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Medical Marijuana Can be a Much-Needed Miracle for Vets With PTSD

Staff Sargent Mike Whiter says prescription drugs are contributing to veteran suicides—and marijuana saves lives.
 
 
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After Staff Sargent Mike Whiter returned home from serving his country, he tried to kill himself three times. 

Whiter served in the US Marines for 11 years, including combat tours in Kosovo and Iraq. After his medical discharge, Whiter sought help from the Veterans Administration for his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well as his physical injuries.

“They put me on 36 different medications in 6 years,” recalls Whiter. “I was on methadone and morphine, benzos, klonopin, xanax, SSRIs…You name a drug, I’ve been on it. I couldn’t sleep, I was having nightmares, I couldn’t leave my house – I was afraid to leave my house.”

Whiter believes that prescription drugs, particularly SSRIs, are contributing to veteran suicides. “SSRIs have suicide listed as a side effect,” Whiter explains. “And they’re giving these pills to people who are already suicidal.”

Staff Sargent Mike Whiter

Photo: Staff Sargent Mike Whiter

According to a  study released by the Department of Veterans Affairs in February of 2013, 22 veterans take their own lives every day – one suicide every 65 minutes. A 2013  survey by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America showed that 30 percent of service members have considered or attempted suicide, and 45 percent reported that they know an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran who has attempted suicide. In recent years, there have been significantly more US veteran and military deaths by suicide than in combat.

Hope for Veterans

Mike Whiter’s life today is very different than it was a few years ago. After learning about medical marijuana and PTSD on the Discovery Channel, Whiter believed it might help him.

Mike Whiter speaking in Philadelphia Photo: Ed Roper

Photo: Mike Whiter speaking in Philadelphia
Photo by: Ed Roper

Since he started using marijuana, Whiter has been able to stop taking all of his prescription medications. No more sleepless nights, no more flashbacks, no more isolation in his home – in fact, Whiter is now the co-director of  Philadelphia NORML and the founder of  Pennsylvania Veterans for Medical Marijuana. He has been a  featured speaker at numerous public events and rallies, unimaginable during the time he suffered from crippling social anxiety due to his PTSD.

“Marijuana saved my life,” Whiter says. “And when I say that, I’m not exaggerating at all. Those medications would have killed me if I hadn’t taken my own life first. The medications that the VA prescribes are killing veterans.”

In addition to relieving his PTSD symptoms, Whiter credits marijuana for enabling him to survive the trauma of withdrawal from numerous medications. “Marijuana got me through opiate withdrawal, it got me through benzo withdrawal, and it got me through SSRI withdrawal,” he recalls. “It’s my medicine.”

Whiter’s experience is reflected in the results of a  2012 study of suicide rates in medical marijuana states. From the study:

"Using state-level data for the period 1990 through 2007, we estimate the effect of legalizing medical marijuana on suicide rates. Our results suggest that the passage of a medical marijuana law is associated with an almost 5 percent reduction in the total suicide rate, an 11 percent reduction in the suicide rate of 20- through 29-year-old males, and a 9 percent reduction in the suicide rate of 30- through 39-year-old males.

We conclude that the legalization of medical marijuana leads to an improvement in the psychological wellbeing of young adult males, an improvement that is reflected in fewer suicides."

Sadly, many veterans still do not have the opportunity to use medical marijuana legally. Currently, PTSD is a qualifying condition in only 7 of the 20 US states with medical marijuana programs. This means that in 43 states, veterans who use marijuana to combat PTSD are considered criminals.

 
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