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Texans with PTSD or cancer can now use medical marijuana under new law

The new law that took effect today also doubled the amount of THC allowed in medical marijuana to 1%.

AUSTIN, Texas — A new Texas law allows people with PTSD or cancer at any stage to use medical marijuana. Under The Texas Compassionate Use Program they can  use “low-THC cannabis.”

Until today, the medical marijuana law applied to fewer than 6,000 Texans with terminal cancer and some neurological disorders, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.  An estimated 114,000 Texans who have cancer are now eligible, along with veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome.

The new law also doubles the percent of THC --  the part of marijuana plants that can cause the sensation of being high or happy -- allowed in products to 1%. 

For cancer patients, THC can alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy, such as nausea, loss of appetite and body pains.

Barbara Bevill of Wylie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 when 11 tumors were found on her left breast. She endured 18 months of chemotherapy, 33 rounds of radiation and a major invasive surgery.

Bevill consumed marijuana throughout her fight with cancer, which she said helped her maintain her appetite and hold on to hope. But since it was illegal, she almost always got ahold of marijuana through friends. 

“It was something illegal, something I couldn’t access,” Bevill said. “I would have loved to have known the percentages and everything that was in it… but it was not like I could go to a dispensary or store to ask. I took what people gave me.”

THC can also help calm PTSD patients and decrease their nightmares, according to Dr. Muhammad Assad, a psychiatry fellow at Texas Tech University’s Health Sciences Center.

“Because they’re coming from a traumatic situation, they get very vigilant, they get very aroused, they’re always ready for challenges. So the medical marijuana calms them down," Dr. Assad explained.

David Bass came home to Fort Worth in 2006 after serving in the Army but sometimes he feels like he’s still in Iraq. The 64-year-old Desert Storm veteran who served 25 years in the military has nightmares that he's back in Iraq and under attack.

“I can hear Iraq, I can smell Iraq. I can hear the rockets going off," Bass told the Texas Tribune. 

He was prescribed several kinds of medications to ease his hypervigilance after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. But those medications didn’t help him sleep. Instead, they caused him to have “flat emotions” — and, eventually, suicidal thoughts.

He said marijuana helps "organize his thoughts" and bring him "down to earth but he had to get it illegally for years.

Now eligible Texans including Bass and Bevil, can get it legally in capsule form, edibles or oils. Smoking it is still banned. 

Texas is one of 36 states that allow the use of medical marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

For mental health support, you can also reach a trained crisis counselor through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 800-273-8255 or texting 741741. Read our mental health resource guide for more information.

Find the full article and similar stories on The Texas Tribune website.