Veteran says medical marijuana could help treat PTSD

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MOBERLY - Erik Prange lives in a small house located on the outskirts of Moberly where he enjoys connecting with nature and spending time outdoors.

It's mostly peaceful around the house, until a helicopter flies overhead.

"My trigger is helicopters because of the event I went through," Prange said. "Where I live now, I hear the medical helicopter come over all the time, and it triggers me with flashbacks."

Prange is a retired Army sergeant. He served more than seven years as a medic and licensed practical nurse, most recently in Iraq in 2009. That's when he developed the triggers for PTSD after treating a patient who was severely wounded.

Prange currently takes four different medications daily to treat his PTSD. He believes medical marijuana could help lessen the symptoms of the disease.

"They say if you do this medical marijuana and be exposed to your triggers, then it helps to lessen the effects of those triggers," Prange said.

Prange said he has struggled with PTSD every day since returning from Iraq in 2009. He attempted suicide in 2011 due to the effects of PTSD.

He is currently taking two medications that list suicidal thoughts as side effects. He said marijuana does not carry the same side effects as the other drugs.

Prange said he believes legalizing marijuana for medical use would help slow the suicide rate among U.S. veterans.

"Maybe it will save some lives," Prange said. "Lives of people who definitely deserve it because they stood up and raised their right hand and swore to protect this country."

However, opponents to medical marijuana like Council for Drug Free Youth Executive Director Joy Sweeney said she thinks medical marijuana could become too easily available if it's made legal for medical use.

"We see in California and other states where it's basically a joke," Sweeney said. "Anyone can walk in to a doctor and get a medical marijuana card because they're feeling stressed or they have anxiety or some other problem."

Sweeney also argues there is a risk that youth can find marijuana easier in states where it is legal for medicinal purposes.

"Youth are going to interpret this as a green light," Sweeney said. "Basically it stamps marijuana as a medicine and because it's a medicine, it's safe."

There is conflicting data behind Sweeney's claim.

The Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America stated:

"Eight of the top ten states with the highest percentage of past month marijuana users ages 12-17 are states with marijuana programs." 

However, a 2012 study by University of Washington found "legalization was associated with a small reduction in the rate of marijuana use among 12- through 17-year-olds" in states that had approved medical marijuana.

The University of Washington study found there was an higher existing prevalence of use among the younger population in those states before the states legalized medical marijuana.

Sweeney said she still believes marijuana is mostly unhealthy and legalizing it poses a higher risk to young people.

"Our biggest concern is that your brain is not developed until you're 25 years old," Sweeney said. "We're saying those things as a culture that we don't think marijuana is harmful to you and we know better."

Currently the Missouri House of Representatives has two bills HB 490 and HB 800 that have been introduced supporting medical marijuana legalization.