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Opiates for Breakfast: The Narcotic Diet

“Institutions say they don’t want veterans to have cannabis because it could be be dangerous. Dangerous compared to what? Dangerous compared to the suicides, addictions and overdoses caused by the opiates they are prescribing. Those are the true dangers.” – Sean Kiernan

It’s time to talk about our Veterans and their medical needs. If you visit the VA hospital and talk to patients, you will find a similar story from each of them. They suffer from serious pain, PTSD, depression, and are prescribed a cocktail of mind altering narcotics. I know that cannabis is an effective treatment for mental and physical health. The problem in Arizona and other states is that veterans lack access to safe medicine such as cannabis. It became personal for me when I heard a veteran took his own life in front of the Phoenix VA Medical Center on a Friday morning in October. Police reported the death as a self inflicted gunshot wound. I can’t stop imagining him dying in front of the building where he was supposed to receive professional help. It breaks my heart to realize how ignorant I’ve been to their suffering before this moment. I know that opiates can destroy your mind in theory but I forget about the scary reality of this actually happening. Many veterans return home suffering from physical pain and opiates add more anguish and addiction. In 2014, Arizona had 259 veteran suicides and California had over 600 cases. Most states we checked has at least 100 veteran suicides that year.

There are so many political and social roadblocks against those who fight for science concerning veterans and cannabis. For years, Dr. Sue Sisley has fought to perform the first study of cannabis on veterans with PTSD. Her study was dropped this year by her partners at John Hopkins and the University of Arizona has also withdrawn their support. She is not allowed to enroll veterans directly from the VA hospital and most veterans don’t even know the study exists. She has filled less than a third of the spots for participants. Agents at the VA are not allowed to discuss or prescribe the use of cannabis to veterans. Dr. Sisley is moving forward with the study despite the efforts against her with funding from private groups based in California and Colorado. Applicants for the study must have a service related disability and chronic PTSD. They must be available for the random 14 week study and follow ups. With no way to advertise, they are doubtful about getting the 76 participants. It appears that the real reason for John Hopkins dropping out of her study was Sisley’s public criticism of the cannabis proposed to be used in the study. The federal government only approved cannabis from this ill equipped farm on the University of Mississippi campus. The cannabis, according to Sisley, was moldy, contained traces of toxins and was basically not useable. Veteran groups believe the hospitals images was responsible for the loss of public support. It’s hard to fight the good cannabis fight without being generalized somehow as hippie crazy medicine. In an online interview this summer, Sisley ended by saying, ”I grind everyday to make sure this study is successful. I want people to understand I am not an activist. I am a scientist. The only thing I care about is collecting objective data and getting that data into the public domain.”

As individuals, we can help her succeed by educating veterans about the healing powers of cannabis and also by raising public awareness about veterans, PTSD, and Opioid Issues. The fight is not about the science. Institutions say they don’t want to give veterans cannabis because it could be be dangerous. Sean Kiernan, US Army says,

“Cannabis is dangerous? Dangerous compared to what? Dangerous compared to the suicides, addictions and overdoses caused by the opiates they are prescribing. Those are the true dangers. The corporations are aware that cannabis has medical value. The fight against cannabis is not about science. It’s about control.”

We learned from former President of Mexico Vicente Fox last month that prohibition of anything is meant to control people. The problem now is that we have economies depending on prohibition. Lots of jobs and wealth have been created because of prohibition. Our economy depends too much on big pharma, private prisons, and the industries tied to opiate addiction.

I spoke with 3 military veteran cannabis patients on Veterans day (2017) at the March for Veterans to promote cannabis against opioids. Here’s some insight about the challenges soldiers face during deployment and after returning home. I offered them joints and conversation. They accepted.

Christopher Lengyel, 29 US Army 2009-2012 Food Service Specialist 4.5 year AZ cannabis patient

“I worked on one deployment in Helmand Afghanistan, a rough area in the south of the country. I was injured during this deployment and was not able to continue service. I was listed as a Food Service Specialist but during deployments the jobs like cook and electrician were outsourced to contractors. This allowed us to work with infantry units to provide more man power. Mission work include tower guard and patrol duties. As a cook, I was in combat situations, being shot at, bombed and performing the same duties as any infantry soldier.”

As he recounts being shot at, three Apache helicopters fly right over us. It was too real. Lengyel was fortunate to make it back while others he was with did not. He uses his influence now to help veterans get clean from opiates by using cannabis. He spreads a positive message about cannabis because it helped him get off a cocktail of fifteen pharmaceutical drugs. Cannabis allowed him to get back out into society and live a balanced healthy life. It’s important to talk to veterans about these issues because many don’t even realize they are suffering. When Lengyel returned from duty, he didn’t know what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was or that he was suffering from it. He was unsure of what to do and he how he was feeling emotionally.

“I had no emotions, I didn’t feel love, I didn’t feel happiness, I didn’t feel sadness. I just didn’t feel. This led me to make some poor judgements and my behaviors changed. I started drinking to cope with my feelings, which led to my inability to perform at work. My chain of command noticed the differences and then one day I snapped in anger. That landed me in the hospital where they told me i was most likely suffering from PTSD. At the same time, I was dealing with a lot of physical injuries. I had over five different joint surgeries from my injuries in Afghanistan and was already dealing with the doctors for physical pain. Once the mental issues came into play, it led to these doctors prescribing a literal cocktail of drugs. Oxycodone, percocet, Fentanyl, Morphine patches, Xanax, Buspar, Wellbutrin and the list goes on. They prescribed ambien for sleep and Gabapentin for nerve pain. The array of pills was causing my organs to fail and the doctor said if I continued that I would die. My kidneys and liver enzymes were failing. My stomach developed ulcers that they found after ordering an endoscopy because I was throwing up blood. I was in a very sick place of my life physically, and at the same time I was hurting emotionally and mentally. I was going through a divorce because my wife at the time didn’t know how to help me and I didn’t know how to communicate to her what I was going through.

When I was discharged from the military, there was no one around me. If i didn’t have my family, I wouldn’t have made it. The few who tolerated me when I was like this helped save my life. It definitely was not the VA. I knew I was not welcomed there unless I wanted more pills. Coming out of the military, they said I shouldn’t take pills anymore. The VA didn’t want to hear this. They don’t care what you can and can’t do, they just want you to do what they say. I started looking for alternative remedies and I found cannabis. It was a slow process, I didn’t just stop taking all my pills. The first drug cannabis got me off of was Oxy’s. It took the RSO (Rick Simpson Oil) and tinctures to do that. To this day, I still have RSO on my counter for emergencies and if I start needing I need an Oxy, I know I can turn to this plant. I can still function and be myself. If anything, cannabis has allowed me to be more emotionally balanced around my friends and family. I have more of a centered approach towards life and my symptoms like anxiety and nightmares. At first, it was difficult. With anxiety, the higher THC strains were hard to smoke. It caused me anxiety. This can be difficult because with pain, you need higher THC. I’m a 10mg type of person. I have been on a microdosing edible regimen for about a year now. It’s awesome and I have no urges to smoke more or less and I feel good all day. I use sativas in the morning, hybrid during the afternoon, and Indica if necessary at night. I also use Dream Steam vape pens to dose during the day if I need it for anxiety. I also like Yilo gummy edibles.”

Lengyel earned a degree in professional counseling with an emphasis on substance abuse and addiction. He uses his journey of self healing as a platform to help others. He shares his knowledge of cannabis along with other techniques like breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, and acupuncture. Lengyel is clear that cannabis is not a crutch and has to be used as responsible medicine along with other natural techniques. This means that patients can get the medical benefits from cannabis when they need it. It doesn’t mean they have to use cannabis for the rest of their lives. We want to educate patients to use their medicine effectively as needed. Chris advocates the dispensaries that focus on patients and their needs instead of just pushing product. He works with Harvest of Arizona because they go out of their way for patient support and education. They have a PTSD support group, chronic pain support group, cancer support group, and a pediatric epilepsy support group. They are even looking to add a substance abuse support group. We have an opiate crisis on our hands and many addicts are only one support meeting away from accepting help and cannabis as treatment. Harvest recognizes that they are addicts and require a different model for cannabis use. It’s a beautiful thing to acknowledges these patients and connect them to each other for support and accountability. These groups have regular meetings and do not cost a thing. Harvest organizes these events and others through any AZ non-profit organizations.

We are just now beginning to accept studies that explore our endocannabinoid system and prove our bodies have receptors for cannabinoids. These Studies have been suppressed for years and even public studies from India and Israel have been ignored for twenty-five to thirty years. These are studies that have shown that cannabis can cure, not just treat disease. Lengyel says he has seen skin cancer healed and seizures successfully treated with cannabis. This, along with his personal experience is enough to motivate him to continue teaching people about cannabis and other holistic medicine.

Thanks to Chris for spending time educating veterans about the dangers they face from doctors. We are lucky to have soldiers like him in the fight for cannabis wellness!

Christopher King, 31 US Army 2009-2012 Welder, Wrecker Truck Operator AZ cannabis patient

Christopher approached the veteran rally from across the street and asked about our cause. I asked him to share his experience about cannabis and the military. He is a retiree who suffers physically from years of tough manual labor.

“I retired from the army with 3 herniated discs, two partially torn knees, a labrum tear in the left shoulder, a surgically repaired left bicep and four recorded concussions. The VA’s welcome home package included 45-50 pills per day for pain, anxiety, insomnia, depression, appetite and a host of other symptoms. I currently take one pill a day for intestinal health and treat everything else with cannabis. If i wake up in the morning and have trouble getting out of bed, I have a sativa strain for that. If I’m anxious throughout the day and I’m worrying myself sick, I have a really good hybrid strain for that. If I can’t sleep at night and I’m stressing out or ending my day in a lot of pain, I have wonderful edibles and a good indica flower to help me rest and shut my day down. It really helps control the stomach pain when I eat. My hiatal hernia makes it hard to eat and medical cannabis, if you get open to using it, can replace any kind of pill you take.”

I thanked him for his service and for promoting cannabis in such a well spoken way. Being loud and proud about cannabis use is helpful for our fight towards mainstream acceptance.

Sean Kiernen US Army 1989-1993 Airborne Infantry Fort Davis, Panama Las Vegas cannabis patient

“I was stationed at Fort Davis in Panama. This was during a time of extreme volatility in Central America. However, it was nothing compared to what our veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan experience. The number of deployments and the amount of violence they are experiencing is intense. This has been the first war where we have begun to recognize the burden on the families and the support structure for these soldiers. I run the Weed for Warriors project. Weed for Warriors is an international organization that was started by a marine named Kevin Richardson. He went to Afghanistan and then had a suicide attempt from all the pills he was on. Thankfully, someone suggested he use cannabis. Cannabis freed him from the pills and mental anguish. He missed the camaraderie of the military and started the first chapter in San Jose, California in 2014. Now they have 26 chapters throughout the country. These chapters come together and offer free cannabis and support to veterans who need it. Phoenix does not have a chapter yet. If any veterans out there want to help out and get involved, definitely reach out to Weed for Warrior. We try to act as a first line of defense for vets who want to use cannabis. I work with Dr. Sue Sisley and was on the Weed 3 documentary to promote her studies and science to show the healing powers of cannabis. We work at a national and local level to speak out about cannabis.”

We asked Sean about his own experience with cannabis:

“I’m a heavy cannabis user, daily, hourly. Honestly, my experience is that I went through the modern medicine approach and was put on a literal cocktail of medicine that all vets are put on. I started to take them and saw how they affected me and the other veterans at the hospital. The day I got out of the VA in 2013, I got in touch with Dr. Sisley and began working with her to learn about cannabis. I use cannabis in place of mood stabilizers, anti-anxiety & pain meds, Seroquel, Lithium and a bunch of others they had prescribed me. I tried all of those meds and besides the serious side effects, I had a suicide attempt in 2011. My suicide attempt, in my view, was brought on by the pharmaceutical approach and that’s how I got involved in the fight for cannabis.”

Shortly after I interviewed the veterans, we began a march down the block to the Veterans Day Parade. This was the first time that the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade had signs for cannabis and PTSD. The most powerful part was being cheered by the parade watchers and having active service men step out and thank us for standing up for them. We need to continue this kind of veteran support throughout the holiday season and all year long. #TerpsForTroops

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