Veterans turning to marijuana to treat PTSD

YUMA, Ariz.-  Former army Vietnam war veteran John Pinnel admits he’s breaking the law when he buys marijuana but to him it’s worth it. Pinnel says his deployment overseas left him with post traumatic stress disorder and weed helps him. “Marijuana was invented by God for people who really need it, and I really need it,” Pinnel said.

He is just one of thousands of veterans turning to marijuana to help combat their symptoms. Another user is Navy vet Kevin Spence who smokes medicinal marijuana multiple times a day. Spence says before marijuana he was on dozens of pain pills and was struggling daily.

“For years I didn’t want to leave my house and this changed my life,” he told us. “I was suicidal something had to change.”

Spence says what changed for him was be began using marijuana. He says his doctor began to notice and was stunned by how quickly he was recovering and also dropping medications. When his doctor asked what his secret was Spence told him he had been using marijuana. Spence’s doctor ultimately told him he could no longer treat him because of his drug use.  Spence says he asked his doctor if he should quit.

“[My doctor] told me that would be malpractice on my part he said ‘look at what it’s done for you’,” Spence told us.

Another Doctor caught in the drug war is Dr. Sue Sisley. Sisley researches marijuana and other schedule one narcotics and was fired from the University of Arizona for wanting to test alternative treatments to ptsd. Sisley says one by one her patients began admitting to her they were using marijuana.

“We at least has a duty to these veterans to study the plant in a rigorous controlled environment rather than just dismissing their claims and chastising them,” Sisley said.

Sisley’s desire to study cannabis is because currently there are only two FDA approved treatments for veterans suffering from PTSD Zoloft and Paxil. Sisley says both are ineffective. Iraq War Veteran Ricardo Pereyda agrees.

“When I was running the gauntlet through the V-A and the Army medical system I was prescribed a cocktail of medications that kept me down,” Pereyda said. “It kept a heavy veil over me and I could not function.”

Dr. Sisley says her only goal is to study if marijuana helps. She says to her if it does or doesn’t is not the point.

“If there is potential this plant could ease human suffering, then we have to enable it to be studied,” she said.

There is one area Veterans say it does ease their suffering.

“Cannabis helps me sleep. If I had to pick one thing that I can contribute to my ability to lead a productive life it’s the fact I can sleep now,” Pereyda told us.

Pinnel echoed those sentiments.

“I can sleep without waking up in Vietnam. I just don’t want to have those dreams anymore.”


About The Author

Eduardo Santiago joined the FOX 9 and ABC 5 news team in February, 2012. That’s the same year KECY launched its very first local newscast. He has been covering local news in Yuma and the Imperial Valley since his start as a KYMA photojournalist in 2006. During his decade in broadcasting, Eduardo has covered some of the biggest stories in the Desert Southwest – from President Bush’s visit to Yuma, Ariz. to the uncovering of drug tunnels that span the US-Mexico border. One of the most memorable stories Eduardo covered was the 2010 Easter Earthquake that rocked the Imperial Valley, Mexicali, and Yuma. Eduardo, along with his news team, won an award from the Associated Press for best coverage of an ongoing story following the quake. Before he made his move to TV, Eduardo was just a kid born in East Los Angeles, where he spent his early childhood. His parents moved him to Mexicali, B.C. Mexico, where he did most of his elementary school education. He finally landed in El Centro, where he graduated from Central Union High School in 2005. Eduardo is currently a student at Imperial Valley College. You can find Eduardo hanging out in the Imperial Valley and Yuma with his family on any given weekend. His off-screen passion is playing guitar and sports.

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