Health and Fitness

Patients, Physicians and Advocates Launch Campaign to Protect Patients with PTSD Access to Medical Cannabis

Continued access to medicine is being threatened by a request to withdraw PTSD as a qualifying condition for the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program 

Military veterans and other patients to petition the Governor and the Secretary of Health – Don’t Take Away Our Medicine. 

Santa Fe, NM–(ENEWSPF)–October 15, 2012.   Today, more than 3,000 New Mexican residents with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are actively enrolled in our state’s Medical Cannabis Program. Many 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. submitted a petition to the Department of Health requesting PTSD be removed from the list of eligible medical conditions for enrollment in the NM Medical Cannabis Program.  His petition will be heard by the program’s Medical Advisory Board at a public hearing, November 7th from 1 – 5 pm at the Harold Runnels Building, 1190 St. Francis Drive in Santa Fe.  The Secretary of Health will have the final decision.

“We deserve access to effective medical treatments whether we’ve just come home from combat or we are suffering debilitating symptoms from other trauma,” said Chris Hsu, NM Medical Cannabis Patient’s Alliance’s Vice President.

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.”

The Campaign is standing up to protect the legal rights of patients to access safe medicine. They are asking for all compassionate New Mexicans to join them in telling 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:

“Tell them not to turn their backs on veterans, patients with disabilities, and victims of trauma and violent crime,” said Nat Dean, another medical cannabis patient diagnosed with chronic pain and PTSD.  “We deserve access to the medicine that works for us. Don’t take away our medicine.”

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 our state’s medial cannabis program.

“The current pharmaceutical cocktails given to sufferers of PTSD have limited efficacy, have significant debilitating side-effects, and have in many cases proven deadly,” stated Lisa Walker, M.D. a board-certified psychiatrist. “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.”

“We will not allow the removal of PTSD as a qualifying condition for the medical cannabis program to happen quietly,” said Emily Kaltenbach, the NM State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Patients deserve, above all, the freedom to choose the safest and most effective treatment for their disabling conditions — whatever that treatment might be.”

On November 8th, DPA 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.


Santa Fe New Mexican Editorial – PTSD sufferers should keep access to medical cannabis, October 13, 2012

New Mexico’s decision to allow post-traumatic stress disorder as a condition that can be treated with medical marijuana is helping sufferers across the state cope with their symptoms. Some 3,300 patients are taking advantage of that access, using medical-grade cannabis to treat symptoms of this little-understood malady. Many are veterans of war, others are survivors of tragedies, including sexual assault. Anecdotally, they tell us that marijuana helps them deal with life. Reporter Deborah Busemeyer details their stories — and the debate over PTSD and medical cannabis — in today’s Santa Fe New Mexican, showing how desperate people turned to cannabis for help, many as a last measure.

That treatment could be taken away, though. Access to medical marijuana for PTSD is being questioned in New Mexico. To skeptics, there is not enough scientific evidence to prove that sufferers benefit from smoking or consuming pot. In November, the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Advisory Board will review a petition asking that PTSD be removed as a condition for which medical marijuana can be prescribed through the state’s Medical Cannabis Program. Psychiatrist Dr. William Ulwelling is petitioning the state because he believes there is a lack of evidence showing that medical marijuana helps PTSD. What’s more, he thinks that medical cannabis is a risk for sufferers of PTSD, leading to substance abuse problems and other injury. After the board considers his petition Nov. 7 — veterans are expected to turn out to testify in favor of keeping marijuana access — the interim deputy health secretary will make a final decision.

New Mexico is one of only three states allowing marijuana as a treatment for PTSD — Arizona and Colorado have rejected its use as treatment for the disorder, for example. It was added back in 2009, after then-Secretary of Health Dr. Alfredo Vigil decided patient testimony, as well as evidence that other medications weren’t working, gave him enough grounds to include PTSD. “It seemed reasonable,” he said. Nationwide, only 17 states allow medical marijuana at all.

Frankly, we like how California deals with the issue. Its state law doesn’t allow PTSD as a reason — but it doesn’t disallow it, either. Rather than tell doctors how and what to prescribe, California’s law says cannabis can be prescribed for “any other chronic or persistent medical symptom that either substantially limits a person’s ability to conduct one or more of major life activities as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, or if not alleviated, may cause serious harm to the person’s safety, physical, or mental health.” That way, the diagnosis is up to the physician, and a sick and hurting person doesn’t have to prove to a panel of bureaucrats that she needs her medicine. Removing bureaucrats from health care decisions, after all, is an oft-stated goal of politicians.

Eliminating PTSD, of course, won’t necessarily cut off patient access to the treatment they believe works best — many people will simply get cannabis for pain or another condition that is approved by the state. We believe, given the accounts of people who are using medical marijuana, that the state should err on the side of compassion. Doctors and patients, after all, are best able to judge what treatment works for ailments. Most health care providers who prescribe cannabis do so as a last resort, when other treatments fail. Dr. Ulwelling is correct — we need more science to support the treatment. Moving forward, the state also should encourage the federal government to allow more studies into how cannabis works in treating ailments. In the meantime, absent the proof of widespread harm, New Mexico’s program should continue — with patients and doctors using the treatment they believe works.

Santa Fe New Mexican, Cannabis catch-22: PTSD patients could be dropped from state’s medical program, Deborah Busemeyer, October 13, 2012