Project SAM Is Pushing The Lie That Cannabis Kills Vets

The study only proves that many military personnel use cannabis for self-treatment.
03/15/2017 01:17 pm ET Updated Mar 16, 2017

The public face of the anti-cannabis legalization movement is a group called Project SAM, or “smart approaches to marijuana”. They are led by non-medical doctor Kevin Sabet and argue for pharmaceutical cannabis-derived applications instead of grow-your-own botanical cannabis.

I recently read an article they have publicized in their newsletter, “Cannabis use disorder and suicide attempts in Iraq/Afghanistan-era veterans”. The article is concerning because it seems to show a fundamental misunderstanding of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or to blatantly misrepresent and distort the facts. It was hardly scientific and relied on just one study. However, the literature confirming the opposite is quite extensive and the experience in Israel and the US is robust. We should soon be generating our own first-class research on PTSD with war veterans from Dr. Sue Sisely.

The study notes that people who used cannabis had PTSD, social anxiety and sleeplessness. This was all true. Yet, the authors somehow suggest that this use of cannabis caused suicide—but that doesn’t match what the actual data shows. The most obvious explanation is that these conditions were associated with the elevated suicide rate and that cannabis was being used as a therapeutic substance. The only way you could reach that conclusion is to have a preconceived notion of what you were looking for.

The study only proves that many military personnel use cannabis for self-treatment, not that there was an adverse outcome. There is either not enough data or the right kind of data to reach any conclusions. In fact, a properly done study might have shown a higher suicide rate for those who were untreated. A comparison would need to be made of the consequence with treatment of military personnel with convention treatment or cannabis plus conventional treatment.

These suicides are more likely a result of living through the theater of war.

We have enough problems with President Trump and his alternative facts without reading the tea leaves wrong and concluding something not supported by the study you are citing. This so-called study doesn’t really qualify as research. It is an isolated factoid where meaning, at best, is vague and this juncture unknowable. The best one can say is that it supports doing work like Dr Sisley’s to truly conclude whether cannabis makes depression and PTSD worse, has no effect, or makes it better.

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