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Pot, Policy, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Pot, Policy, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
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By Jacob Santillan
Illustration by Austin Smith
Chances are, some of you flip through Free Press Houston, bowl packed and at the ready, casually skimming the articles. Maybe you’re sitting on the couch or laying on the bed, enjoying life as much as you can, whenever and however you can under late capitalism? No one can properly blame you, the world being what it is in 2024. I certainly won’t; I wholeheartedly hope you enjoy something which makes life a little sweeter - perhaps there’s a special occasion? Or maybe you partake for the fuck of it just because it’s Tuesday. Whatever reasons we all use cannabis, it remains tragically illegal.

I don’t get to partake primarily because it violates Army regulations (I’m in the Reserve), but I’m also not shy that I prefer cannabis over alcohol nor about my intention to fire up a vaporizer the very next day after I leave the service. My two tours in Iraq (one of them lasted only three months), while valuable life experiences, weren’t particularly remarkable. I’ve never been in a firefight, I was never wounded, and I don’t have PTSD. Others are not as lucky.

In short, I came home whole. Others didn’t. Those of us unaffected by injury or illness obviously like cannabis because it makes us feel good. Others need it because of what ails them, and Texas has taken a few steps in the right direction with a series of medical cannabis bills aimed at loosening regulations, as reported earlier by Free Press Houston.

Cannabis legalization enjoys generally strong support from Texans, 77% of whom think it should be legal to some degree. But recently, the Texas House voted to kill a medical cannabis amendment to House Bill 3404. The bill mandates Health and Human Services Commissions to conduct a study to evaluate possible treatments of veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Longview Republican State Representative David Simpson submitted the amendment to HB 3404, which authorizes the use of cannabis for studies in its efficacy in treating P-T-S-D, but the amendment was voted down in a 54-80 vote.

Maybe you read that last paragraph a few times just to make sure you read correctly that a Texas Republican filed a pro-cannabis amendment. Indeed, Rep. Simpson is also the lone author of House Bill 2165, which repeals cannabis prohibition entirely. The House Criminal Justice Committee even approved it in a 5-2 vote. His reasoning is as surprising as HB2165’s progress — he opposes prohibition on conservative Christian principles.

“I don’t believe that when God made marijuana he made a mistake that government needs to fix,” Rep. Simpson writes in an op-ed published by the Texas Tribune entitled “The Christian case for drug law reform.”

I’m a stone cold atheist in the same vein as some very punchy, controversial, thoughtful, and courageous public figures like Bill Maher, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, so Rep. Simpson’s Christian case, which he doesn’t elaborate as much as I’d like, is fascinating to me. Whatever his reasoning, my would-be fellow stoners, we have an ally on the other side of the aisle.

It’s been explained to me by a friend of the Orthodox Christian religion that his co-religionists view the church as a hospital for the soul and medicine a gift from God. The body and soul are entwined and that healing should be both physical and spiritual; if someone is getting physical healing, but ignoring the mental or spiritual aspects, they’re doing themselves a disservice. Borrowing from the language of the religious, veterans afflicted with PTSD often suffer physically and spiritually and with the story of Christ healing the blind and the sick as told in the Gospel, a Christian rationale for cannabis decriminalization, at the very least for medical use, seems entirely rational.

The Drug Enforcement Agency opposes cannabis legalization of any kind, having ruled that there is “no accepted medical use.” Their cynical, hair-on-fire take necessarily draws comparisons to the film “Reefer Madness”, the risible, panic-mongering anti-cannabis morality tale ruthlessly lampooned 77 years after its release. The film is available for free in the public domain. But there’s a funny thing about the DEA’s judgment that cannabis has no accepted medical use — it makes obtaining clearance to study cannabis so difficult that when someone manages to secure permission it makes national news, which brings me back to the dead amendment to HB 3404.

“[The Texas legislature] voted to not even allow a study of medical marijuana in veterans with PTSD. We consider that to be an act of willful ignorance,” says Dave Bass, Texas NORML’s Director for Veterans’ Outreach. “It’s the year 2024. 23 states in our Union have medical marijuana programs. Of those states, 11 allow PTSD as a qualifying condition. Veterans are currently, right this minute, using medical cannabis to treat their PTSD and it’s working very successfully.”

The anecdotal evidence of the efficacy of medical cannabis can seem powerfully convincing, even for people as high-profile as CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who came out as a supporter of medical cannabis after previous opposition. “Anecdote,” however, isn’t a synonym for “data.”

The outlook for medical cannabis in Texas is not good for the 2024 legislative session. Both bills to reduce or eliminate cannabis penalties as well as two more approving medical cannabis, seem headed for the same fate. The one bill which remains, HB 892, if approved, may prove useless to many in need of medical cannabis, according to some medical cannabis advocates.

Despite setbacks in Texas, veterans and others suffering from PTSD may fortunately rest their hopes on a woman by the name of Dr. Sue Sisley. She’s the former assistant professor fired from the University of Arizona under questionable circumstances, which some believe was due to her advocacy for research into the medical benefits of cannabis. She’s one of a handful of researchers to receive clearance from the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration, and a $2 million grant from the State of Colorado to legally study the effects of medical cannabis on PTSD. The question that remains is whether, or how much, the DEA will obstruct her research.

Medical cannabis has been studied for a number of other ailments with promising results. My personal interest in cannabis is merely recreational. While I hope I never need it medically, I hope the day I do, it will be legally available. For those who need it now, I wish them, and Dr. Sisley the best.


  • PTSD Veteran

    Very well said! I’m a veteran of 7 years (Active duty Army with 3 combat tours). If it weren’t for marijuana, I wouldn’t be here today. It absolutely DESTROYED my depression, I felt like I had a fighting chance! Rather than taking the cocktail uppers and downers that were prescribed to me (AND nearly killed me) I use medical marijuana. The ones who are voted in aren’t listening nor adhering to the wants and needs of the people. They are on their own agenda. This needs to be put to a stop. Keep on trucking Texas NORML!

    • Jacob Santillan

      I’ve said as much as I can above and wish you the best. I’ve been in contact with Dr. Sisley since and look forward to any followups to this ongoing story.

      Take care, and take comfort knowing that the winds of change are at your back.