Australian veterans dealing with PTSD and pain say there is a treatment out there that can change their lives – they simply can’t afford it.
War veterans are clamoring for funding for medicinal cannabis, with the drug reportedly relieving PTSD and pain more than traditional treatments.
The Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA) accepts applications to use cannabis for pain, provided it is approved by a specialist.
But many pain specialists are reluctant to tick off treatment due to a lack of space research, instead prescribing opioids that veterans don’t want to take.
The DVA does not approve cannabis for post-traumatic stress disorder or any mental health issue, leaving antidepressants and sleeping pills as options.
Without DVA financial support, veterans are struggling to keep paying for medical cannabis.
Vietnam veteran Michael, who asked not to use his full name, has struggled with PTSD since the war.
He stopped taking antidepressants and pain relievers after discovering cannabis.
“A few years ago, a friend of mine said, ‘Dude, you need to relax.’ I was taking antidepressants, anxiolytic tablets and a whole bunch of others, “he said.
“Now I don’t take antidepressants, I don’t take painkillers. I was self-medicating and staying away from those tablets for some time and now they have made (medicinal cannabis) legal, I dropped even more blood pressure tablets.
“Now I just vaporize – you don’t take a puff, you vaporize – and I’m fine. I laugh a lot more, I have joy in my life, my quality of life is superb.”
But Michael said he was “screaming” for DVA’s financial support, with six weeks of medicinal cannabis costing him about $ 450.
“It’s crazy. Absolutely damn crazy,” he said.
Chris Goulding, who served for five years, dislocated his shoulder while serving and now has arthritis in his back.
Mr. Goulding took tramadol for a decade, experiencing anxiety and depression as side effects before discovering Dr. James Stewart prescribing cannabis through a friend.
The 30-year-old swapped tramadol for medicinal cannabis and felt significantly “healthier”.
But Mr. Goulding is a father of three and can’t afford to insist if the DVA doesn’t change its protocols. He estimated he spent about $ 10,000 on the treatment in just two years.
“The DVA said they are not approving medicinal cannabis for depression, anxiety or mental health because the side effects are too risky. So they canceled it and said it’s just for the pain, ”Goulding said.
“I am a father of a family, I have three children, I cannot afford to continue like this.
“I have slowed down my medical cannabis intake due to the cost. My sleep got worse, so I spoke to my pain specialist and he prescribed tramadol for me again.
“So after two years of finally kicking tramadol, I come back for a date and he gives me tramadol.
“They can look at the side effects of different long-term medications. Ten years on tramadol, I have never had anxiety before, now I have been diagnosed.
“They are little things like this. Play with your depression and mental health in general ”.
In an email exchange between Dr. Stewart, fellow prescriber, Dr. Jim Connell, and the DVA, the veterans department said it would take doctors’ views into consideration when reviewing its cannabis protocols.
But it’s unclear when – or if – a review is planned.
Dr Stewart has offered to rewrite the DVA protocols for free, arguing that the current guidelines are outdated and unreasonable.