Colorado says ‘no’ to medical marijuana for post-traumatic stress

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Gavin Dahl | Boulder Weekly

John Evans insists that calling post-traumatic stress a disorder is like cutting yourself and calling the blood a disorder.

“It is a natural reaction to an unnatural event,” says Evans, director of support group Veterans 4 Freedom. Not only military veterans, but women who have suffered domestic abuse or sexual assault, hospice workers, EMTs, firefighters, police officers and even those affected by natural disasters can have post-traumatic stress, he believes.

Evans is a vocal member of the growing contingent of advocates demanding public health officials add medical marijuana to Colorado’s approved list of PTSD treatments. Ten other states have passed similar measures. The Medical Marijuana Scientific Advisory Council, tasked by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment with reviewing petitions based on their scientific merits, recommended a yes vote. The state’s chief medical officer Dr. Larry Wolk endorsed the proposal.

“There’s certainly evidence cannabis helps with muscle spasms, anxiety and depression,” Evans says. “All these are symptoms of post-traumatic stress.”

On July 15, after dozens of veterans and patients spoke in favor of the petition during public testimony, the Colorado Board of Health voted 6-2 to reject the latest attempt to add PTSD as a qualifying condition for doctor recommended medical marijuana, citing “an absence of scientific information.”

Local activist Teri Robnett took to the Cannabis Patients Alliance blog, under the pseudonym Rx MaryJane.

“The Colorado Board of Health delivered a chilling message to patients across Colorado,” she wrote. “How many more times do I have to parade sick and dying patients in front of a board or committee begging for relief, begging for their rights? How many more voices will it take to overcome the prohibitionists who cling to Reefer Madness and DARE?” 

Activists really flipped when they learned that one board member moonlights as a Disney princess.

Janelle Orsborn, a 23-year-old actress who portrays cartoon characters for a local company specializing in fairy-tale birthday parties, and who was also recently named first runner-up to represent Colorado at the Miss America Pageant, currently represents Boulder on the State Board of Health.

Cannabis Consumers Coalition executive director Larisa Bolivar has dealt with PTSD for more than 10 years. She says she felt disrespected by the Board of Health’s youngest member (Orsborn), who finished her bachelor’s degree at Metro State University last year with a concentration in exercise science.

“She stared at her computer almost the entire hearing,” Bolivar claims. “She wasn’t paying attention to people who were talking about how they almost died or brought themselves back from the brink through cannabis use. We were once again paraded in front of uncaring policy makers. This is outrageous.”

Robnett wrote on her blog that one board member (Orsborn) said she didn’t want Colorado patients to be an experiment.

“I have news for her, they already are,” she wrote. “Patients are experimented on daily. Pharmaceuticals for mental conditions are prescribed on a trial-and error basis. Patients find themselves on an endless treadmill of one drug after another, often in combination with documented side effects as severe as uncontrolled muscle spasms, suicidal thoughts, addiction and death. That is, until they find their way to cannabis.”

Evans, who leads the veterans support group and also volunteers with Bee Safe Boulder, says the Board of Health members who voted against allowing medical cannabis for patients with PTSD are in the stone-age.

“I think the numbers were 48 to 2 in public testimony,” he recalls. “The fact that they voted that day with very little deliberation tells me that they were pre-determined not to even listen to anyone. The anti-marijuana movement is based on lies and propaganda and they’re all falling apart. That’s why I’m not going to get upset over a young lady on the Board of Health that’s not qualified. I don’t want to blame one person, it was collective.”

Bolivar says, “By putting PTSD onto the registry as an affected condition, it gives patients the ability to have a relationship that’s open and honest with their doctors, to say that they are using cannabis for PTSD. We can’t wait 4 or 5 more years for a clinical study while 22 veterans kill themselves each day.”

Evans adds that there are indications medical marijuana states are seeing lower suicide rates. In 2013, the American Journal of Public Health reported suicides among men ages 20-39 were reduced by an average of 10.8 percent in states with medical marijuana, compared to states with no program.

“We know it reduces suicides and we have veterans telling us it reduces suicides,” he says. “How do you do a scientific study about nightmares, for example, other than by asking veterans? Do you want to wait for research, or do you want to stop suicides?” 

For the record, the only two board members who voted in favor of listing PTSD as a treatable condition were Jill Hunsaker-Ryan from Eagle County and Joan Sowinsky, an environmental and occupational health consultant.