Journal of the California Cannabis Research Medical
Patients Out-of Time Perspectives
The Recurring Terror of Combat
By Al Byrne
My father was an infantryman during World War II —fought his
way through North Africa and Sicily. My mother was a US Army dietician
in North Africa who became pregnant with me and was sent home. My father
wanted to stay in the Army after the war but he got out in 1946.
When I was 17 I got a scholarship to Notre Dame to play baseball. I
joined Naval ROTC. Next thing I knew I was in a uniform and I was Marine.
I was sent down to Vieqes, Puerto Rico for training in the summer.
I got off the boat on a landing craft. I remember hitting the beach.
I woke up on a hospital ship, they said I was fine. Blown up by an
artillery shell that had landed short. Seven men were killed.
I was commissioned out of Notre Dame as an ensign, transferred to a
destroyer in Norfolk. We operated off the Atlantic coast and in the
Caribbean. One day we were sent to Africa to rescue some Americans
who had to be evacuated. I took in 60 men to get them out, and we succeeded.
After I got out of the Navy I was recalled and sent to Vietnam on my
25th birthday. It was 1970 and it felt like everybody was leaving,
I was arriving. The first couple of weeks I was there I ran into what
Vietnam was really like. I was moving with a marine patrol, we weren’t
anywhere in particular, we weren’t doing anything in particular,
there wasn’t anything to worry about. But in an instant we were
under very, very heavy attack and it turned out to be an attack on
our 50 men by about 3,000 Vietnamese. And I thought, “Well, this
is where you die.”
That didn’t happen. We killed ‘em all. Burned them. We got on a radio
that cost a couple of hundred bucks and a jet came over that cost a couple of
hundred million bucks and three thousand people died. And none of us died.
I spent a year there as an adviser. I traveled alone in Vietnam with different
units doing different things. The carnage was awesome. It was all scary and pseudo-real
like the Navy gunboats in “Apocalypse Now” that fight their way up
the river mile after mile after mile and then all of a sudden there’s bright
lights and a Playboy bunny.
I was sitting in a place one night in the middle of nowhere and a helicopter
landed and out stepped Tex Ritter and John Ritter. They came to Vietnam to say “Hi.”
The people who fought in Vietnam, the kids who are fighting in Iraq today, the
soldiers who fought in Korea, they have the worst day of their lives every day
of their lives. It never stopped. There was no one day of trauma, there was a
year of trauma. If you lived.
After a year they sent me home on my birthday I was now 26. The average soldier
over there was 18 and a half and spent something like 350 days in combat. My
father, who spent seven years in the Army, was in a combat zone for five years
and spent two weeks in combat.
The intensity was enormous. The trauma was enormous. What makes it worse for
combat vets in Viet Nam is that they were never treated at all. We came back
and everybody said “You suck” and we went into the woods. Later on,
the Agent Orange project was born. Vets got together and sued our own government
because they didn’t take care of us. And we got a lot of money from the
chemical companies that poisoned us.
I’m a victim of Agent Orange. I’ve had a rash on my bun for a long
time. I sat in the wrong place.
In Virginia we formed an organization that went out into the Appalachian Hills
and found vets who had gone into hiding when they got home and never came out.
Most of the people I found up there were men and they were drunk. Alcohol was
the only drug that they could blot out their memories with on a daily basis.
The daytime memories are bad enough, the nighttime memories keep
you from sleeping at all. If you can’t sleep, your world goes
to hell in a handbasket real fast and it doesn’t come back
until you can get some rest. These guys needed to sleep so they’d
get drunk and pass out.
There was as contingent of these guys that had been drunk but didn’t
drink anymore —they smoked dope. I started going to VA Hospitals
and guys would come up to me and say “Al, you see these pills
the doctor just gave me —Valium, mood enhancers— you
know what we do with these? We take em out on the street and swap
em for cannabis.”
Because the VA won’t give them cannabis. So they take the prescription
drugs that they will not use and sell them on the street to get cannabis, because
it works. It calms down the emotional responses to problems that seem to flow
through you for no reason sometimes.
I can go back to Vietnam in a heartbeat if the smell is right. Just give me
the right whiff and I’m there —and I’m terrified, because
I was terrified in Vietnam, I was scared to death and anybody who tells you
they weren’t wasn’t there.
And it lets me sleep. It lets me sleep because I do not dream. As a counselor
working with other Vietnam vets in the Agent Orange program I would hear that
over and over: “I don’t dream about anything. I smoke cannabis.”
It’s very hard to talk about trauma —it’s embarrassing,
it’s insulting, it’s terrifying, it’s confusing...
The other thing to realize about PTSD is: it’s not a disorder.
When a new client came into our program in Virginia he’d get
assigned to a vet as sort of a buddy to break the ice. It’s very
hard to talk about trauma —it’s embarrassing, it’s
insulting, it’s terrifying, it’s confusing, you need somebody
to say “You’re not crazy, it’s just a reaction to
what happened to you.” I would tell them “You’re
not in a disorder situation, you’re in a situation that is organized
around how to preserve your life.”
They have guns and knives all over their houses. I do. I have a gun
in my truck. I have a concealed weapons permit. I’m scared of
you. You tried to kill me...
One of my clients was a nurse who worked in what you would think of
as a MASH unit. Helicopters came in and took the broken bodies into
the unit. I knew that she worked there from a counselor who had been
in a helicopter before he got blown up and taken to that unit. But
she didn’t remember it at all. She could not remember one moment
in Vietnam. She has never worked a day in her life; she only works
Post-traumatic stress is a mind-altering, life-altering situation that
has to be dealt with to find a solution. Counseling helps if it comes
quickly and it’s reinforced and it’s serious and compassionate
and done by people who have had similar experiences and can really
And cannabis helps. In my five years as a counselor up there in Appalachia
I never saw another drug, prescription or otherwise, that had any effect
on post-traumatic stress other than cannabis. Please spread the word.
A Decent Society Protects the
By Erin Hildebrandt
According to US Department of Justice statistics, a child is raped
every four minutes in this country. That’s 15 every hour, 360
every day. It effectively ends their childhood. It breaks their bodies,
their minds and their spirits. There are 80,000 to 100,000 predators
that our government has admittedly lost track of.
Everything started out very happy. I was a normal suburban kid growing up in
the 1970s. My family gave me a good start, a good foundation. It was allowed
to have a few sips of wine with dinner, and to ask questions. My parents were
available to answer questions for me and my grandparents, too. No one in my family
abused drugs or alcohol, they were healthy family-oriented people. They stayed
My parents moved into the neighborhood with the best schools. I had pretty much
everyhthing that I needed and a whole lot of what I wanted. Then we moved to
East Lansing, and I became more safety conscious. I was on the safety patrol
and went to the police picnic. They were the people I looked up to.
But then something changed that. One of the teachers in this “best school” turned
out to be a child sexual predator. This man tortured me over a period of roughly
six months. It was a very brutal situation. The first time that he grabbed me
I was on crutches, I had sprained my ankle, and he offered to give me a ride
home from school. I didn’t really want to walk on crutches in the cold.
So he took me off in his car and he said “Oh I just need to drive over
here and get something.” I trusted him. He was the man who played with
us on the playground. He was my teacher, my authority figure. When you go to
school your parents say, “Be good for your teachers, do what they say.” So,
I trusted him and went off with him in his car and the next thing I knew we were
on a deserted road and that was the first time that he actually raped me.
During all of this I was writing an essay for the first-ever Michigan Law Day
essay contest and I ended up wining second place. My essay was all about the
ideals of justice. During this period he took me to the janitor’s closet
at one point and he sodomized me there. He also turned out to have a fetish,
he liked to watch little girls urinate. He took me to the school showers next
to the pool.
I keep thinking about all these kids who are subjected to urinalysis to see if
they have smoked pot. And I think of that kind of violation. Even if we have
someone we trust doing this, to a child who has to pull down their pants and
urinate in front of somebody, even with a “modesty drape” or the
door slightly shut... It’s humiliating. Kids are vulnerable.
Somehow in the midst of all this I was able to keep my faith in these ideals
of justice and the idea that we could particpate in the system and change the
laws. I really believed in that. In my teen years I worked for a child-abuse
prevention organization as a volunteer.
But then I started getting sick and I dropped out of high school with migraines
and severe stomach pains that the doctors couldn’t diagnose at first. It
turns out that I have endometriosis and Crohn’s disease. I went through
years of going in and out of hospitals and doctors’ offices and taking
drug after drug after drug with terrible side effects that were really damaging
and painful and disruptive to my life.
Then I met my husband and we wanted to have a family and the doctors advised
us to do it sooner rather than later because of my endometriosis. Five kids later
I think maybe they made a misjudgment.
Everything revolved around my family and I wanted to be the best mom I could
for my kids. When I was pregnant with my first child I developed hyperemis gravidarum,
which is terrible, terrible form of morning sickness that stays all day and all
night, it doesn’t go away. I was losing weight, I was constantly dehydrated,
and I would have to go to the hospital for IVs and anti-nausea drugs.
But then in my second pregnancy I discovered marijuana to be used as medicine
and I started learning how to use it. My pregancies were much healthier from
that point forward because I had proper nutrition. I was compeltely malnourished
in my first pregnancy which ended up with a cesarian.
On top of that, the marijuana
made a big difference in how I was able to bond with my children and be able
to bond with them because I wasn’t
so preoccupied with these flashbacks and panic attacks and nightmares.
It’s hard for me to tell exactly where my physical symptoms end
and my psychological symptoms begin but I know that cannabis works
holistically with all of them.
The ideals of justice still eat at me. I can’t really separate
the medicine from the politics. My government has set it up so that
the politics becomes one of the risks of the substance. We have risks
that are not natural, that are completely man-made. That to me is just
crazy —to think that my health depends on what the politicians
want to do this week.
Chris and I have been working on an organization called Building Block.
I’m trying to be the best mom that I can. I don’t want
any more children raped because our government is wsasting our resources
on chasing down medical marijuana patients can’t even track down
registered sex offenders.
We need to focus on protection and justice for a change.
On Post Traumatic Stress
By Christopher Largen
I deal with an invisible disability. In our society it’s also
a silent disability. My first trauma was at birth —my mother
and I almost died. Doctors have hypothesized that the severe hyperactivity
I exhibited might have been related.
By the age of two I had put my fist through a glass window. I was sent
home from preschool for biting my teachers on the legs.
My parents were Southerners, they knew about rubbing rum on the gums of a teething
babe. So the idea of a folk remedy was not foreign to them and they decided to
try cannabis on me.
They say the results were immediate and dramatic. My crying fits, my self-aggression,
my destruction of property ceased. I was sleeping well and eating well. They
used it with me until I was five years old.
WHY DID THEY STOP?
When I was 10 I was a professional child actor. I was performing at a summer
musical series in the “King and I.” I played Anna’s son. Unbeknownst
to the people who ran the theater, there was an individual there who was serially
When he got to me it was backstage as the overture was playing, the lights were
dimmed, and I had to go on immediately and skip around and sing “I Whistle
a Happy Tune.”
So I learned at avery early age to dissociate. To separate. “The show must
When I was 13 a friend of the family who had severe psychiatric disorders had
me come over to his house. He had cultivated a big-brother-type relationship
with me. He popped open some beers. I’m thinking it’s great.
He wound up giving me some pharmaceutical drugs which knocked me out When I came
to he was in the process of assaulting me. He had set up a videocamera at the
foot of the bed. He showed me snapshots of other children.
I dissociated more severely. I began self-mutiliating, having suicidal ideation,
nightmares; my self-esteem was gone
I was dissociated from myself. I was dissociated from other people and from the
experience of life. It was a very numbing, cold pain that I carried with me
In my early 20s, 15 years ago, I attempted suicide by taking an overdose of Ativan
and was hospitalized for two months. That’s when I began some very hard
work. I found out about six months after my hospitalization that if I used cannabis
I could sleep through the night and the nightmares were eliminated.
I found out over time that rather than being mired in the depression of the past
or obsessed with the anxiety related to the future, cannabis allowed me to be
here now. Which facilitated the therapeutic work that allowed me to find, if
you will, the blessing in the curse. The fact that there could be gifts that
I could hone through these experiences.
Now my mantra is: flowers grow from dirt, so when life gives you crap, you make
Now I have more love in my life than I ever would have thought possible all those
years ago when I attempted suicide.
I have a loving wife, I have two beautiful children that I delivered with my
To me it’s just obscene that the prohibition laws are pursued in the name
of protecting the children.
Because I have children I went on the sex-offenders’ database for Denton
County, Texas, which is where I live. I was shocked to find that we have 70 people
who have been convicted of sex crimes against children from age 13 down to age
three who never served a single day in jail. Upon conviction, they were released
immediately back out into the communities. Some of these people had multiple
victims. One man raped a seven-year old boy and a six-year old boy and got one-year
This is in a county where a patient who grows their own cannabis would be facing
years —and in Texas there’s no distinction made between medical and
It’s important that we come to grips with the fact that, as a society,
we are failing our children. Consider that they are socialized from the moment
they are born to obey, to acquiesce, to respect authority, to not talk back.
And they’re growing up in one of the most sexually schizophrenic societies
On the one hand we have the media that pumps up sexuality to an abnormal level
of primal arousal and then we have the religious institutions which often take
a very puritanical view towards sexuality. Children already have enough to contend
with to come to grips with their own sexuality.
I learned that in Texas, as a medical cannabis patient, IS THERE SUCH A THING
IN TEXAS? I’m zoned further away from schools than many of the people who
have been convicted of raping children.
This has to change, and I think it will. It’s to the credit of the people
that when they heard about the Vermont judge who sentenced the child rapist to
60 days, the state of Vermont received more phone calls than they’ve ever
received in the history of the state.
Largen ended his talk by recounting a phone call in which he pointed out
to an aide of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison that cannabis possession disqualifies
from receiving financial aid, whereas a conviction for raping a child does not.
Hutchison’s aide acknowledged, “That doesn’t sound like equal
justice.” Largen said, “No sir, it does not.”