Today more than 3,000 New Mexican residents with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are actively enrolled in New Mexico's Medical Cannabis Program. Most of them are military veterans, patients living with disabilities, and victims of serious trauma and violent crime. Unfortunately, their continued access to medicine is being threatened by a request to withdraw PTSD as a qualifying condition for the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program.
On July 29th, 2012, William Ulwelling, M.D., a retired psychiatrist in New Mexico submitted a formal request to the state's Department of Health requesting PTSD be removed from the list of eligible medical conditions for enrollment in the NM Medical Cannabis Program. His petition, which claims cannabis use by patients with PTSD leads to psychosis, will be heard by the program's Medical Advisory Board in November in Santa Fe. Adhering to program's rules this Board, comprised of board-certified physicians, will offer a recommendation to the Secretary of Health who will have the final decision. The right to use medical cannabis was approved in 2009, when PTSD was added to the list of conditions eligible under the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act. Since then PTSD has become the disabling condition most frequently indicated by patients in the program, and today accounts for 40% of the diagnoses of the citizens in the State's medial cannabis program.
In defense of keeping PTSD as an eligible condition, the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patient's Alliance, the Drug Policy Alliance, and others are banding together for a campaign they are calling, Don't Take Away Our Medicine - a campaign to make sure the voices of PTSD patients are heard loud and clear.
"When I returned home from Afghanistan I was diagnosed with PTSD. I worked with my doctor and tried many prescription drugs. Taking handfuls of pills every day, every one with a different set of side effects was hard on my body, and I still experienced some symptoms," said Michael Innis, who served in the General Infantry and who was awarded a Purple Heart after the convoy he was traveling with got hit by an IED and was then ambushed. "Cannabis was not my first choice of medicine, but I tell you first hand, this medicine works for me. Cannabis allows me to leave my house and has helped me to return to work."
Not all psychiatrists agree with Ulwelling's claim. Dr. Lisa Walker, a board-certified psychiatrist licensed in New Mexico says that "the current pharmaceutical cocktails given to sufferers of PTSD have limited efficacy, have significant debilitating side-effects, and have in many cases proven deadly. Given these facts, along with the experience of thousands of patients whose quality of life has been improved by its use, medical cannabis should continue to be an available treatment for the suffers of PTSD."
The Campaign is standing up to protect the legal rights of patients to access safe medicine and are asking for all compassionate New Mexicans to demand the New Mexico Secretary of Health and the Governor to protect the rights of seriously ill New Mexicans and to reject the request to rescind PTSD as a qualifying condition by signing on to the Campaign.
Chris Hsu, NM Medical Cannabis Patient's Alliance's Vice President, believes all patients in the program deserve access to effective medical treatments whether they have just come home from combat or are suffering debilitating symptoms from other trauma.
The Campaign will not allow the removal of PTSD as a qualifying condition for the medical cannabis program to happen quietly. New Mexico's military veterans and victims of serious trauma and violence deserve the freedom to choose the safest treatment for their disabling conditions. "We deserve access to the medicine that works for us. Don't take away our medicine," exclaims Nat Dean, a medical cannabis patient diagnosed with chronic pain and PTSD from a horrible car accident. She is demanding that the State not to turn their backs on veterans, patients with disabilities, and victims of trauma and violent crime.
On November 8th, the Drug Policy is also re-launching an updated version of Healing a Broken System with current numbers and new material related to medical cannabis as a safe and effective treatment for veterans diagnosed with/suffering from symptoms of PTSD. This report examines the significant barriers that veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan face in obtaining effective treatment for mental health and substance abuse problems, and the tragic consequences of leaving these wounds of war untreated.
Emily Kaltenbach is New Mexico's State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance.