Approximately 1,000 veterans lined up at a Colorado Springs hotel yesterday to receive free marijuana at a giveaway sponsored by Operation Grow4Vets. A similar event last weekend in Denver drew several hundred people as the group attempts to offer veterans an alternative to prescription drugs that help with pain, anxiety and other problems. The veterans were given a bag including chocolate, cannabis oil and seeds to grow plants. Non-veterans were allowed into the event for a $20 donation.
Despite the attempts of activists, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is not included on the list of accepted diseases in Colorado that physicians can write cannabis prescriptions for and that allow people to join the medical marijuana registry. However, now that recreational pot is legal in Colorado, event organizers were free to give it away to anyone. over 21 PTSD is included on the cannabis treatment options in a few other states, including Maine.
Roger Martin, the co-founder and executive director of Grow4Vets, says they want to provide cannabis to veterans with service-related conditions. Martin himself suffers from what he calls 24-hour pain and trouble sleeping due to PTSD and traumatic brain injury. He said that he has found that edible cannabis provides him relief from pain during the day and helps him sleep. He wants other veterans to have the same chance for help with their conditions.
Pot critics question whether the events are safe. Colorado Smart Approaches to Marijuana Coalition Bob Doyle said the event organizers were “reckless,” as the drug they were giving away can cause paranoia and other unexpected side effects, not something anyone would want someone with PTSD to experience.
Although there is a significant amount of anecdotal evidence that cannabis can help with PTSD, there has never been a study done to determine whether there is a scientific basis for the claims. Experiments on animals have shown positive results in treatment of fear and anxiety, but researcher Andrew Holmes, from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, along with other brain scientists, cautions against using cannabis for treatment of PTSD due to serious drawbacks.
Dr. Kerry Ressler of Emory University says prolonged exposure to THC, the chemical that gives pot its feel good qualities, causes brain cells to become less sensitive to the it, meaning the effects do not last. Holmes says that benefits may not justify the unwanted side effects, including impaired motor skills, increased appetite and short-term memory loss. Tests in people are just beginning and will likely take years to complete, although preliminary results have been largely positive.
Grow4Vets says that it is in the process of starting a new program called Save 1,000 Vets that would provide 1,000 veterans with a lifetime supply of free cannabis-infused products. Veterans will be accepted into the Save 1,000 Vets program on a first-come, first-serve basis with additional factors including income, injury, disability rating and condition. They sponsor other programs including Cannabis Potency Testing and Project Better Medicine, designed to help prevent veteran suicide and overdose rates through providing free cannabis products.
Martin said some attending the Colorado Springs giveaway might have been disappointed that free bags of marijuana were not being handed out, but that the goal is not to get people high. The organization plans three more events this year, including another in Colorado Springs.
By Beth A. Balen