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Spring 2006
Journal of the California Cannabis Research Medical Group

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 nights.
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 understand.
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 Vulnerable

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 together.
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.
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 assaulting children.
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 go on.”
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 good fertilizer.
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 own hands.
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 probation.
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 recreational use.
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 earth.
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 students 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.”


O'Shaughnessy's is the journal of the CCRMG/SCC. Our primary goals are the same as the stated goals of any reputable scientific publication: to bring out findings that are accurate, duplicable, and useful to the community at large. But in order to do this, we have to pursue parallel goals such as removing the impediments to clinical research created by Prohibition, and educating our colleagues, co-workers and patients as we educate ourselves about the medical uses of cannabis.
The Society of Cannabis Clinicians (SCC) was formed in the Autumn of 2004 by the member physicians of CCRMG to aid in the promulgation of voluntary standards for clinicians engaged in the recommendation and approval of cannabis under California law (HSC §11362.5).

As the collaborative effort continues to move closer to issueing guidelines, this site serves as a public venue for airing and discussing these guidelines.

Visit the SCC Site for more information.