Stoned Wrong in NJ: Marijuana and PTSD


Last week, a Democratic bill was signed into law by NJ Governor Chris Christie that will allow people with PTSD to get medical marijuana. This expands upon the original NJ medical marijuana law, which was passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Corzine in January of 2010. Previously, only diagnoses of cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, seizures, and crohn’s disease had been approved for medical marijuana in NJ. I have no comment on the aforementioned conditions – I am not a medical doctor and the treatment of those problems fall far outside of my scope of practice.

However, I have been treating a large number of both veterans and civilians with PTSD for over a decade, and as I have noted many times before, I have grave concerns about giving marijuana to those with PTSD.

1) The only evidence that marijuana helps people with PTSD has been anecdotal stories by people who claim it helps them. The unscientific, non-clinical studies that have been conducted with multiple individuals usually ask people after they’ve smoked if they feel better. The studies aren’t looking at how marijuana affects them 12 hours later, 24 hours later, multiple days, or weeks later.

2) The Veterans Administration (VA), which I am sometimes critical of, has the greatest experience and expertise treating veterans for PTSD. So many of the people that work in the VA care deeply for veterans and are willing to try anything in order to help them. The VA’s official position on marijuana for PTSD is this:

Marijuana use for medical conditions is an issue of growing concern. Some Veterans use marijuana to relieve symptoms of PTSD and several states specifically approve the use of medical marijuana for PTSD. However, controlled studies have not been conducted to evaluate the safety or effectiveness of medical marijuana for PTSD. Thus, there is no evidence at this time that marijuana is an effective treatment for PTSD. In fact, research suggests that marijuana can be harmful to individuals with PTSD.

3) My experience treating people with PTSD  has shown that marijuana sometimes momentarily alleviates acute symptoms, but when the psychotropic effects wear off the symptoms return and often get worse.

4) Studies have shown that smoking marijuana causes decreased lung function, chronic respiratory track problems (wheezing, shortness of breath), a strong link to obstructive lung disease, increased bronchitis episodes, possible acute cardiovascular issues and a higher likelihood for cancer (but we need more studies on that specific item).

5) Studies have also shown that marijuana use may cause an earlier onset of psychotic illnesses. Long term heavy users (defined as 3x a week or more for a period of over 6 months) show impairment in memory and attention. Marijuana use causes withdrawal symptoms such as irritability and insomnia, and often makes symptoms of depression and anxiety worse.

6) There are currently four states where recreational use of marijuana is legalized:  Colorado (2012), Washington (2012), Alaska (2014), Oregon (2014), and Washington DC (2014). All five legalized marijuana much earlier: Alaska, Washington and Oregon passed medical marijuana laws in 1998; Colorado in 2000 and DC in 2011. The establishment and expansion of medical marijuana laws are a gateway to legalized recreational marijuana. Once recreational marijuana becomes legal in a state, for-profit marijuana corporations get a true foothold and start lobbying politicians and donating to their campaigns

7) If, IF, there are medical benefits from marijuana use (reduction of nausea, stimulation of appetite), they are caused by the CBD chemical in marijuana. The THC chemicals do not have medical benefits, but are popular because they lead to the psychoactive high. THC content in marijuana was between 2 and 5% from the 60s thru the 80s. A few years ago, the strongest marijuana was 19%. Two years ago, the winner of a competition was 29%. The strongest THC content available in Colorado now is 41%. (THC wax is over 90% and THC Vaping can be over 99%). NJ could have pushed for medical marijuana to be CBD concentrated with a maximum amount of THC content at 5%, but they chose not to do this.

8) NJ politicians from both political parties said that they had passed this law because veterans were in such dire need. We are seeing an ever-increasing use of veterans and 9/11 to justify legislation (and sell products). I wrote about this in the spring. There is an organization in Oregon called Grow for Vets. It is non profit whose sponsors are all, surprise, for profit marijuana companies. They use their supposed support of veterans to curry public favor.

This NJ law was introduced and sponsored by Senator Joe Vitale (D-Woodbridge). I have worked with him on a number of issues and I have often applauded him for the work he has done in the areas of addiction and recovery. For several years, he has been my favorite NJ politician. He still remains so, but on this we disagree. It is my hope that NJ will collect data on everyone with PTSD that is prescribed marijuana so we can monitor their condition. If the evidence shows that marijuana helps those with PTSD, I’ll publish a retraction. If however, the evidence shows that marijuana does not help those with PTSD, I hope that this law gets reversed.