Staff Columnist

Medical cannabis can help veterans, trauma survivors 'feel normal' again

Empty display bottles of medical marijuana at MedPharm Iowa Dispensary Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018, at the dispensary in Windsor Heights, Iowa.
Empty display bottles of medical marijuana at MedPharm Iowa Dispensary Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018, at the dispensary in Windsor Heights, Iowa.

Among the many problems with Iowa’s heavily restricted medical cannabis program, one thing stands out — the omission of post-traumatic stress disorder from the list of eligible conditions.

Medical marijuana is a promising treatment for symptoms of PTSD, and many of the people suffering from the condition — such as military veterans, police officers and survivors of violent crime — are among the most politically sympathetic constituencies in politics.

It was both disappointing and confounding when Iowa lawmakers chose to leave PTSD out when they created the cannabidiol program in 2014, and again when they expanded it in 2017. Last year, the Medical Cannabidiol Board also rejected a petition to add PTSD to the list of approved conditions.

Iowa has an opportunity to correct this glaring mistake. On Friday, the Cannabidiol Board will review another petition from Iowans asking the state to give PTSD patients access to cannabis.

In the petition, Rebecca Lucas of MedPharm wrote that Americans have “failed” military veterans suffering from combat-related PTSD.

“We get to live how we do because they fight for us, however, when our service members return, we in essence abandon them. We potentiate a stigma that it is strange for people to not just ‘be ok,’ ” Lucas wrote.

The plight of post-traumatic stress on veterans has been well-documented in recent years. On average, 21 service members die by suicide each day.

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Already, 28 states representing a large majority of Americans allow PTSD patients to legally access cannabis. That includes our neighbors in Minnesota and Illinois. Iowa veterans who choose to return to Iowa to pursue careers and raise families are getting a bad deal.

Military personnel deserve our compassion, but the common idea of a veteran — young and male — is not necessarily representative of PTSD. In 2016, most veteran suicides were older than age 55. Women are more likely than men to develop the condition, and a large portion of sexual assault and rape survivors experience PTSD.

The boogeyman of drug reform — the idea that people who don’t need it will scam the system to get high — is not based in reality. A testimonial attached to the petition to the Cannabidiol Board provides a powerful counterexample.

The author, whose name and personal details are redacted, was sworn in as an Iowa police officer in 2007 and was diagnosed with PTSD and given disability retirement just three years later.

For almost a decade, the officer suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts, and struggled to find suitable employment, but was reluctant to even try cannabis.

“It had been so ingrained in me throughout my policing background that marijuana was bad so I refused. Heck, I even put people in prison because they had and/or were selling marijuana,” the officer wrote.

Eventually, the officer tried a high-CBD, low-THC treatment and symptoms “subsided drastically.”

“For the first time in almost 10 years I felt ‘normal’ again. I feel like I have my life back!”

Shame on any government that would deny suffering people the chance to feel normal again.

Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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