PTSD by Dennis Geeham

I first smoked marijuana in Vietnam. I was in intelligence and associated mostly with other military intelligence analysts and military police. Most of both smoked marijuana on a semi-regular basis. I was opposed to it, but was persuaded that membership in the peer group included smoking it. I cannot and never have been able to smoke cigarettes or anything else. Marijuana was different. It provided a social outlet and a method of relaxation and was never done on duty by me. I also never drank alcohol or took any other drugs.

Even junior officers (I was enlisted) who had smoked during college joined in the "parties" which could not have been undetected by non-smokers. So those with the most elite trust to classified materials were largely overlooked in this aspect of their drug use as long as it did not affect their work. I, myself, received three Bronze Stars and an Army Commendation Medal and had my tour extended because I was declared "mission essential" during the 1972 North Vietnamese offensive.

Off and on through the years after returning to civilian life, I continued to use marijuana but never went on to smoke cigarettes or to drink alcoholic beverages or regularly use stronger non-prescription drugs.

About 15 years after Vietnam I began experiencing symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD -- flashbacks and nightmares recalling traumatic experiences and things I had seen there.

I was in denial about this for years, but  in 1999 these episodes accelerated. I noticed that I never had a flashback when stoned. I also never had dreams, not even nightmares, if I went to bed stoned.

But I asked for hospitalization and residential treatment in the Dayton, Ohio VA Medical Center when I had a car accident in 2000 after which I awoke and thought I was in Vietnam again.

Traces of marijuana were in my system, and they refused to treat me until it was gone even though drug use is prevalent among both veterans and those with PTSD.

Ultimately, I was dissatisfied with the Dayton program, ranked one of the worst by the PTSD Research Center in Connecticut, and they recommended the Seattle VA.

So I moved to Seattle where it did not matter to them if I were to use marijuana.  It is legal to do so in Washington for medicinal purposes. But I agreed to try their alternative approaches such as Prozacin, an alpha-blocker hypertension medicine, which did help alleviate the nightmares, and a combination of Ambien for sleep, clonazepam for restless leg syndrome, and morphine, oxycodone, naproxen and tramadol for physical pain.

What I found, however, was that simple use of marijuana a few times a day eliminated the need for all of those other drugs. Biggest problem? Getting it and affording it. I could get morphine for free. But simple pot would cost $300 an oz. Fortunately, I used little at a time and I built no tolerance for it.

It is an exceptional way to suppress dreams and get a restful night's sleep and to diminish physical pain without opiates that can become physically addictive, constipating and require larger and larger amounts.

To obtain it medically, I must use the pain relief needs. Oddly, using it instead of morphine is not an acceptable reason and using it to ease stressors that lead to flashbacks or to suppress dreaming which leads to nightmares also are not among the acceptable reasons.

Neither is the fact that marijuana alone replaces ten t other drugs the VA prescribes for me. Consider the savings to the government. Those drugs cost about $600 a month. But $300 worth of pot can ease symptoms for six months.

Well, in brief, that is one vet's story. I do not smoke, drink or use any other non-prescription drugs. I alternate between use of my prescriptions and the pot to see if I notice any changes, but so far I don/t.

The only adverse effect is that pot seems to increase my blood pressure to about 145/100.

But flashbacks and nightmares, which it prevents, increase my BP to as high as 220/165.

Which side effect is worse?

I'm also ruled unemployable, so pot helps pass the day nicely. It also makes it tolerable to do some stretching, yoga and swimming. The other drugs make it difficult to exercise.