Effective Treatment 

It's a no-brainer: The state should allow sufferers of PTSD to use medical marijuana

Across the nation, numerous states are considering medical-marijuana laws with a mixed bag of choices on how they address post-traumatic stress disorder.

Connecticut just passed a law that includes it as a qualifying illness, while bills pending in Illinois and Indiana don't include it. In Arizona, the law does not cover the treatment of PTSD. Hopefully, that will change next month, when the state will decide whether to add PTSD as a qualifying illness. On May 25, the state Department of Health Services took public comments as a part of the process (as the state also did with depression, as I discussed last week). Here are a few tidbits from that hearing.

Bill Manstis was there to tell the state about his PTSD. Manstis, who suffered a "military sexual trauma" that he did not detail, said medical marijuana changed his outlook on things when other medications didn't. He also has spine and shoulder injuries for which he has an MMJ card. But he immediately saw improvement in his PTSD, depression and anxiety. Manstis read from a copy of his therapist's progress notes, which he showed to the DHS representative.

"'The veteran continues to show bright affect with less irritability and working more proactively. In good spirits with increased optimism. No psychotropic medications are needed,'" Manstis read. Then, he held up the manila folder containing his therapist's notes. "The truth is right here, ladies and gentlemen."

Ingrid Joiya, who was a co-sponsor on the petition to add PTSD, came to speak about the patients who come through the door at the Elements Caregiver Collective. The collective sees veterans, rape victims and others who suffer from PTSD. All have MMJ cards for other ailments, but cannabis dramatically reduced PTSD symptoms for many.

"We're beginning to see that it's more than anecdotal," Joiya said. "I'm here to share what the reality is. ... Dispensaries or no dispensaries, these people are going to get this medication. ... It's our job to provide a safe place to do so."

Elaine Burns, a physician who works in the MMJ community, has seen a handful of examples of cannabis helping PTSD-sufferers. She has several patients who have PTSD but got MMJ cards for other ailments. Now they are coming back for card renewals, and she is seeing improvement in their PTSD symptoms.

"One patient in particular had night terrors on a regular basis, and now, in the past year since using cannabis, is getting good quality sleep," she said. Better sleep also relieves that patient's depression and anxiety.

Cory Tishka was at the hearing to speak about her husband, who spent 10 years as a helicopter gunner in Air Force special operations. He served in combat in Iraq.

"He still sees and smells death. His dreams are horrible," Tishka said.

The dreams start with heavy breathing, then shaking, then fearful awakenings. Without cannabis, he would often endure long, sleepless nights after the dreams. Since last year, when he qualified for an MMJ card for chronic pain, his PTSD symptoms have been significantly decreased. Because he can sleep better now, he is less irritable, and less likely to be frustrated by little things. He can function.

"I know that you're looking for scientific evidence. Qualitative evidence is scientific, and I hope you will see the overwhelming evidence that supports cannabis as an effective treatment for PTSD," Tishka said.

Although most of the folks at the hearing cited anecdotal evidence, there is a growing body of science from which to draw evidence. The state has posted some studies at www.azdhs.gov/medicalmarijuana/debilitating/index.htm (submitted with the petition to add PTSD as a qualifying illness).

I've said it before in this space, and I'll say it again: It angers and saddens me that we would allow moral compunction to get in the way of ethical medical treatment. C'mon, people. Relax. Step aside, and let doctors decide how to treat their PTSD patients.


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