blunt, move to tighten marijuana rules after two deaths


“It changed my life,” he told The Washington Times. “I wouldn’t be talking to you right now if I kept taking those pills.”

Mr. Azzariti said marijuana helped calm him and stopped his nightmares. He said he still smokes pot every day to keep his symptoms in check and thinks other veterans should have the option to use medicinal marijuana instead of pills.

As a Colorado resident, Mr. Azzariti lives in one of two states that have legalized broad use of marijuana. The Obama administration has said it generally will not try to prosecute users in those states.

Speaking out: Sean Azzariti, a former Marine who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving two tours in Iraq, says marijuana changed his life.

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Speaking out: Sean Azzariti, a former Marine who suffered from post-traumatic stress ... more >

But Mr. Azzariti, who made the ceremonial first purchase New Year’s Day when recreational marijuana became legal in Colorado, said other veterans should be able to use the drug that has helped him so much. He endorses a push by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to have the federal government study marijuana as treatment for veterans suffering from PTSD or traumatic brain injury, two of the signature injures of those conflicts.

If veterans “are going to be prescribed medical marijuana, there should be medical-based research done to determine its effectiveness,” said Lauren Augustine, a member of the legislative staff at IAVA. “Anecdotally, we’re hearing it’s working, but we want to have evidence behind it to understand the positives and negatives.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said last month that researchers at the University of Arizona could move forward with a study of how different doses of smoked or vaporized marijuana affect veterans with PTSD.


SEE ALSO: Less silent suffering: Veterans’ post-traumatic stress taken seriously


After three years on hold, the research still can’t begin. The government gave the university permission to buy medical-grade marijuana from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, but the study needs more than $880,000 and authorization from the Drug Enforcement Administration, according to the California-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

Fierce pot debate

States’ legalization of marijuana has stirred up a fierce national debate. Colorado and Washington have approved recreational pot use, and more than a dozen other states have legalized medical marijuana with a doctor’s permission.

Advocates of legalization want the federal government to change the listing of marijuana as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.

State officials say the Obama administration has not clarified its stance after easing enforcement but refusing to give legal clearance for casual marijuana users.

IAVA has some support in Congress. Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said it’s smart to study marijuana use as one treatment for afflicted veterans.

“The medical community still has much to learn about how to effectively treat traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress,” Mr. Miller said in a statement. “Therefore, a study regarding the efficacy of alternative treatments, including medical marijuana, to better alleviate the PTS and TBI symptoms many of our veterans face makes sense.”

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