Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May to honor fallen service men and women. It is an emotional time of year for people who have lost someone they love who served our country. This loss can lead to depression, anxiety, stress, and those things can lead to a search for relief.
Doctors often prescribe antidepressants and the most common antidepressants are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). In comparison to other kinds of medications to treat depression, SSRIs are considered to be the less harmful, with fewer side effects, but they come at a cost. Literally.Pharmaceutical medications and prescriptions to treat depression can range from $30 to hundreds of dollars. But the greater cost may be the side effects that go hand-in-hand with the legal and potentially lethal pharmaceuticals.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved these SSRIs to treat depression:
- Citalopram (Celexa)
- Escitalopram (Lexapro)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Vilazodone (Viibryd)
- Fluvoxamine, an SSRI that’s approved by the FDA to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, is sometimes used to treat depression.
Common side effects of SSRIs include insomnia, nervousness, agitation or restlessness, nausea, headache, sexual problems such as reduced sexual desire, among others. Often antidepressants lead to the “among others” which includes increased depression and suicidal or homicidal thoughts according to several patients who have opted to stop the pharmaceuticals that were supposed to help them.
“The VA doctors told me that it [the pharmaceuticals] was going to make us OK. But the pills don’t make us OK. I was on 16 pills day for 8 years, “
said Dave Gambrell, a United States Army veteran.
“I was a young husband, and the antidepressants for my PTSD weren’t working that well, and they had side effects that hit my marriage and my pride. I became impotent on the prescribed pills that didn’t really work to stop my depression, which cause another level of depression. So the doctors prescribed something for that, I was on viagra as a 26 year old to offset the side effects of the pills they gave me. It started causing other problems physically, constipation, so there was a pill for that. If I said the antidepressants weren’t working, they would just increase the dosage, or throw in another. It was a rollercoaster ride that was making me sick and I couldn’t get off the ride. I became addicted and abused the pharmaceuticals.”
Memorial Day is one of the most suicidal times of the year for veterans. Those who survived left with “survivor’s guilt” and terrifying images that haunt them day and night. “No matter how much I took, it didn’t get better. I was addicted to something that was destroying me, that the doctors who were supposed to help save me, gave to me. I felt there was no out. I attempted to take my life in 2008 and again in 2009. I just wanted to numb myself. I wanted to escape the images of my service brothers and sisters, to get away,” Gambrell said through tears.
“Since I have been off the pills, and taking cannabis medicine, I don’t have the physical issues at all that the pharmaceuticals caused. I have been able to socially interact better, I don’t have the vicious nightmares and visions that I did. I am more active in my community and with my family, my children. I can actually help organize planting flags at the cemetery on Memorial Day.”
Veterans need to feel productive, important, often they need a mission to keep them focused on their lives as veterans and not soldiers. Throwing back a bottle or popping pills has become a “go-to” among many veterans to kill the pain, to give them numbness that lets them make it through another day. It is an epidemic that takes almost two dozen servicemen and women a day in the US.
The most impactful loss for Gambrell, is the story of Captain Kimberly Hampton, America’s first female combat pilot killed in action. Dave served under Cpt. Hampton, and is close with the family, “It nevers gets any easier, the pain never goes away. There is only enduring the pain. At least the plant [cannabis] makes it tolerable, liveable. I can turn those bad thoughts into good about Kim when I am consuming cannabis. On the pills, I would go to dark places, scary places, “ said Gambrell.
Below are suggestions collected from veterans like Gambrell for remembering those lost this Memorial Day:
- Don’t wish me a Happy Memorial day – there’s nothing happy about brave men and women dying
- Its not a holiday or a sale, it’s a day of remembrance
- Visit your local Cemetery and pay your respects to those brave men and women who’ve given their lives for our freedom.
- Let’s talk about one of the 6828 brave men and women who gave their lives during combat operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. Not to mention the countless others that we remember who’ve perished in conflicts before our time. Let’s talk about my good friend Cpt. Kimberly Hampton, daughter of Ann Lewis Hampton and Dale Hampton. Let us pray for them this weekend. Kimberly paid the ultimate sacrifice!
- Say a prayer and thank God for the men and women who are no longer here
- DO NOT “Thank” a living Veteran for his/her service… they’ll get honored on Veterans Day in November.
- This is time to remember that the true price of freedom is spent in the lives that defend it. Honor our brothers and sisters that have given the last full measure to secure our freedoms.
Gambrell’s story isn’t uncommon in the veteran community. He is among many who have chosen to combat their PTSD with an all natural, nonlethal option, cannabis. Certainly, it should be the right of those who have served their country to choose a plant over pills. Whatever works, whatever makes our veterans healthier and happier, especially around emotional holidays, should be the first line of defense and not their last, desperate option.
Despite the evolution of cannabis, “marijuana” laws, access and legalization in now 29 states and the District of Columbia, many states do not permit access to medical marijuana to ease any psychological conditions, including PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, one of the greatest killers of our veterans.
There are currently twenty-two states, Guam and Puerto Rico that recognize PTSD as a qualifying condition or have language in their qualifiers that would umbrella Post Traumatic Stress Disorder into a category. US States with laws on the books that allow patients with PTSD to get a recommendation for medical marijuana red cards currently are:
2. Arkansas, but even though “The Natural State” has PTSD as a medical marijuana qualifying condition that is currently in effect, licenses for dispensaries will not be accepted until June 1, 2017.
3. California, “The Golden State” does not specifically declare PTSD, but it is “umbrella’d.”
6. Florida – “The Sunshine State” has an issue with certain methods of medicine ingestion, non-smokable forms of cannabis only.
10. Maryland, but again, not specifically PTSD.
13. Minnesota added PTSD in December 2016.
14. Montana, also a recent legislative move, but it doesn’t go into effect until July of this year.
15. New Jersey, another recent addition for PTSD, September 2016.
16. New Mexico
17. Nevada, added in November 2016.
18. North Dakota
20. Oregon, PTSD added in 2013.
21. Pennsylvania, but it could take up to 2 years to get the program implemented.
22. Washington PTSD added in 2016 also.
Some states have generalized conditions that allow for PTSD patients to have an umbrella diagnosis which qualifies. For example, California has twelve qualifying conditions, the twelfth is one that could “count” for veterans with PTSD:
- Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
- Chronic pain.
- Persistent muscle spasms, including, but not limited to,
spasms associated with multiple sclerosis.
- Seizures, including, but not limited to, seizures associated
- Severe nausea.
- Any other chronic or persistent medical symptom that either:
(A) Substantially limits the ability of the person to conduct one
or more major life activities as defined in the Americans with
Disabilities Act of 1990 (Public Law 101-336).
(B) If not alleviated, may cause serious harm to the patient’s
safety or physical or mental health
The District of Columbia, similarly, has these qualifying conditions, and PTSD can often qualify as ‘debilitating’:
- Muscle spasms
- Multiple sclerosis
- Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS)
- Cachexia (wasting syndrome)
- Decompensated cirrhosis
- Seizure disorders
- Any condition diagnosed as “debilitating” by a licensed physician
Some of the more confusing state positions, which do not consider PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to be a qualifying condition but allow for other conditions, like a rare disease that impacts a very small number of people, as is the case in Michigan.
“The Great Lake State” allows for fourteen qualifying conditions:
Cancer, Glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, Lou Gehrig’s disease (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS), Alzheimer’s, Cachexia (wasting disease), Severe and chronic pain, Severe nausea, Seizures, Epilepsy, Muscle spasms, Multiple sclerosis and Nail-Patella syndrome.
Nail-Patella syndrome? Yes.
Nail-patella syndrome (NPS) is serious and sad. It is a rare genetic disorder. Although the symptoms and physical characteristics associated with NPS may vary greatly in range and severity, characteristic abnormalities tend to include improper development of the fingernails and toenails; absence and/or underdevelopment of the knee caps; limited movement of the elbow including extension and rotation caused by underdevelopment or dislocation of the radius (a forearm bone that is part of the elbow) and/or webbing of skin at the bend of the elbow(s); and/or abnormal projections of bone from the upper portion of both sides of the hipbone.
1 in 50,000 people have Nail-Patella syndrome.
In contrast, as of October 2016, it is estimated that 11-20 out of every 100 Veterans (or between 11-20%) who served in OIF or OEF have PTSD in a given year.
New York has twelve qualifying conditions and five sub-conditions: Chronic pain, Cancer, Epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, Huntington’s disease, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBS), Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, Multiple sclerosis (MS), Neuropathies, Spinal cord damage with spasticity which must include associated or complicating conditions: Cachexia or wasting syndrome, Severe or chronic pain, Severe nausea, Seizures, Severe or persistent muscle spasms. So in New York, patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome qualify for medical marijuana, but servicemen and women who fought for their country, veterans with PTSD, do not.
Not the IBS patients.
The state of New York’s logic.
Travis Lippert, Retired United States Air Force Captain and CEO Veedverks (Photo provided to MassRoots)
One more state could be on that list very soon. Veterans and their supporters have battled for three years in Colorado, The Centennial State, to add Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to the list of qualifying conditions to become a medical marijuana patient. It was defeated every time. But last month, veterans declared victory after SB17-017 which would allow for individuals suffering from PTSD to access medical marijuana for their condition finally passed. It is now awaiting Colorado’s Governor John Hickenlooper’s signature to become law.
Travis Lippert, CEO of Colorado based CBD vape pen company, Veedverks, and a retired United States Air Force Captain and pilot was overjoyed, “Getting PTSD approved as a qualifying condition was an important victory in our tireless war against the war on medicine. This decision is going to save veterans’ lives.”