Nothing like a good war to get people in a patriotic mood and Support the Troops, as the yellow ribbon magnets on the gas-guzzling SUVs say. The nation, any nation, cheers as the flower of its youth marches off to kill and be killed. Dulce et Decorum est pro Patria Mori … “It is sweet and right to die for your country.” Then, the war ends, most of the boys and girls come home, and life moves on. But for a lot of combat veterans, some of the boy and the girl stays on the battlefield. We Americans have always done a crappy job of taking care of those who fought our wars, starting with the War of Independence.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mouthful that merely means the experience of combat was so fucking awful that it did damage to the warriors mental health. An estimated 20 percent of our Iraq and Afghanistan vets have PTSD. In the Vietnam era, it was 15 percent.
And in America, were not comfortable talking about mental health, so the men and women who fought and bled for us wind up without jobs, sleeping on heating grates and killing themselves at a rate of 22 a day.
Since we dont talk about mental-health issues, we dont do enough research into treating it. Now, though, the federal government has finally tried to do something to help these patriots. Medical marijuana has finally been approved as a possible treatment, and research is beginning.
In March of 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services approved parameters for the study. This being the government, having the DHHS OK something in the field of health isnt enough. The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) opposed the study in what I can only describe as a head-in-the-sand attitude. Theres no evidence that marijuana can help these guys, so we arent going to do any research that would create evidence. Meanwhile, 22 a day check out.
And that was the state of play until April, when the NIDA actually signed off on the study. The government is going to supply marijuana for clinical trials to see if pot can mitigate the damage combat in the name of that government did to these people.
There is a tiny complication here. A bipartisan pair of congressmen, Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer and California Republican Dana Rohrabacher are sponsoring the Veterans Equal Access Act. That would let doctors at Veterans Administration hospitals prescribe marijuana for PTSD sufferers. The House just shot down an amendment (by three votes) that would prevent the Veterans’ Administration from prohibiting medical cannabis prescriptions. So, as it stands now, the DHHS and NIDA are fine with pot for vets, and the VA appears to be able to do as it pleases, prohibit or not.
Three important things come from this regardless of the amendment’s defeat:
First, these people might actually get better. Marijuana does have mood-altering properties, and it could be that the despair might just lessen.
Second, if the clinical trial does show safety and efficacy (the cornerstones of the FDA regulatory system), then pot would likely be removed from Schedule 1, which is the list of drugs that are considered highly addictive and have no medical use (heroin, LSD and pot are all on that list, creating a very false equivalence).
Third, we might just start basing our social policies on scientifically based data rather than on gut-feelings, ancient scriptures or folk wisdom of the unlearned.
“Survivors,” written by Siegfried Sassoon in 1917
No doubt theyll soon get well; the shock and strain
Have caused their stammering, disconnected talk.
Of course theyre longing to go out again,
These boys with old, scared faces, learning to walk.
Theyll soon forget their haunted nights; their cowed
Subjection to the ghosts of friends who died,
Their dreams that drip with murder; and theyll be proud
Of glorious war that shatterd all their pride …
Men who went out to battle, grim and glad;
Children, with eyes that hate you, broken and mad.
Jeff Myhre is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.