SAN ANTONIO - Amanda Berard is a mother, a University of North Texas grad student, and a veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
At 19-years-old, Amanda enlisted in the Army to become a combat medic. While in the Army, she was sexually assaulted, which led to her PTSD.
"I experience it with depression and in hypervigilance," Berard said.
According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, 23 of every 100 women that use the VA say they have been a victim of sexual assault.
In order to deal with her PTSD symptoms, Amanda says that doctors in Texas can only do one thing:
“You’re given a cocktail of medication," Berard explained. "A cocktail of pharmaceutical pills. I have five or six different medications that I’m supposed to take. The prescriptions, I feel, are like a Band-Aid solution.”
That "cocktail" is not what Amanda believes is best for her, and that is why she is currently working on a thesis paper that studies the effectiveness of cannabis for veterans with PTSD.
She also advocates with the Texas chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
“I’ve traveled all over Texas and seen first-hand what cannabis can do for these veterans," Berard noted. "I’ve gone out of state to talk to the medical marijuana refugees about how they felt.”
Groups like Texas NORML have been spending a lot of time at the Texas Capitol in Austin lobbying Congress and even dropping off letters at the governor's office. The primary goal for this group is better medical marijuana legislation.
Texas State Senator José Menédez from San Antonio agrees with groups like NORML that medicinal marijuana should be available just like many other prescription drugs on the market.
“I’d like to make it legal for doctors to prescribe or recommend medical-based cannabis," Senator Menédez said. "I’m literally saying that now you can have another medicine at your pharmacy.”
Two years ago, Texas did pass the Passionate Use Act, which only allows cannabis in the form of an oil for children with one very specific type of epilepsy.
Menédez would like to see more health conditions like PTSD added to the list of illnesses available for medicinal marijuana use. That is why he filed Senate Bill 269 for comprehensive medical cannabis use.
“Why are politicians in Texas picking and choosing which compounds or molecules they can prescribe as medication?" Menédez asked. "They say they have scientific-based evidence that cannabis medication can help people with PTSD, help pain without side effects.”
According to the National Center for PTSD, two out of every 10 veterans with PTSD also have substance use disorder (SUD). The VA says that an average of 20 veterans commit suicide nationwide every day. Many of those victims suffered from PTSD.
Menédez said that he's heard from many veterans that tell him the current medicines they are prescribed are not working and, in many instances, make them feel worse.
“If we feel it’s good enough for those children and those seizures, why do we oppose helping veterans with PTSD? Or someone with cancer? Or glaucoma? What’s the logic?" Menédez asked.
Although Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed the Passionate Use Act, he opposes the legalization of marijuana in Texas.
A recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that 83 percent of Texans support making marijuana legal for medical purposes.
In all, 28 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medicinal use. Although Texas doesn't seem to be joining that list, Amanda and Senator Menédez say that other states' success gives them hope.
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs has acknowledged that as other states approve marijuana use, cannabis can be used for PTSD. But the group also says that there have not been specific controlled studies to evaluate the safety or effectiveness of marijuana for PTSD.
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