Tucson area veterans welcome change in medical marijuana policy

Tucson area veterans welcome change in medical marijuana policy

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Arizona's top health official is adding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to the list of conditions that qualify for medical marijuana treatment.

That is welcome news for many veterans.

Military veterans make up one of the largest groups expected to benefit from the change in Arizona policy.

The policy change also will affect many other Arizonans who have PTSD, from victims of violence to firefighters.

Some veterans in Arizona who now use medical marijuana to treat other health issues say it has helped their PTSD.

That means their mental health has improved.

An Iraq war veteran from Tucson who has struggled with PTSD told Tucson News Now conventional medications did not help. He says his PTSD symptoms improved when he began using medical marijuana for pain.

"Depression, nightmares, listlessness, social anxiety--and I feel it helps me with all of that. It does put you in a good mood and you do get a sense of wellbeing. Things that would trigger me normally, don't.  I'm not on edge. I'm able to go to class and sit in a room full of people," says Christopher Burns, a U.S. Army veteran.

"I quit smoking. I quit drinking. I quit taking prescription medications and now I wake up when the sun gets up and I go to bed when the sun goes down. I feel more like a--I don't know how to put it--like a real person," Burns says.

The Arizona decision came the same week that the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on the VA's suicide prevention program.

At least one congressman was highly critical, saying veteran mental health issues must be treated as an immediate crisis.

"18 to 22 veterans commit suicide each day.  In my opinion that is 18 to 22 brave men and women each day who our system has let down in some capacity. It is totally unacceptable," said Rep. Mike Michaud, (D) Veterans' Affairs Committee Ranking Member.

In Tucson, NatureMed Medical Marijuana Dispensary President and registered nurse Michael Schmidt welcomes the change in Arizona medical marijuana policy.

He has been lobbying for it for a long time.

Schmidt cites the high suicide numbers as an indication of the need for medical marijuana to treat PTSD.

"I trust that we will see there'll be a big decline in suicides and that's our main mission is that there's another form of hope out here for people. They don't have to end everything  because the medications that they've tried don't work," Schmidt says.

Arizona Department of Health Services Director Will Humble says a study shows medical marijuana's effectiveness in treating PTSD in some patients.

The policy change is effective January 1, 2015.

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