Chris Hillier’s life arc bottomed out in a Vancouver back alley, across the country from his Newfoundland home and a world away from the war zone that broke him. Homeless, penniless and addicted to crack cocaine, Hillier slept behind a community centre, at the intersection of Hastings and Main, the notorious epicentre of the city’s drug trade. Three years earlier, Hillier was in the midst of a successful military career, serving his country as an air force firefighter aboard HMCS Preserver in the Middle East in the months after the 9/11 strikes on the U.S. His tour with Operation Apollo took him to the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. But the constant stress of working in a theatre of war left him with post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition he believes was worsened by conventional pharmaceuticals prescribed by military doctors. Today, Hillier is off the streets and clean because, he says, of a treatment that few in the Canadian military like to discuss: medical marijuana. Hillier, 35, is one of just a handful of veterans who are treating their PTSD with cannabis and getting it paid for by Veterans Affairs Canada. The department says 26 vets are getting support for participation in Health Canada’s Marijuana Medical Access Regulations program. Ten use it to treat PTSD, even though the Canadian Forces shun the drug for medical use.
The use of marijuana to treat PTSD is a contentious issue, particularly in the U.S., where thousands of veterans have recently returned from war zones. Despite advocacy by some doctors and pressure from soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and claim the drug helps them, the U.S. military has resisted calls to make it available to injured soldiers. The U.S. Veterans Administration also does not consider marijuana a suitable treatment for PTSD and will not help its clients obtain it in any of the 16 states it is available medicinally. The Canadian Forces won’t consider prescribing marijuana to active members who might have the same health issues, either. “The CF are committed to evidence-based medicine that has been thoroughly tested in multiple trials and published in peer-reviewed journals,” Canadian Forces Health Service spokeswoman Colleen Boicey said in an email. “There is insufficient evidence for the safety and efficacy of medical use of marijuana in the treatment of PTSD.” A 2007 directive sent to Canadian Forces doctors specifically forbids them from helping patients get marijuana. The forces will pay for authorized Health Canada marijuana if members get approved by another doctor, but base pharmacies will not participate in its supply.
To treat PTSD, the forces say they have a mental health program that “provides dedicated and responsive care for ill and injured CF members.” But Hillier blames that approach for pushing pharmaceutical drugs on him and putting him on the path to cocaine addiction. Though he hadn’t been diagnosed, Hillier was already showing signs of PTSD when he came back from the war. He lost interest in his work. He was argumentative and couldn’t sleep. “I went from being a shining star to the bottom of the barrel,” Hillier says. He chose not to renew his military contract and by the time he left, he was dealing with serious drug addiction. There was an assault charge on a police officer. Another charge for uttering threats. He lost custody of his children. “It was really a downward spiral,” he says. Only after he started using marijuana in Vancouver did he find some relief. He shook his addiction to hard drugs and eventually told his doctor in Newfoundland the secret behind his recovery. She finally agreed to sign off on his application to enter Health Canada’s medical marijuana program.
via : EdmontonJournal.com
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