Alexis Bortell: Survivor & Medical Cannabis WarriorRead More
By DJ Reetz
It’s hard to scare Alexis Bortell. She’s faced a terrifying medical condition that had doctors baffled and resulted in seizures so severe and unstoppable that in one particularly grievous instance she dipped close to entering diabetic shock. She’s faced treatment options that ranged from medications with severe side effects to invasive brain surgery. She’s faced starting her life anew in Colorado simply because the treatment that she found most effective was illegal in her home state of Texas. She’s faced self-important yet ill-informed lawmakers who dismissed her success and questioned the morality of giving a child cannabis medicine. She’s faced so many daunting things, it’s almost hard to believe that she hasn’t yet faced being a teenager.
At the age of seven, Alexis had her first seizure. With no history of epilepsy in the family, her parents assumed the worst. “I was sure she had brain cancer,” says Dean Bortell, Alexis’ father. The family had recently moved into what Dean describes as his dream house on the edge of a lake in Texas, and the possible explanations for Alexis’ seizures were terrifying. After swimming in the lake nearly every day, the idea that Alexis had come under attack by one of the brain-eating amoebas that were the subject of an increasing number of local news reports loomed in Dean’s mind.
“Strangely, it was a relief. Of all the things it could have been — besides nothing — epilepsy was the best,” says Dean.
But the clear-cut diagnosis came without clear-cut solutions. Alexis’ doctors, despite their best intentions and information, could find nothing that would help in a meaningful way. “We went down this rabbit hole of drugs and we end up on a drug called Depakote,” says Dean. Depakote, while partially effective in stymieing Alexis’ frequent seizures, came with its own host of side effects, chiefly erratic and aggressive behavior. “It was bad, she would completely wig out with Depakote,” says Dean.
Doctors informed them that these outburst were taking the place of seizures, but they were troubling enough that Dean made sure to keep any knives out of reach for fear that Alexis would harm herself or her younger sister, Avery.
Alexis says she doesn’t remember a lot from this time in her life. While the drugs were minimally successful in treating her epilepsy, they did little to restore her childhood. At the same time that the Bortells faced the seemingly hopeless prospects of treating Alexis’ condition, elsewhere cannabis medicine was making serious headway in mainstream culture. CNN’s special report, titled simply “Weed,” had raised national awareness of the potential treatment that cannabis offered for patients suffering from epilepsy, and it was the follow up “Weed 2” that opened Dean’s eyes.
Dean, a Navy veteran with conservative leanings, hadn’t considered the possibility. His squadron spent a small portion of their time in the Navy trying to impede drug smugglers, and he was working as a software engineer for a company contracted to work in the health care industry, neither of which lent itself to the idea of cannabis as medicine, especially for his young daughter. But after his wife Liza showed him a recording of “Weed 2,” Dean began to reexamine his position
“I went to bed that first night thinking, ‘What if they’re telling the truth?’” says Dean. “Everything I’ve been led to believe, both in the health care industry and out, is maybe not a lie, but certainly not complete.”
The documentary tells the story of the Wilson family, who emigrated to Colorado from New Jersey to find medicine for their sick daughter. It was a revelation for Dean. “I wasn’t against it, I was just wrong about it,” he says. “I didn’t necessarily have anything against it, I just never thought I’d give it to my child. Never.”
In a turn of serendipity, Dean had recently begun working for a company with operations in Denver, though he continued to work remotely from the family’s home in Texas. He decided that he would rent an apartment in the Denver area, which would allow for the residency requirements that Alexis would need to get her medical marijuana referral, a contingency that the family could fall back if things continued going poorly in Texas.
The Bortells were soon awash in the world of medicinal cannabis, something they knew almost nothing about at the time.
“We thought we could just pay cash, get her seen by the best doctors and know what she needed to take, when she needed to take it — that level of granularity,” says Dean. Only having familiarity with the CNN series, Dean sought out the one variety of medicine he knew of: Charlotte’s Web. However, they soon found that the strain was not widely available, and they were forced to examine other options.
Throughout all this, Dean is clear that at no point did the family bring cannabis medicine out of Colorado. “We could have went and gotten marijuana for [Alexis} and took it back to Texas. But we didn’t, because if we had it would have been a scandal,” he says. Still, the fact that Alexis had a Colorado red card made the family a target in Texas, says Dean.
Alexis, not yet 10 years old, found herself at the center of an issue that she didn’t ask for, but that she would shoulder nonetheless. The family had carved out an otherwise ideal life in Texas, which included a beautiful home, friends and a place in their church, but found that because of the avenue they were pursuing to treat Alexis they were no longer welcome. “People would say, ‘Why don’t you just move?’ What if people had said the same thing about women voting?” Dean asks. “A lot of my hyper conservative — not friends anymore, obviously — they would make the argument for private property rights then tell you to move in the very next breath.”
Thrust into the fight for medical cannabis, Alexis and her family soon found that those elected to represent the citizens of Texas were often uncaring to the plight of those same citizens. Alexis points to then Texas State Rep. Scott Turner as a particularly egregious example, who claimed he had serious moral and ethical concerns about cannabis medicine.
“Medical cannabis is a plant, but it’s [also] a community that does amazing things, and I’m not sure why he would basically call a community … immoral,”
“Medical cannabis is a plant, but it’s [also] a community that does amazing things, and I’m not sure why he would basically call a community … immoral,” says Alexis. When it is suggested that perhaps this is because Rep. Turner is a douche bag, she giggles and sheepishly replies, “That’s what I wanted to say.”
Then, in February of 2015, the dynamic changed. A particularly bad episode brought Alexis to the hospital, where doctors found themselves powerless to stop her from seizing. The incident was so sever that her blood glucose levels dropped low enough that she was in danger of entering diabetic shock, says Dean. After a terrifying night in the ER, Alexis was presented with two options by the neurologist: brain surgery or Felbatol, a drug with potentially deadly side effects that include blood poisoning.
Facing these options, the family consulted Alexis’ pediatrician, who had been her primary physician since before her diagnosis. While Dean is adamant that Alexis’ pediatrician did not explicitly recommend that she pursue cannabis medicine, their visit solidified the way forward in his mind. “After that conversation, the take away was 100 percent clear that I had a fundamental choice,” he says. “I could either go with a drug, Felbatol, that had a statistical enough chance of killing my daughter [that] I had to sign waivers for a black box warning for her to even pick it up, versus marijuana, which had never killed anybody. The worst that could happen is we’re right back to where we stared.”
Two weeks later, the entire family had moved to the apartment outside of Denver.
Now, Alexis continues her fight to expand access to medical cannabis, though she is doing so from the slightly friendlier climate of Colorado. Now 11 years old, she has been seizure free for two years, and she’s looking to expand the discussion and advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves. “I want to fight for the patients. I’m trying to help the people that can’t speak,” says Alexis. She’s not alone in her medicine either. Last year, Dean also began using medical cannabis to treat a traumatic brain injury he sustained while serving in the Navy years ago.
“Who from my family should die,” she asked, “me or my dad?”
That passion recently brought her to a meeting of the Colorado House of Representative’s Finance Committee, where House Bill 1220 was under discussion. The bill would create a state-wide limit on the number of marijuana plants allowed in private residences, and the hearing drew an unruly crowd of cannabis patients and advocates. Testifying before the committee after listening to more than three hours of testimony supporting the bill, Alexis explained that she her father required different strains, and that the proposed limit would not allow them both to grow the medicine they needed at home. After hours of loyal drug warriors decrying the current limits, 11-year-old Alexis took the microphone, addressing the incredulous committee. “Who from my family should die,” she asked, “me or my dad?”
The committee’s de facto reply: it would have to be one of them. The measure easily passed the committee and later the House.
Alexis’ assessment of this tone-deaf solution to the black market by lawmakers is simple and straight to the point. “Criminals don’t care what the law is,” she says.
Now, on the 35-acre farm the family lives on outside of Larkspur, that bravado and confidence isn’t as apparent. Instead, Alexis seems like a typically shy 11-year-old girls. She loves drawing and working on the farm, where the family has set aside eight acres for her and Avery to source organic produce that will go to individuals in need as part of their charity, Patches of Hope, an idea that is also tied to cannabis patients. “Some patients, they don’t have a lot of money, so they have to choose between food and medicine. I want to help out and just make food for them,” says Alexis. “They can home grow [cannabis], and a lot of people are already doing that.”
Not content with simply educating ignorant lawmakers, she’s even co-authored a book. Titled “Let’s Talk About Medical Cannabis,” it’s a project she’s been working on in some form for nearly the entirety of her time as a medical cannabis patient, having written what she describes as nearly an entire book prior to this one. “I was going to write it a lot about me, but as I kept writing it a lot of other names started to pop in,” says Alexis.
“Cannabis isn’t a bad, dangerous drug; it’s a plant that in my case saved my life,” she says. “Taking cannabis is better for my health than dying.”
“Let’s Talk About Medical Cannabis” weaves Alexis’ own narrative with the politics of advocacy, home growing advice, and much more. It’s all been reviewed by experts in the field of law, politics and cultivation, says Dean. She even manages to get in a few digs at the politicians that turned their back on her, including Rep. Turner.
The book will be unveiled at the Southwest Cannabis Conference taking place April 22-23 in Fort Worth, Texas, where she will also be a keynote speaker, kicking off a country-wide book tour. The choice to begin the tour in Texas was Alexis’ choice, a tribute to activists Vincent Lopez, who stood with her at many of the events that made up her early days of advocacy in the state before his passing in 2015. The book is dedicated to Lopez’s memory, and Alexis hopes to give the first copy to his mother.
While traveling cross country, Dean’s respect for the law won’t allow the family to bring any cannabis medicine, however. Instead, Alexis will be medicating before short jaunts on a plane, bringing only her doctor-prescribed Marinol with her.
Despite this perhaps slightly precarious arrangement, Alexis remains dedicated to the cause of spreading awareness for the benefits of cannabis. For this incredible girl, dispelling the myths about cannabis looks to be a calling that will remain with her for the rest of her life. “Cannabis isn’t a bad, dangerous drug; it’s a plant that in my case saved my life,” she says. “Taking cannabis is better for my health than dying.”
The possibility of returning to Texas full time should the laws there change is fading from Dean’s mind, though they still own property where they’d like to spend time if the laws were to change. In the mean time, the home they’ve found in Colorado seems an increasingly good fit, and Dean says the state has earned his loyalty. As for Alexis, her involvement in politics at such a young age is certainly setting her up for future civic contributions. Dean’s pride in his daughter is clear when he says, “If she ever runs for office, I hope it’s in Colorado.”
From the Battlefield to the CourtroomRead More
by DJ Reetz
A small crowd gathers in a building in the heart of Denver’s historic Santa Fe art district, filling the room and occupying the rows of chairs in front of a podium bearing the seal of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. By all accounts the room resembles an art gallery more than a VFW post, lined with works of art ranging from picturesque landscapes to blurred images of Heath Ledger as the Joker produced on strands of filament, all created by the veterans that frequent the space. It’s a far cry from the traditional image that a VFW post conjures; a smoky bar room dotted with grizzled vets numbing themselves with alcohol as they slowly kill themselves by smoking tobacco. This place, Denver’s VFW Post 1, is designed with a more conscious goal in mind, providing vets with a place of healing rather than just a place to commiserate and slip slowly into oblivion.
The crowd of activists, veterans, and their loved ones has gathered for just this reason. Behind the podium, veteran activist and activist veteran Matt Kahl describes his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and the relief he found from cannabis in the hope that the veterans in attendance will leave armed with the knowledge to help themselves.
Kahl, a slender man with a presence that resembles that of an academic more than a soldier who served two combat tours in Afghanistan, walks the crowd through his struggles, medications, and breaks down the beneficial properties known to be associated with different cannabinoids. He describes his first suicide attempt, the result of the guilt he felt for surviving his first tour when so many others did not. “Losing so many good soldiers, people that were younger and, in my mind, better people than me, better men, watching them die, and I come back alive, it just didn’t seem right,” he says, the weight of this thought still burdening his voice. Nine months after his first tour, this guilt pushed Kahl to attempt suicide via drug overdose. He would awaken on Christmas day in a hospital bed after being comatose for a short period, overcome by the feeling that something had gone terribly wrong, his wife and young son at his side.
“I lied to my command, I lied to my friends, I lied to my family, I lied to everybody and I told them it was a complete accident, it was an accidental overdose on prescription medications; it wasn’t intentional at all. Never mind the fact that I took every last prescription medication in the house and all the over-the-counter medications too,” says Kahl.
He had been prescribed several medications to treat the symptoms of undiagnosed traumatic brain injuries, the result of being in close proximity to multiple IED and rocket attacks. Although the symptoms of PTSD had clearly already taken hold, at the time it wasn’t something that Kahl could admit to himself, much less his superiors. “I wasn’t able to accept the label of PTSD, because it’s a career killer,” he says.
Kahl was 29 when he enlisted, several years older than most of the fresh recruits who signed on in their late teens or early 20s. “I was an old fart compared to a lot of the young guys coming into the infantry. It’s called ‘infant’ry for a reason, because only the young can do it. I was considerably older than a lot of these guys, more mature,” he says. Though he’s hesitant to say it explicitly, his age placed him in the role of an adviser and mentor to the younger soldiers, and the idea of leaving green recruits to fend for themselves in combat that they, while trained for, were certainly not prepared for, drove him to his second tour. ”I pulled it together, for my men,” he says.
Kahl was deployed to a position leading a team as part of a Quick Reaction Force, a unit tasked with responding to developing threats. “Every time QRF’s called out we know we’re walking into a bad situation. You have to be prepared,” he says. Kahl’s last day in combat came when his QRF responded to a distress call. Two soldiers had been hit, and the medic attempting to tend to them, a 19-year-old who had recently had a child of his own, had taken a bullet to the head, killing him. The QRF had rolled out in a hurry, neglecting some of the standard safety practices, such as attaching the safety strap to the Humvee designed to keep Kahl from being thrown out of the gunner position he occupied. What happened next Kahl cannot recall clearly, only that the Humvee he was riding in went from a high rate of travel to an abrupt stop in a drainage ditch. “I had no idea what happened, I was knocked out,” he says. The after-action report on the incident would claim the crash was the result of an IED, but Kahl had no recollection of such. The impact slammed his face into the steel blast shield of the gun turret and threw him from the vehicle, and he
found himself in need of a medevac.
“Due to the medications and my mental state, I was either screaming at the top of my lungs or nodding off in the middle of my sentences. There wasn’t a whole lot of middle ground where I was functional.”
The leader of the accompanying QRF team was also hit during the operation, a bullet severing his femoral artery. The two were medevaced to the same military hospital in Germany, where he watched as doctors struggled in vain to save the young man’s life. “I saw him come in. and I got to see him one last time before they pulled the plug,” says Kahl. “His parents were flying in that day expecting to see their son alive in the hospital bed, and they got there and he was dead.”
As Kahl recounts this tragic and harrowing end to his combat service to the gallery full of attendees, cracks start to appear in his factual and concise demeanor, and his voice waivers ever so slightly. The lives of the men lost on this mission, and those lost since, still haunt him. Kahl’s injuries earned him a place in the Wounded Warrior Battalion, where doctors diagnosed him with a traumatic brain injury and declared him unfit for duty. “I got into Wounded Warrior and I immediately wanted to go back to Afghanistan — I didn’t want to leave Afghanistan in the first place. When they tried to send me home I told them to fuck off,” he says.
When he left, he still wasn’t diagnosed with PTSD, but looking back, Kahl is now in the position to recognize that the issue had been lingering for months, if not years. “I had actually seen post traumatic stress symptoms long before I deployed for the second time,” he says. It would be two years before the symptoms of the disease would make life unbearable for Kahl and those around him, and the diagnosis would become official. It’s a problem faced by many veterans, the simmering symptoms often go ignored, a matter of pride for some and ignorance for others.
Kahl was unable to escape the constant state of alert that had helped to keep him alive in Afghanistan. “If you adopt that mind state and you can’t get out of it, that’s post-traumatic stress. You’re looking for the threat from your environment non-stop. When I got back I didn’t remember people, I only remembered their eyes and their hands,” he says, a strategy he had learned from reading the intentions of those that might do him harm while in combat. The hyper-awareness that had been a necessity when surrounded by the threat of death was an incredible detriment to civilian life, and he found his symptoms triggered by crowds and tight spaces, which stirred in him memories of IED attacks.
When the diagnosis of PTSD came, it came with a slew of medication prescribed by VA doctors. “I was on a staggering amount of medication. I was taking whole heaping handfuls three to four times a day; it was crazy,” he says. The course of treatment was experimental, often seeming to border on a chemical lobotomy, and while it at times calmed Kahl, it did little to return him to something resembling a normal civilian life.
“I tried everything, and I tried almost every medication on the books, 99 percent of which are prescribed off-label. Not a damn one of them is actually prescribed for the use against PTSD,” says Kahl. Of the medications he was prescribed, only two were actually manufactured for treatment of PTSD, the rest just an approximation of what might potentially help with symptoms. As Kahl’s presentation reaches this description, a slide flashes on screen listing all of the medication he had been prescribed at one point or another. The list is too large to fit on a single slide, and even runs over the border of the projection screen.
“Due to the medications and my mental state, I was either screaming at the top of my lungs or nodding off in the middle of my sentences. There wasn’t a whole lot of middle ground where I was functional,” says Kahl, a reality that drove away nearly all of his friends, further isolating him from the world.
When one of his few remaining friends suggested he try cannabis, Kahl was skeptical. He had had plenty of experience with the plant prior to his military service, but was apprehensive about the idea of adding yet another substance to the mix. His friend’s offer came with the assurance that if it didn’t work, he would always have the option of not continuing, a choice not given so freely as part of the VA treatment plan.
“In five minutes I knew,” says Kahl. The results were apparent almost immediately to Kahl’s wife, who he says could visibly see the release of the tension that had coiled tightly around his being. “It took me outside of my own pain and my own misery, my fear of the outside world, and the danger that it might hold.”
“I said to my wife, ‘We’ve got to go some place where I’m not going to be a criminal for doing this.’” Six months later Kahl had found a home in Colorado.
Eventually, the laundry list of medications dwindled and disappeared, replaced solely by the medicine that Kahl now grows for himself. The therapy began with high-CBD oil derived from hemp that he had grown from wild seeds, but it grew to encompass a range of cannabinoids that Kahl found more effective than CBD alone.
“Cannabis is not a magic bullet; it’s a synergistic shotgun,” says Kahl. “I didn’t get to where I am today just with cannabis. Part of it is community.”
Another Battle to Fight
As Kahl concludes his presentation, he dedicates his words and actions to the soldiers that didn’t survive that fateful day on which he was medevaced. As the images of these bright-eyed young men in sharply manicured military formal wear appear on the screen behind him, Kahl reads out their names, and once again the fractures in his well-polished disposition begin to show. It becomes apparent that despite all of the emotional progress he has made and all of the personal demons he has slain, the guilt and the sense that he abandoned his brothers in arms remains. It is also easy to assess that this emotion still drives him, and that he is unwilling to let any of his fellow soldiers perish needlessly.
Kahl is no stranger to telling his story. He’s recounted it often, to anyone who is willing to listen, and in July of this year he found an audience unwilling to extend the same empathy shown by those in attendance at the VFW: the Colorado Board of Health.
It was part of an attempt by cannabis advocates to get PTSD included in the list of qualifying conditions in the state medical marijuana registry, the third such attempt, and the third time the board had decided against it. The decision was especially troubling as this time the proposal had the support of the state’s chief medical officer and head of the Colorado Department of Health and Environment Dr. Larry Wolk, who in 2014 testified against a bill in the state House of Representatives that would have accomplished this same goal.
As has been the case in past attempts, the July decision followed extensive testimony from activists and PTSD survivors like Kahl, with health officials ultimately deciding to side with a small minority of medical professionals who cited a lack of clinical data on the efficacy of cannabis and the questionable links to mental instability.
The decision was yet another blow for those suffering from the debilitating condition, but not wholly unexpected given past attempts to add PTSD to the list of treatable conditions, which included the aforementioned bill from 2014 that died in committee.
Having exhausted the avenues of both petitioning the board directly and legislative action, Kahl and those like him were left with only one viable alternative: judicial action. On August 19, attorneys representing Kahl along with three other veterans as well as advocate Larissa Bolivar, filed a lawsuit in Colorado district court intended to force the CDPHE and the Board of Health to add PTSD to the registry.
“We’ve been failed by both branches [of government]. Our last option is the judiciary. This is a last resort, we don’t have any other options,” says Kahl.
The lawsuit names both the CDPHE and the Board of Health as defendants, alleging that the decision to deny PTSD as a treatable condition was “arbitrary and capricious” and that it has harmed those suffering from the condition by hampering their access to the most effective strains and preventing physicians from exploring every potential treatment option. When Kahl speaks about the motivation behind the lawsuit, his anger is palpable. “This is more than just a tragedy, this is an atrocity. They are willingly committing these people to death. And they are doing it because they simply don’t give a shit.”
Kahl says he feels the CDPHE has cherry-picked their data, ignoring preliminary data and anecdotal stories, such as his own, that seem to show the miraculous effect that cannabis can have on PTSD.
Currently, Arizona, Delaware, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, New York and Oregon all recognize PTSD as a condition treatable through state medical marijuana programs, and if Colorado were to allow it, the state would certainly not be setting a precedent in doing so. “We wouldn’t be special by allowing this,” says Kahl. “It’s not acceptable to prevent this kind of medicine from being provided to people who are dying everyday.”
“There’s not one thing that’s going to help every veteran,” says Curt Bean, one of the veterans serving as a plaintiff in the suit. Bean has been instrumental in turning VFW Post 1 into the unique place that it is, offering monthly art classes open to vets through his Art of War program. Art therapy has been an integral part of Bean’s own healing process, after two combat tours in Iraq left him with PTSD so severe that he was forced to abandon his hopes for a career in the Denver Fire Department and enter into an in-patient treatment program through the VA. “It was terrifying. I consider myself a very strong, independent person. Reaching out for help was not something that comes easy for me,” says Bean. Cannabis was part of his recovery process, and along with meditation, animal and art therapies have helped him to escape the memories that haunted him after his return home. It’s this story of healing that Bean adds to the lawsuit. Though Bean has not been advocating for cannabis as long as Kahl, his story sheds some light on the benefit cannabis can have in overcoming the nearly unfathomable horrors that are routine for young men in combat.
“No one’s equipped to take lives,” says Bean. “No one’s equipped to see lives taken, and no one’s equipped to pick up body parts, and no one’s equipped to see your friends pass away, and no one’s equipped to deal with the real tough realities of war; no one is, especially at 18, 19, 20 years old.”
It can seem as though the issues being raised by the lawsuit are aimed at veterans, but it is an issue that has an even greater potential to affect women. “The vast majority of people who are suffering from PTSD are not veterans,” says Kahl. “We are the public face of PTSD today, but really the hidden repository of PTSD in our society is women.”
While veterans are diagnosed with PTSD at a much higher rate than the civilian population — the VA estimates 20 percent of those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will experience PTSD — domestically, 10 percent of women suffer from it, double the rate of men. This is often attributed to the higher likelihood that women will be victims of sexual and domestic assault and childhood abuse. Representing this demographic in the lawsuit is Larissa Bolivar, a cannabis activist who has been fighting to get the state to include PTSD on the registry since 2006.
“Cannabis has been literally a life saver,” says Bolivar. Herself a victim of childhood abuse, Bolivar has been living with PTSD for most of her life, and she has experienced similar relief from cannabis. ”Women are the silent majority,” she says. “Veterans bringing the issue to the forefront is awesome because they are this image of strength. The military, for a long time, was ignoring PTSD because they thought it was a sign of weakness. It’s not a sign of weakness; it’s just how the brain works. And so for the military and for veterans to be coming forward, it helps remove the stigma, it helps normalize it.”
Fighting on behalf of the women and children who develop PTSD as the result of violence and abuse is something that these veterans are more than willing to do. After all, the heroic ideal of standing up for those who can’t do so for themselves is often a motivating factor for those who enlist. “We’re used to picking up the flag and carrying it home,” says Kahl. “This is our flag and we will carry it.”
As of this writing, the lawsuit was awaiting action from the state Attorney General and had not yet made its way to the district court docket. The case will likely not see a resolution for months if not years, leaving those in Colorado suffering from PTSD in the precarious situation of continuing treatment largely off-label, and forcing those in need to buy their medicine in the more highly taxed recreational market, as has often been the suggestion of the Board of Health in the past.
In the mean time, Kahl and his group of plaintiffs will continue fighting. The battle may not carry the same dangers as war, but for Kahl and those like him, it is very much a matter of life and death. Although the war abroad has ended for this group, the battle at home continues, and once again it is the soldiers who are on the frontlines, fighting for those who may not be able to do so for themselves.
July 2015 - A Letter to Our ReadersRead More
"Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world...would do this, it would change the earth."
― William Faulkner
It strikes me as ironic that during the month we celebrate our nation’s independence we have two articles essentially focusing on the illusion of our rights. On top of that we just had a landmark decision by the Colorado Supreme Court that chose the rights of a corporation over a medical cannabis patient.
In our Pot-litically Incorrect op-ed this month DJ Reetz colorfully points out how we are number one in incarceration rates in the world. In our piece on the POTUS raids it is apparent that the promise made by Amendment 64 of treating cannabis like alcohol has missed the mark by a long shot. And then we have the Coats v. Dish Network decision that was handed down on June 15th.
For those of you not familiar, Brandon Coats is a quadriplegic who had been working for Dish Network until he tested positive for THC in a random drug test in 2010. Coats has been a legal medical cannabis patient since 2009. The argument his lawyers used in the lawsuit was that under Colorado state law, it is considered discriminatory "for an employer to terminate the employment of any employee due to that employee’s engaging in any lawful activity off the premises of the employer during nonworking hours."
Coats claimed he never consumed cannabis during working hours and there was no information that contradicted his claim. What is disturbing about the ruling is that the Colorado Supreme Court chose to focus on the federal law as opposed to the laws of Colorado in regards to medical cannabis usage. Furthermore this ruling points out the fact that while we may celebrate certain freedoms in the U.S. we still have to contend with rules that are placed on us by our employers.
Coats worked as a customer service representative on the phones for Dish. He wasn’t operating heavy machinery, just the wheelchair in which he is confined and a telephone. If it is considered essential that in his position at Dish he not be allowed to consume the medicine that provides relief from his muscle spasms, then shouldn’t the executives from Dish Network be subjected to random drug screenings as well? One could argue that they are the most essential employees of Dish Network and therefore it is imperative that they are held up to just as high a standard as their customer service reps.
In this day and age it is hard for the average citizen to feel that he has much power in the legislative process. While I still believe that we must always show up at the voting booths to make our opinions known, our leaders constantly put the needs of corporations over the needs of the people. So where can one show his or her disdain for injustices such as this? Being that we are a consumer society it is through our spending that we can make an impact.
So here is what I propose; if you are a Dish Network customer, call up the customer service rep (unfortunately it won’t be Brandon Coats answering the phone) and ask to speak with their manager. Then tell them that you want to cancel their service. When they ask you why, tell them that you cannot support a company that will fire their employees for what they choose to do in their free time. Refer to the fact that you don’t want the money you give them to go to lawyers to defend a case that takes away rights we have fought for in this state. I almost wish I were a customer of Dish just so I could do this myself.
The High and the MightyRead More
by Loring Green
I seriously doubt there are any kids out there that when asked what they wanted to be when they grow up said, "I want to be a volunteer activist." Although I had some good examples in my family, it wasn’t high on my list. I wanted to be a hero, a cowboy or a policeman, at least until I was old enough to appreciate what a tough job being a cop is, especially a good, disciplined one. Take for instance, the Federal Air Marshals I spoke to last October in Los Angeles. These guys call themselves FAMS and fly on our commercial passenger flights all over the world to protect us from possible future 9/11 events, and so far so good.
FAMS are recruited from other law enforcement agencies such as the ATF, FBI, DEA and the military. They must be dead-on, expert marksmen with a handgun to make the cut. Every day, in every city in the U.S. and abroad, these guys come to work with their bags packed knowing that they may have to take a life or lose theirs to save a plane full of passengers from becoming a captive weapon against the homeland. This is a tough, silent, anonymous, breed of law enforcement that train intensely, then sit stoically and focused so the rest of us can sleep safely while flying to visit mom and dad for the holidays.
All of that training, however, could not have prepared these heroes for what they would encounter on that fated October morning on the far side of the Los Angeles airport. Little did they know that they would be held hostage by the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), a rather obscure organization by and for Federal Employees that promotes philanthropy for various charities, such as Wounded Warriors, Pets for Vets and my own cause, the Multi-disciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). Indeed, they were my captives that morning, and my "mission impossible" was to reeducate them about using Schedule 1 drugs for healing before asking them for their money. What’s so hard about that?
As usual, I arrived just in the nick of time to encounter my first victim, Jason, a Supervisory Federal Air Marshal at the Los Angeles Field Office. The snarling beast I anticipated was actually quite amiable, handsome, and impeccably dressed. With his standard issue ID badge hanging loosely around his neck, Jason ushered in a weary-eyed group of spokespeople up an elevator and down a long gray hallway lined with photos and plaques honoring the FAMS for their marksmanship and other feats of endurance. Eventually we were led into a large, fluorescent-lit room full of toned, able-bodied men, casually chatting and slurping up coffee.
Half a dozen charities were being represented that morning. Instead of my usual rant about the virtues of cannabis, I was there to speak on behalf of M.A.P.S. and their "infamously" successful MDMA trials for treating PTSD around the world. For those of you who don’t know, MDMA is similar to but (if pure) vastly different than the outlawed street drug "ecstasy," a Schedule 1 drug wrongfully condemned by policy makers and the DEA. Since FAMS are recruited from law enforcement, including the DEA, they know what MDMA is, or at least they think they know. I could have flipped over the proverbial apple cart with a clash of information and cultures, detailing that MDMA increases both serotonin, associated with happiness, and oxytocin, otherwise known as the "love hormone," but I kept reminding myself that I was there to build bridges not walls.
I didn’t know much about FAMS prior to that day. All I knew was that I would be addressing a room full of cops who may or may not appreciate this new information, and having been forcefully arrested out of my own home (naked no less) for two joints while on a powerful psychedelic at twenty years old, my own PTSD was lurking in the background.
Already edgy, I really didn’t need that second cup of French roast that was now coursing through my veins. What I needed was a hit off of a joint, a nice sativa hybrid to keep me calm and alert.
So what was I doing there, am I masochistic with a death wish? No, not quite, but from a healing standpoint, if there’s no pain, there’s no gain. You know how it goes. Maybe what I really needed was to just "be here now" and appreciate how the tables have turned from my front row seat.
Luckily, the event kicked off with one of the other charities, Pets for Vets. Their speaker brought a small, friendly, black and white pooch with floppy ears that warmed up these early morning warriors with a wagging tail, a wet tongue, and a warm belly. The stage was now set for the headliner.
Suddenly, it was my turn to speak the unspeakable. As I approached the podium, I boldly greeted the crowd with a loud "heads- up!" and tossed a half dozen small blue rubber "stress" balls into the now smiling mob. Their quick reflexes were evident as barely a ball hit the ground. I calmly setup my cracked iPad and began to tell them about a young Iraqi war veteran named Tony Macie.
Tony is a Sergeant in the U.S. Army who served a 15-month tour in Iraq in 2006 and 2007.
Upon his return he was diagnosed with PTSD, and was heavily self-medicating. Deemed "treatment resistant" after trying different therapies to no avail, Tony got his lucky break when he qualified for an alternative treatment using MDMA in conjunction with psychotherapy. Such trials have been approved by federal authorities to determine whether MDMA could help patients with PTSD. Tony’s trials worked so well that he stopped taking all other medications and began to lead a life no longer affected by PTSD. Now Tony is healed and sharing his story at other CFC meetings around the nation.
As I relayed Tony’s story, I scanned the crowd and noticed some eyes pop and jaws drop. I was greatly relieved when I reached the part of my speech that revealed that our trials are FDA approved, so there would be no need to put me on a watch list, I pleaded. There were a few chuckles which helped relax me and melt the tension in the room.
But the humor was short lived, as the subject is a deadly serious one. With 22 veterans a day committing suicide this is no laughing matter. And using psychedelics to treat them was a new twist that they weren’t expecting to hear so early in the day from this very guarded erudite activist from the Multi-Disciplinary Association of what? Psychedelic Studies! Yes, I said it out loud. Now there was blood in the water.
Some of these cops have probably arrested dozens of folks like me for possession of psychedelics and now I’m telling this heavily indoctrinated room full of cops that this substance can actuality heal and has little to no downside or risk when used appropriately. Then came the pitch: Please donate to M.A.P.S. so that we may continue these trials. The irony was not lost on me, and at that point all I wanted to do was cuddle up with that puppy.
Fortunately I was armed with good, hard, relevant, peer-reviewed, scientific data confirming that in over 900 documented cases of the use of MDMA there has only been one drug related "serious adverse event" from which the patient fully recovered. I enunciated every word like it was my last hope of getting out of the room alive. But my urgency to retreat to my car and find my own personal happy place was trumped by the urgency of this cause.
Currently $1.5 million is spent over a single veteran’s life to ineffectively treat PTSD. M.A.P.S. hopes to push MDMA into a prescription medicine by 2021 but sooner is so much better. With today’s death rate of 22 suicides a day on average, the number jumps to over 48,000 suicides—that’s 48,000 veterans who might be saved by a more effective and cheaper solution!
I suppose a good activist can expect a few nasty glares if he or she is doing their job right. But what I wasn’t expecting was the enthusiastic applause my speech received. I was deeply touched. Clearly either I had made an impression or there were already many believers in the audience. Either way, the morning left me with hope that I may live to see the end of America’s war on drugs. Hopefully none of these guys will ever endure PTSD, but in this world, what are the chances? And as for my PTSD, it was a good start, but I still need one of those puppies.
March 2015 - A LETTER TO OUR READERSRead More
"Discrimination is a disease." - Roger Staubach
It’s March and that means that tax season is upon us. Which is of course why we wanted to feature our article on the unfair taxation of the cannabis industry on our cover. The treatment of our industry by the IRS and the banking industry are glaringly obvious examples of the institutionalized discrimination of the cannabis industry. But there are so many more subtle and not-so-subtle examples of cannabis discrimination that cannabis businesses and consumers have to contend with.
I have a very good friend (let’s call him John) who is a cannabis business owner in Colorado. While he asked to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, he gave me the okay to tell his story.
A few months ago John and his wife (we’ll call her Jane) had a baby. While Jane was in labor at the hospital she was asked what John considered a very odd question. "Have you consumed marijuana in the last two years?" the nurse asked. John, thrown off by the question, replied for Jane. "Two years? Why are you asking that? It is legal now. Besides shouldn’t you be asking about the last nine months instead?" The nurse explained that it was a question that she was required to ask. By the way, I asked around and only a couple of the people I spoke with who recently had babies were asked this exact question.
While taken aback by the question John answered for Jane, as she was a little too busy with contractions to deal with this crap. He answered yes to the two years but no to the last nine months, as she had remained cannabis free during her pregnancy.
Flash forward to after the birth of their boy Junior. While Jane was holding their three-hour-old baby, a nurse informed them that since they answered yes to cannabis consumption in the last two years they had to save every diaper with meconium (newborn stool) in it for drug testing while they were in the hospital. They also had to inform every nurse that came in of this requirement. This made for an embarrassing situation. John related, "It was like we were already being labeled as potentially bad parents because we were truthful about consuming a legal substance before Jane was pregnant." They left the hospital without incident and went home to enjoy being a new family in privacy.
Over a week later Jane called John at work freaking out. Child Protective Services had called and stated that Junior had tested positive for THC and they wanted to set up a home visit. John was in disbelief. How could something like that happen? He told Jane to set the appointment for the next day and have them bring the test results. When she did, the person on the phone seemed thrown off by the request. Why? That would have been my request in the same situation. "If CPS is coming to my house because of what they said was in a test, it seemed natural to want to see it," John told me.
When the woman from CPS came to the house John asked to see the results. She told him that they were unable to get them over to her. Hmmm. That seemed very suspect to John. She also informed them that Jane did not test positive for THC. Umm . . . what? How is that even possible? Did Junior have his own little grow going inside the womb? After the required question/answer period was over and she reassured John and Jane that it was obvious to her that they were very loving parents, John asked her the question that was nagging him through the whole process. "Is it possible that you are here because of what I do for a living?" Incredibly she said, "Yes."
With all of the progress we have made in the last few years we still have so much more to do.
Peace, Love and Hempiness!
Coats vs. Dish NetworkRead More
by DJ Reetz
On September 30, oral arguments in the Coats vs Dish Network case were held in the Colorado Supreme Court. The case stems from the 2010 firing of Brandon Coats after he tested positive for THC. Coats, who was paralyzed in a car accident when he was a teenager, was a licensed medical marijuana patient at the time of his firing from a Dish Network call center. Thus far, Coats’ lawsuit has been struck down in district court, a decision that was upheld in the Colorado Court of Appeals.
The case carries special importance to all gainfully employed marijuana users, as it will likely determine if employers have the legal right to fire users for lawful, off-duty consumption.
The crux of Coats’ claim centers on Colorado Lawful Activities Statute, which prohibits employers from firing employees for engaging in legal activities while not at work. The statute is aimed at protecting employees’ right to free speech – so that employees can’t be fired for engaging in political activities that employers disagree with – but it also applies to personal and lifestyle decisions.
In the oral arguments, Coats’ attorney and Dish’s legal team were given 30 minutes each to make their case. The Justices at this stage had already received the legal briefs from both sides, so it is important to note that oral arguments serve more as an opportunity for the justices to clarify the arguments than to establish an opinion.
Mike Evans, Coats’ attorney, argued his case first with the wheel-chair bound coats in the audience behind him. Despite the amendment to Colorado’s constitution allowing for medical marijuana, Evans did not contend that medical marijuana was a constitutional right, but that this was not necessary for it to be considered lawful activity. Evans also contended that Coats’ position was not hazardous, or an executive position that would require decision making, but, perhaps most importantly, Coats never reported for work while under the influence of marijuana. Evans further claimed that Dish knew of Coats’ status as a medical marijuana patient when he was hired, making their claims of a "zero-tolerance workplace" invalid.
Evans asked that the justices keep the federal standard of legality out the equation. "Federal law cannot define state law, especially unique state law," he said. In the case of the state statute, defining lawful activity should remain within state interpretation, he argued.
"We must always remember that state sovereignty is a fundamental part of this country, and that Colorado has chosen to exercise its healthcare, welfare and police powers by creating these laws," said Evans.
Still, Evans conceded that a decision in this case should be narrow, not encompassing hazardous occupations, companies that hold federal contracts, or the now lawful use of marijuana not explicitly deemed medical.
"I’m asking that the court start out with baby steps," says Evans, reflecting later on the proceedings. "I don’t want them to eat the whole enchilada."
Attorneys for Dish Network then had a half hour to articulate their case for the firing of Coats. Central to their argument was the disputed zero-tolerance drug policy, as well as the dispute that marijuana usage cannot be considered lawful due to its federal status as a schedule 1 controlled substance. Dish’s attorneys also argued that Coats reported to work while under the effects of marijuana based solely on the fact that he benefited from its use while employed, a point that was rebuked by Chief Justice Nancy Rice. "The only thing that can really be said about the facts in this case is that Mr. Coats agrees that at some point he took medical marijuana and it was in his system when he was tested, that’s it," said Rice.
Dish also argued that amendment 20 provided an affirmative defense for those arrested for marijuana, not expressly making its use lawful activity, a point that was also contended by the justices, who cited the 2000 voters guide and its usage of the word "legalize."
Though oral arguments were brief, the justices have no shortage of information to mull over before making their decisions.
"A lot of the hard-hitting punches we wanted to deliver we didn’t get to," says Evans. Still, to a casual observer, it may seem as though the justices were slightly more critical of the points made by Dish Network.
"Dish has not argued this case honorably," says Evans, citing the changing presentations of the company’s drug policy and the dubious claims that the company must maintain federal drug free standards, as well as the threat of $40,000 in attorney’s fees dish network initially threatened Coats with when he first filed the lawsuit. "I think number one, the justices know they’re full of shit," he says.
One thing Evans seems fairly confident of, however, is that if the ruling does come down in favor of Coats and other medical marijuana patients, Dish Network will take the case to a federal appeals court, where judges will likely be less friendly regarding Colorado’s sensible attitudes toward marijuana.
"If we win at the state Supreme Court, Dish has the money and attitude to appeal," says Evans. It’s been a long process for Coats and Evans, who have been fighting this battle for four years. "I would prefer to get this over with," says Evans. "I’m a little worn out."
Hopefully, the justices will have a ruling soon, though the extent of the precedent set is yet to be seen. Whether it will have an impact on employers firing employees for the now legal use of non-medical marijuana may not be determined, though undoubtedly the ruling will be cited when that issue reaches the courts.
Either way, the ruling will be of great importance to everyone holding a job and using marijuana in any capacity when it eventually comes.
"I’m hoping that’s my Christmas present," says Evans.
Operation Grow 4 VetsRead More
For many veterans, the road to recovery after a traumatic and debilitating incident can be fraught with perils. Whether it’s from a lack of access to care in a V.A. system that’s been proven incompetent time and time again, or the risk of treating chronic conditions with a dangerous cocktail of pharmaceuticals, veterans often find themselves in a precarious situation.
Fortunately, for vets in Colorado at least, there is an alternative. Earlier this year Operation Grow 4 Vets officially launched in the state, offering free marijuana to veterans in need.
"Of anything I’ve ever done, in my life, it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. It’s been very humbling," says Roger Martin, co-founder and executive director of Grow 4 Vets. Martin, himself a vet who comes from a long familial tradition of military service, first saw a need for such an organization while talking to younger service members he met at a dog-training class. He found the new generation of veterans that sprang up following the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were suffering from similar problems he had faced for years, and they were given similar lines of treatment by V.A. docs.
"Many of them were taking ten, fifteen, twenty different prescription medications that the VA had prescribed to them, that’s why a lot of them were dying," says Martin. As a result of his own chronic pain, Martin was all too familiar with the typical course of treatment laid out by doctors, usually involving dangerous opiate-based medications that carry a high probability for dependency and overdose.
Martin conceived of an organization that would mitigate some of these dangers, giving veterans a financially viable, natural alternative that would above all be safer. A former Nebraska police officer, Martin saw the medicinal benefits of marijuana first hand after spending much of his career mired in anti-marijuana indoctrination, and sought to share those benefits with other vets who were stuck in the failing VA system. In May of 2013 Martin began work on what would eventually become Operation Grow 4 Vets.
"Our main mission is to try to have some impact on the 22 veterans who kill themselves every day [as a result of PTSD]," says Martin. But PTSD isn’t the only concern for Martin and Grow 4 Vets.
"Every 19 minutes somebody dies of a prescription drug overdose; lots of those people are veterans. So it’s not just the 22 who commit suicide, it’s the ones who O.D. on drugs," he says.
"In the past, the bureaucrats at the VA, their philosophy’s been: let’s just drug these guys up, and keep them in a drugged stupor until they die and then we’re done with them, then we don’t have to worry about them anymore."
"Why is it that the first option for treating these guys is something that can kill them, and the last resort is cannabis, and it can’t kill them? So to me, that’s backwards, I mean, it defies logic that cannabis isn’t the first treatment option. Why not give somebody something that can’t hurt them, can’t kill them, first, and if it doesn’t work then you can give them this poison. It’s just ridiculous," he says. "
There are just so many areas where things are so screwed up with the way we take care of veterans and we’re just trying to focus on that one area, giving them a better alternative to the drugs that the VA’s giving them. If we save one person, one guy, one gal, then it was worth doing."
These days the small group of less than a dozen core volunteers struggles to meet the constantly rising demand. But thanks to the donations of local growers and businesses such as 3D Cannabis, Martin says, they are able to provide some degree of relief for vets that are increasingly slipping through the cracks of the V.A. healthcare system and in many cases are unable to help themselves.
"We’re trying to fill the gaps that exist due to a lack of knowledge or understanding," says Martin. With over 1,000 registered members, Grow 4 Vets is certainly making an attempt, and Martin plans to expand care to offer free tinctures to parents of children suffering from conditions that are treatable with marijuana, such as Dravet syndrome.
"We get emails every week [from] people who are moving to Colorado because they’re tired of being criminals," says Martin. So far the response has been enormous, with Grow 4 Vets garnering attention from local and national media outlets. Soon the group hopes to have their own laboratory to test the cannabinoid content of donated material, a work-around of the recent decision by the state to prevent licensed labs from testing unlicensed product. Martin says he hopes to offer testing to any one in need at a fraction of the cost they would be charged at a state licensed lab.
As the organization grows, so too will the number of vets they serve, and while Martin doesn’t know how long he can sustain this with a strictly volunteer workforce, the passion that drives the organization will hopefully inspire others to pitch in as well.
Those interested in getting involved should go to www.grow4vets.com
Gone Yet Not ForgottenRead More
by Caroline Hayes
Jenny was one of cannabis’ biggest advocates and passed her knowledge and love onto everyone she ever met.
In 2010, Jenny moved her four children and herself to Denver seeking a life of better opportunity. In no time she became one of the most well–known cannabis activists in Denver, fighting for the rights of medical marijuana patients. She was also involved in the glass blowing community, a part of iCannabis Radio and a founding member of Moms for Marijuana.
It’s not enough to say Jenny was a cannabis icon here in Denver, and it’s a very sad irony her colorful life came to such an abrupt end due to the carelessness of a drunk driver.
We aren’t here today to dwell on the incredibly unfortunate incidents surrounding Jenny’s passing. THC Mag wants to celebrate her life by talking to those who knew and loved her the most. We were lucky enough to speak with her boyfriend, soul mate and the love of her life, Jeremy DePinto.
Jeremy and Jenny’s relationship was love at first sight, and from the moment they met they were attached at the hip. They had a passion for cannabis and each other – obviously a solid foundation for a great relationship. Anyone with a heart can understand how hard this has been for Jeremy, to lose someone that close to him.
"It has been the hardest year of my life," says Jeremy. "I still relive that violent moment over and over, but with less frequency. After the Temple burned at Apogaea [a non profit Burning Man-like festival in Colorado, dedicated to the advancement of the arts], I felt things that are hard to explain, but what I can say easily is this: there was magic that night. I felt limitless love on an infinite scale. Am I still upset about what happened? Yes. Do I forgive [the drunk driver] for what she’s done? Yes, I do. I realize that this pain will never leave my heart, but that is no reason to carry hate next to it. I don’t think her punishment fits the crime, but I also think that fate has this under control. How am I to know how long of a punishment is correct for [her] to change her ways? All I know is that [she] owes the world a whole lot of love to make up for what she took away."
To be able to forgive someone who took the love of your life is true compassion, and anyone will tell you that’s what Jenny would have wanted. The Temple Jeremy speaks of was an art installation built by him and his friends they call The Temple of Infinite Life. More than 1,700 people were able to see it, climb on it, sit in it and walk it’s infinite path for four days before it was burned to the ground at Apogaea.
"I also built an ark that I placed locks of Jenny’s hair in so that she may be cremated in accordance with her wishes. From these ashes I have filled small jars to be given to anyone that asks for them. I will also take some of the ashes that I got from the Temple and fulfill her final wish of having her ashes added to a biodegradable urn that a tree grows from. I do not have a place to plant it yet, nor have I acquired the urn, but I do have the ashes and I KNOW Jenny was proud of this artistic monument to her life," Jeremy says.
Jeremy is still carrying on the activist trait. After her death, a candle light vigil was held the last Saturday of every month on the steps of the Capitol building in Denver. Jeremy is also in the process of getting a "Don’t Drink and Drive" Colorado license plate created to raise awareness.
Perhaps the saddest part of it all is that Jenny left behind four children. To help them move forward and to honor Jenny as their mother, Pamela Reach set up a foundation for donation and Paul Garrett helps run it. It can be found at www.jennykush.com. So far, more than $25,000 has been raised of the $100,000 goal.
Jeremy says of Jenny’s children, “She is survived by four of the most beautiful children I’ve ever known. [The fundraiser’s] a big goal, but divided by four children, it isn't very much. The kids are struggling and there is a lot going on in their lives right now. I really wish that there was something more we could do, but without Jenny, I don't know what else we can do.”
If you are in a position to donate, please do. Jenny fought for the rights of so many in the cannabis community. Consider being a hero and helping her children so they don’t have to fight to survive.
If Jeremy could tell Jenny one thing in the world right now, what would it be? "I would say, ‘I know that you are in a place where there is no time, and that you can be any where and any when. I know that where you are, I am. We will be together again soon. I love you to the Restaurant at the end of the Universe and back again.’"
"Jenny was a beautiful woman, both inside and out. She was the definition of pure love. She went through a lot in her short life. She had been to hell and came back. She has known Heaven on Earth as well. While she was here in Colorado, she was happier than she’s ever been, though she was miserable without [her kids], she was madly in love with me and I with her. We were trying to get her off of probation so we could get her kids back here.
Regardless, Jenny was a mother, a daughter, a fighter, and a lover. She was a sinner, a saint, and everything in between. She was one of a kind and there will likely never be another like her. She was my soul mate. Now she is infinite," Jeremy expressed.
Losing someone is never easy, especially when they were so full of life and love. There will never be another Jenny Kush, but why would we ever want anyone to replace her? Allowing someone’s legacy to live on is the best gift one can give those who have passed on and to those who loved them.
We will never forget you, Jenny! Shine on you crazy diamond.
"Raising Money for Jenny’s Children"
"Our loving friend Jenny "Kush" Monson was taken from us by a drunk driver in the early morning hours of August 31st. Her and her boyfriend were on their way home when they were hit head on by a driver under the influence of alcohol driving the wrong way down interstate I-25. She leaves behind four amazing children and a legacy we will not soon forget. In her honor, we are collecting funds for her children to help with costs such as college and other expenses that many parents help their children with as they they grow. Please help us in any way that you can, for her kids."-Founder Pamela Reach
To donate please go to www.jennykush.com. The goal has not yet been reached. Can you help to make this dream a reality for these children?
A Soldier’s DilemmaRead More
by DJ Reetz
You wake up from a vivid nightmare so real that the act of waking is like being instantaneously transported away from the horrible scene.
The fear is real though, the re-creation of something terrible you’ve already lived through. Maybe the memory is twisted somehow through your perception, amplifying guilt you feel for having survived an event that is beyond the comprehension of the average person living in the relative safety of the Western world.
You are drenched in sweat, the terror of a past experience still clinging to your being. You likely won’t get much more sleep tonight, or any other night for that matter. When you do wake, you are anxious, on edge, and definitely not well rested.
Your conscious mind knows you are not in danger, not anymore at least, but your subconscious is stuck on fight or flight. It frequently supersedes control of your actions.
Your days are a haze. You’re constantly on edge, easily startled, exhausted from the constant vigilance that your psyche demands as well as a lack of sleep. Calm is never part of your equation. It means your interactions with the world will never quite be normal. You try your best to stifle these feelings, but you do not control when they will take hold.
This is what living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be like. For people who have experienced severe trauma, the feeling of helplessness can linger long after the event.
While PTSD can affect survivors of any traumatic event, the contemporary discussion usually centers on veterans returning from war zones, and who are succumbing in staggering numbers to the condition. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 22 veterans kill themselves every day in the U.S. as a result of PTSD.
Treatment for PTSD can be a harsh regime of drugs designed to shut down the overactive panic centers of the brain, combined with mood elevators and stimulants to counteract some of the negative effects. The result can be a pharmaceutically induced haze that can be as much of an impediment to life as the condition it is supposed to treat.
"PTSD made it to where I was extremely introverted, I was angry, I was a shell of the person that I am," says Sean Azzariti. "It made me into an unfunctionable [sic] human being. I couldn’t sleep, I’d ruminate on things, it was just generally a terrible thing to be living with."
Azzariti was diagnosed with severe PTSD shortly after returning from his second tour of duty in Iraq in late 2006. Doctors recommended an inundation of prescription medicine to treat his symptoms. At one point Azzariti says he was supposed to be taking six milligrams of Xanax, four milligrams of Klonopin, 30 to 50 milligrams of Adderall to counteract the daze created by the first two, and Trazadone at night to help with sleep. This cocktail of drugs made life nearly unlivable for Azzariti.
"If I had kept taking those drugs I probably wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you right now," he says. "It was bad, and it was sending me down a really bad path, and that’s when I started to look into cannabis and research how cannabis can be beneficial."
Azzariti found little information about marijuana as a treatment option outside of anecdotal testimony due largely to its status as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. When he applied for a medical marijuana recommendation, Azzariti found that PTSD was not among conditions approved by physicians to be treated with marijuana.
"A lot of other veterans would look at that and that would be the end of their road with cannabis," he says. But Azzariti pushed forward and got his recommendation for chronic nausea, hiding the true reason he needed medical cannabis. The experience left him determined to help others facing a similar situation.
In April, a bill adding PTSD to the list of treatable conditions in Colorado’s medical marijuana registry made its way to the Colorado House of Representatives. After hours of heartfelt testimony from PTSD sufferers who treat their condition with medical marijuana – including Azzariti – members of the State Veterans and Military Affairs committee decided to let the bill die without allowing it to the floor for a full vote.
Three medical doctors took the podium against the inclusion of PTSD during the measure’s final committee hearing. Among those physicians was Dr. Larry Wolk, Chief Medical Officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the government body that maintains the medical marijuana registry. Wolk cited the lack of FDA-approved studies on the efficacy of marijuana as a treatment for PTSD, apparently oblivious to the fact that none of the conditions listed on Colorado’s registry have been approved by the FDA for treatment with marijuana. In his testimony, Wolk suggested that veterans should simply take advantage of the state’s adult-use dispensaries.
"That seems incredibly dangerous when you’re talking about a disease that can ultimately end in death through suicide," says Colorado Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont), who sponsored the bill.
Singer says PTSD isn’t a condition that should be left simply to the discretion of a budtender at a retail marijuana shop. "Should they be using this as an over-the-counter medicine for something as serious as PTSD?" he asks.
"That’s what we’re trying to avoid," says Azzariti. "That’s not the way they should have to go about it."
Dr. Wolk may have been protecting his authority with the CDPHE, speculates Singer. Established as part of Colorado’s medical marijuana program under Amendment 20, the chief medical officer can hold hearings to add conditions to the state’s list of qualifying conditions, provided there is clear evidence of a benefit. However, in the 14 years since the passage of Amendment 20, not a single condition has been added. This, says Singer, has created a stonewall for those seeking to expand the list.
"Legislation really is a kind of brute force," he says.
Including PTSD in the registry is important to all who suffer from the debilitating condition, although it is particularly important to vets who rely on the federally managed Department of Veterans Affairs for health care.
In 2010, the VA stated that it wouldn’t withdraw coverage for veterans who test positive for marijuana provided they are part of their state’s lawful medical marijuana program. With only six states including PTSD as a treatable condition, this means the vast majority of vets who seek to use marijuana as a treatment could potentially lose their VA benefits.
"Not having that as an option is hindering a lot of veterans from getting the medication that could potentially save their lives," says Azzariti.
Detractors who cite a lack of definitive scientific evidence may soon find themselves without that flimsy leg to stand on. A new study sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies designed to test the efficacy of marijuana for treatment of PTSD is set to begin next year at the University of Arizona. The federally approved study will be the first of its kind through the Department of Health and Human Services.
"That’s really, really exciting," says Brad Burge, Director of Communications for MAPS. "It’s an indicator that there’s progress."
"There’s been a big gaping hole in scientific research," Burge says, especially when it comes to whole plant treatment. The study will be the first in the nation to examine the direct benefits of smoked cannabis, rather than individual cannabinoids. It will also test the effect of CBD-rich marijuana on 50 veterans suffering from treatment-resistant PTSD.
Burge says he hopes to begin the study in January 2015, but the process of acquiring marijuana was stalled by the revelation that the University of Mississippi – the only source for test marijuana controlled and approved by the National Institute on Drug Abuse – didn’t have strains high in CBD. The crop needs to be grown at an outdoor facility this summer and harvested this fall. It’s the only option to source the marijuana that abides by federal standards.
"It’s the most drawn-out drug deal in history," says Burge. "I don’t know if it’s incompetence or intransigence, or both."
That strictly controlled process could be changed easily, says Burge. "What is very clear is that there are policies in place that can be removed with out an act of Congress," he says. "It’s not like we’re doing something crazy, we’re trying to treat vets with severe PTSD."
Until the study yields results, the mainstream medical community may cling to the naysaying stance held by Dr. Wolk. In the meantime, veterans and other PTSD sufferers are stuck in gray areas. They must lie on medical marijuana evaluations or purchase medicine from adult-use shops should they be lucky enough to have access.
It’s a dangerous situation, especially since some varieties of marijuana can actually act in direct opposition to the calming effect that is desired. As state legislators wait for federally sanctioned evidence, those suffering from PTSD will continue to suffer.
"We have an epidemic that’s taking over the country, especially now that the [Afghanistan] war is coming to an end," says Azzariti. "Everybody should at least have that option, to use it in conjunction [with] – or [instead of] the prescription pills that they have right now."