January 6, 2017
Dear Mr. Benouis:
Thank you for contacting me. It is good to hear from you and I’m pleased to respond.
While marijuana remains illegal in Texas, decriminalizing marijuana has been taken up by various states while other states have legalized the drug for medicinal reasons. While I have long contended that legalizing marijuana would be harmful to our society, I remain aware of the sensitive and emotional nature of the legalization/decriminalization debate.
H.R. 667, the Veterans Equal Access Act, would make it easier for qualified veterans to access medical marijuana in states where it is legal. Supporters of this bill believe medical marijuana could be used as an alternative prescription for veterans suffering from chronic pain, and assist in a veteran’s recovery from mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress.
While the Veterans Equal Access Act has been introduced in the past, similar legislation has yet to be introduced during the current Congressional session. Please rest assured that I will keep your thoughts in mind as Congress considers policy options in the future.
Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me. I appreciate having the opportunity to work for you in the U.S. House of Representatives. Please feel free to visit http://www.carter.house.gov or contact me with any future concerns.
Member of Congress
Thank you so much for your letter replying to me about medical cannabis.
As the congressman who has more soldiers in his district than any other, I know that you must feel the issue of veteran suicide. 20 veterans a day are killing themselves. We need your help. Your leadership and support can make a difference.
I’m sharing with you bunch of articles on the issue including my own one of which I’ve attached below.
I welcome the opportunity to speak to you and your staff in person on this issue including introducing them to hundreds of veterans I’ve personally met in TX using cannabis to treat their PTSD.
On that note I would like to personally share with you a documentary that I had made by a filmmaker about a trip I made to Peru with other veterans who all use cannabis for their PTSD which will be publicly released on March 30, 2016. Brandon Ketchum whom I’ve shared the USA Today article on was supposed to go with us to Peru but couldn’t as he wasn’t able to get his passport on time and instead tried to check himself in to a VA in Iowa because he wanted to kill himself. They said he wasn’t sick enough to be admitted and he went home and killed himself.
Soldiers of the Vine (Part I) and (Part 2)
Six American Veterans go to Peru for a 10-day plant dieta including ayahuasca to treat their PTSD
Ian Benouis is a West Point graduate, former Blackhawk helicopter pilot, US Army officer and combat veteran who participated in Operation Just Cause in the Republic of Panama. This operation was the largest combat operation in US history focused directly on the War on Drugs. He was a pilot-in-command and his aviation brigade flew more night vision goggle hours than any unit in the military except for the Task Force 160 Special Operations which his unit was ultimately rolled up into when the Fort Ord, California military base was shut down.
Ian grew up in Hawaii in the 1970’s where cannabis was decriminalized and fully integrated in to the culture. He has been healing himself of trauma for over 25 years with sacred plants, a spiritual practice, and being a student and practitioner of ethnobotany. Ian was a pharmaceutical representative for Pfizer after he got out of the Army witnessing firsthand the meteoric rise of the SSRI’s and synthetic opioids in the early 1990’s.
He is a casualty of the drug war having been busted for a friend’s cannabis while in law school. Ian is an intellectual property attorney who has been working in the corporate world for over 20 years in the primary roles of VP of Sales and Marketing and General Counsel. He is a political activist in the cannabis and natural plant medicine space nationally and locally in Texas. Ian has also been the Chairman of the Board for a public policy foundation in Texas for over seven years.
Ian was featured in the Spike Jonze produced episode Stoned Vets on Weediquette the cannabis focused series on Viceland on HBO with a number of other veterans protesting the VA’s policy on medical cannabis and trying to end the veteran suicide epidemic.
In 2016 Ian organized a trip for six veterans with PTSD to Peru in May for a 10-day plant diet including ayahuasca and other plant medicines with three Shipibo shaman brothers that are third generation plant medicine healers. Ian also took some of the same veterans to Mexico for treatment with iboga and 5-Meo-DMT. This experience was captured on video and will be released as a documentary on March 30, 2017 entitled Soldiers of the Vine.
He is member of the team working on the movie From Shock to Awe a feature-length documentary that will chronicle the journeys of military veterans as they seek relief from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with the help of ayahuasca, MDMA and cannabis.
Ian Benouis’ Drug War Story as part of Psymposia’s Drug War Stories – Catharsis on the Mall: A Vigil for Healing the Drug War. This was part of the Drug Policy Reform Conference November 20, 2016 in Washington, DC.
The medical ethics of denying veterans cannabis and other entheogenic medicines while allowing pharmaceuticals
Currently the United States is experiencing one of the worst suicide epidemics in its history. Veterans make up a significant portion of that epidemic. Almost one of every five.
Until the most recent report from the Veterans Administration (VA), the VA stated that approximately 22 veterans a day kill themselves. The newest number from the VA indicates that the number is 20. Either way this number would still just be the national number of “official veteran suicides,” since as things like suicide by car accident or drug overdose do not count as official suicide as far as the VA is concerned.
In 2014, more than 7,400 veterans killed themselves. This is more than the entire number of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan to date. All the data cited below comes from the VA’s own study.
- The risk for suicide is 21 percent higher among veterans compared to civilians.
- Since 2001, the rate of suicide among female veterans has increased 85.2 percent.
- 66% of suicides were conducted with firearms.
- Of the 20 veterans that die from suicide each day, only 30% were users of VA services.
- For every one person who dies by suicide, there are nearly 60 who have survived a suicide attempt, and approximately 278 who have experienced serious thoughts about killing themselves.
- As of 2014, the VA estimates there were 22 million military veterans in the U.S. (7.3% of total).
- The main causes of the high suicide rate are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, and depression. They are usually treated with counseling and medication. Experimental treatments are also available, some of which may be promising.
These experimental treatments can include yoga, qigong and t’ai chi, meditation, acupuncture, floatation tank therapy, light therapy, EMDR, animal therapy, bio-feedback and of course cannabis and other entheogenic medicines which include plant medicines, other earth medicines and semi-synthetic cousins of the natural medicines.
The study correctly indicates however that the veterans are usually treated with medication. That is an understatement. They are overtreated with medication which is pharmaceutical in nature resulting in addiction, suicidal ideation and suicide.
- An average of 117 people commit suicide every day in the United States. Veterans accounted for 18% of all the country’s suicides in 2014, while comprising only 7.3% of the population.
- Military victims of violent assault or rape are six times more likely to attempt suicide than military non-victims.
- The U.S. Pentagon now spends $2 billion a year on mental health alone. The VA’s mental health budget has risen from less than $3 billion in 2007 to nearly $7 billion in 2014.
- From 2001 to 2009, the Army’s suicide rate increased more than 150% while orders for psychiatric drugs rose 76% over the same period. 85% of military suicide victims had not seen combat.
- In 2005 alone, 13% of all VA mental health costs, or $274 million, were spent on treating PTSD.
- Currently 80% of vets labeled with PTSD receive psychotropic drugs; 89% of these are given antidepressants, with 34% treated with antipsychotics.
- Between 2005 and 2011, the rate of antipsychotic drug use in the U.S. military rose 1,100%.
- “Mental illness” remains the leading cause of hospitalization for active-duty troops.
- 17% of the active-duty force and 6% of deployed troops are on antidepressants.
Dr. Bart Billings, Ph.D., a retired Army Colonel and former military psychologist and founder and director of the military-wide Human Assistance Rapid Response Team program, has no doubt that the cause of suicides in the military is the direct result of the use of psychiatric drugs. “These medications are a chemical lobotomy.”
It is important to realize one of the reasons that these drugs are a death sentence is that they are written off label. For a drug to be written on label for a specific indication (medical condition) it must be tested for efficacy and safety for use for that condition. This means that any drugs written off label have not been tested for safety or efficacy for the condition the doctor is prescribing it for. Seroquel is a telling example.
According to the VA, nearly $850 million has been spent on Seroquel, an antipsychotic, prescribed to the troops for sleep disorders at a rate of 6.6 million prescriptions. Seroquel was approved by the FDA for the treatment of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. There were more than 54,000 Seroquel prescriptions last year, with 99 percent of those prescriptions written off-label—for disorders not approved by the FDA.
The FDA’s approved Medication Guide for Seroquel lists “Risk of Suicidal Thoughts or Actions,” as one of Seroquel’s “serious side effects” including, but not limited to: hallucinations, worsening mental or mood changes (e.g., aggressiveness, agitation, anxiety, depression, exaggerated feeling of well-being, hostility, irritability and panic attacks).
In 2007 the Food and Drug Administration, FDA, updated its 2004 black-box warnings, on all the antidepressants on the market. The FDA warning reads in part “Suicidality and Antidepressant Drugs: Antidepressants increased the risk compared to placebo of suicidal thinking and behavior (suicidality) in children, adolescents, and young adults in short-term studies of major depressive disorder and other psychiatric disorders.”
There are only two medications approved for PTSD. Zoloft and Paxil. They are both Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s). To measure PTSD in a medical setting, studies use the CAPS-2 (Clinician Administered PTSD Scale Part 2). The maximum possible score is 136, and a score of at least 50 is generally required for study entry. In the Zoloft preclinical trial, the average CAPS- 2 score before treatment was 73.9 in the Zoloft group, which translates to “severe” PTSD symptomatology. The efficacy measure was the reduction in CAPS-2 score from baseline to endpoint.
After 12 weeks, the Zoloft group went from 73.9 to 40.9 (a 33 point, or 45% improvement); the placebo group went from 73.5 to 47.3 (a 26.2 point, or 36% improvement). The bottom line is that 75-80% of antidepressant response rates in clinical trials are actually due to placebo response.
What is the solution to this downward spiral of treating PTSD with pharmaceuticals that don’t really work and instead make the problem worse and increase the likelihood of suicide? The natural plant medicines and their close chemical cousins seem to fit the bill.
After veterans have come back from war with PTSD, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and pain from being blown up and shot, they are put on a cocktail of up to as many as 30 different drugs per day which can include: Tricyclics and Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors, Anticonvulsants, Antipsychotics, Benzodiazepines and Other GABAergic Drugs and Antiadrenergic Drugs.
They also generally self-medicate with the culturally approved temporary pain reducer-alcohol. Eventually the result is that the medications’ side effect of suicidal ideation take their toll and veterans try to kill themselves. If they are fortunate they find cannabis and contrary to the myth you have heard about it being a gateway drug, for veterans, it is a gateway to life. They are able to get off the pharmaceuticals and treat their PTSD, TBI and pain with cannabis.
Even so the cannabis treats the symptoms of the PTSD and not the underlying causes. For that you need the power plants and medicines: ayahuasca, psilocybin, mescaline, LSD (semi-synthetic cousin of LSA found in morning glories), MDMA (semi-synthetic cousin of safrole), ibogaine, DMT and 5-Meo-DMT (the last two are neurotransmitters in the human brain, also both schedule 1 by the way).
These substances can allow the sufferer to treat the underlying reasons for the trauma allowing for permanent release. With ibogaine you have the opportunity for treatment of addiction. Also these substance can work on service trauma not connected with combat like military sexual trauma of which the military is facing another crisis.
One might legitimately argue that even though some of the medicines have been used for thousands of years how do we know that they are safe and that they work? We’re not suggesting that we use them off label like the pharmaceuticals, are we?
Well how does MDMA stack up against Zoloft and Paxil which are already on label for PTSD? In 2010 Dr. Michael Mithoefer, MD and Annie Mithoefer, BSN conducted a MAPS-sponsored study – Randomized Triple-Blind, Phase 2 Pilot Study Comparing 3 Different Doses of MDMA in Conjunction with Manualized Psychotherapy in 24 Veterans with Chronic PTSD.
The results of the Phase 2 pilot study (which involved 20 patients with an average PTSD duration of over 19 years) showed that 83.3% of the experimental group subjects displayed a clinical response (defined as a 30% or greater reduction in score on the CAPS test) compared to only 25% in the group that received only therapy and active placebo. The MAPS’ MDMA research program could now entering Phase 3 in the June 2017, with completion of Phase 3 and approval of MDMA as a prescription medicine estimated around 2020.
The FDA recently encouraged MAPS to apply for Breakthrough Therapy Designation for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy as a treatment for PTSD. According to the FDA, a breakthrough therapy is intended “to treat a serious or life threatening disease condition,” and “may demonstrate substantial improvement over existing therapies.” If approved, Breakthrough Therapy Designation could expedite the development and review of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD.
I know the plant and earth medicines work for service trauma as I have gone to Peru and Mexico with other veterans where we have successfully used ayahuasca, ibogaine, 5-Meo-DMT and other plants to treat PTSD with the help of shamans, healers, facilitators and doctors and of course one another. Veteran love is the best medicine. Veterans have learned and recent studies have shown that the highest correlating factor for contracting PTSD from military service is childhood trauma.
The medicines help veterans achieve self-love, self-acceptance and self-forgiveness. This healing allows for veterans to reintegrate into society. These outputs of the war machine who swore an oath to defend the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic, who signed their lives away on the dotted line and have not renounced their oath, who are trained in lethal force and are seeking belonging and a calling to a higher purpose, can take their rightful place in society as peaceful warriors showing the rest of humanity a way forward.
Veterans are the light at the tip of the candle, illuminating the way for the whole nation. If Veterans can achieve awareness, transformation, understanding and peace, they can share with the rest of society the realities of war. And they can teach us how to make peace with ourselves and each other, so we never have to use violence to resolve conflicts again by Thich Nhat Hanh.
If we choose not to reintegrate these veterans we can expect to see many more situations like Fort Lauderdale, Dallas and Baton Rouge where unintegrated combat veterans kill civilians and police.
This is not an abstract issue for me. I dedicate this article to the memory of Brandon Ketchum. He served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as both a Marine and a soldier in the Army. During the two tours in Iraq, locating and clearing road side bombs, he survived five “hard hits” or explosions.
He was addicted to a high dose of narcotic pain meds, began abusing them and eventually started using heroin. In February 2015 he overdosed and nearly died but was saved by paramedics, one of whom had previously served in combat with him. Brandon had just graduated from the VA’s substance use disorder program in March, 2016. Here is a portion of his explanation of his desire to join us in Peru which ultimately became his own eulogy beyond the grave.
“Now that I have more control of myself and my life I have begun the daunting task of starting to piece my life back together after the traumas of three hard fought combat tours had taken a costly toll on nearly every aspect of my life.”
“The physical and mental symptoms of severe PTSD, depression, anxiety, and the inability to adapt back to the real world has been a tremendous obstacle for me, particularly going through nearly 25-30 different types of meds yet finding no solid gains or improvements. I am a firm believer in medical marijuana but unfortunately it is not yet legalized where I live.”
“Asking for help has only clouded my life with such a stigma that I have carried the “crazy” or “broken” labels, forcing me to have to fight for custody of my little girl that I love more than the world. I’m nearing some possible successes in some aspects of my life, directly as a result of my unwillingness to be discarded and dismissed by the country I swore to give my life for. But at the end of the day, I feel that I am also at war with myself and my “demons.”
He was scheduled to go with us to Peru for a 10-day dieta with three Shipibo shaman brothers last May to take ayahuasca and other plant medicines. He couldn’t get his passport in time to go because of not having an original Texas birth certificate. Less than 3 months later he went to his local VA and tried to check himself in but they refused him and he went home and killed himself.
“I requested that I get admitted to 9W (psych ward) and get things straightened out,” he wrote on Facebook hours before committing suicide. “I truly felt my safety and health were in jeopardy, as I discussed with the doc. Not only did I get a ‘NO’, but three reasons of no based on me being not f***** up enough. At this point I say, ‘why even try anymore?’ They gave up on me, so why shouldn’t I give up on myself? Right now, that is the only viable option given my circumstances and frame of mind.”
So if you support the troops and you also believe that we will one day that “they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks and that nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” then we must first heal our soldiers to be able to truly bring them home.
The medical ethics of denying cannabis as medicine while allowing opiates
Currently the United States is experiencing the worst drug epidemic in its history.
Each day at least 60 people die from opioid pain medications.
Drug poisoning is the number one cause of unintentional death.
75% of new heroin users start on prescription painkillers.
70% of people abusing prescription painkillers report getting them from friends or relatives.
There are 4.3 million nonmedical users of prescription painkillers.
Almost 2 million people have prescription painkiller substance use disorders.
There are over 400,000 emergency room visits for prescription painkillers annually.
Research indicates 4% to 6% of prescription painkiller abusers will transition to heroin use.
Prescription painkiller overdoses kill more citizens than car accidents.
Opioid prescriptions have tripled over the past 20 years.
12 states have more opioid prescriptions than people.
The opioid epidemic has an estimated total economic burden of $78.5 billion annually.
The United States leads the world in prescription opioid consumption. In 2009, the United States consumed 99% of the world’s hydrocodone, 81% of the world’s oxycodone and 60% of the world’s hydromorphone. In 2007 Purdue Pharma paid a $634m penalty for misrepresenting OxyContin’s addictiveness. In 2015 the company reached a $24m settlement with Kentucky after the state claimed Purdue cost it “an entire generation” to OxyContin.
Opium is derived from poppies and contains both codeine and morphine, which are also made by the human body. Heroin (diamorphine) is a semi-synthetic opioid that is up to 5 times stronger than morphine. Fentanyl is a semi-synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin. Carfentanil is a semi-synthetic opioid 100 to 1,000 times stronger than fentanyl used to tranquilize large animals like elephants where 2 mg can knock out a 2,000-pound animal. 1 kilogram from China, where it is legal to manufacture, costs $3,000. $3.00 worth of carfentanil from China can easily kill 5,000 people ($0.06/person) and it is doing so as heroin is being cut with fentanyl and carfentanil to boost profits leading to waves of overdoses.
Studies have shown that in states where medical cannabis is available (now 28 states), opiate overdoses, use, dependence, deaths and hospital admissions are all down. There were declines in the number of Medicare prescriptions for drugs used along with a dip in spending by Medicare Part D, which covers the cost on prescription medications. Medical marijuana saved Medicare about $165 million in 2013. If medical marijuana were available nationwide, Medicare Part D spending could have declined in the same year by about $470 million.
Medical ethics require doctors to follow the Hippocratic oath of first do no harm. Since opiates are powerful but also dangerous, harm reduction necessitates the availability of cannabis as both replacement and adjunct to therapy with opiates with a position as a first line therapeutic for pain. When used in conjunction with opiates, cannabis leads to a greater cumulative relief of pain, resulting in a reduction in the use of opiates and associated side-effects. Additionally, cannabis can prevent the development of tolerance to and withdrawal from opiates, and can even reset opiate efficiency after a prior dosage has become ineffective due to tolerance.
Opiates can and do kill. Cannabis has never killed anyone as a person cannot overdose on cannabis. Why are dangerous and addictive opiates available for doctors’ prescription and recommendation but not cannabis?
It’s not like we have never used cannabis as medicine in this country. In 1850 cannabis was added to the US Pharmacopeia (an official public standards-setting authority for all prescription and over-the counter medicines), which listed marijuana as treatment for numerous afflictions, including: neuralgia (nerve pain), tetanus, typhus, cholera, rabies, dysentery, alcoholism, opiate addiction, anthrax, leprosy, incontinence, gout, convulsive disorders, tonsillitis, insanity, excessive menstrual bleeding, and uterine bleeding, among others. Patented marijuana tinctures were sold by Big Pharma companies such as Parke-Davis and Eli Lily. From 1850 to 1937 cannabis was one of the top 3 prescribed medicines in the US.
In 1889, an article by Dr. E. A. Birch in The Lancet, still one of the world’s leading medical journals, described the utilization of cannabis for the treatment of opium withdrawal symptoms: “the mixture reduced the opium craving and acted as an anti-emetic [drug that is effective against vomiting and nausea].”
Please don’t tell me that there isn’t enough science to back up cannabis as medicine as cannabis is the most studied drug in history and Big Pharma, the FDA and the US Patent Office think otherwise (US Patent 6,630,507 Cannabinoids as Antioxidants and Neuroprotectants). There are already ten cannabinoid-based drugs courtesy of Big Pharma- Marinol, Nabilone, Dexanabinol, CT-3 (ajulemic acid), Cannabinor, HU 308, HU 331, Rimonabant (Acomplia) and Taranabant, four of which are already FDA approved.
The head of the class is Sativex, a cannabis-based mouth spray developed by UK-based GW Pharmaceuticals. Sativex contains cannabis extracts that are rich in THC and CBD. The spray is used for neuropathic pain and spasticity in patients with multiple sclerosis.
The company’s most recently granted patent (No. 9,205,063) covers the prevention and treatment of neural degeneration with a full plant spectrum pharmaceutical formulation of cannabis obtained by running the plant through a common carbon dioxide (CO2) extraction method. The patent lists all the usual active components of cannabis that come from a full plant extract: THC, CBD, terpenes, sterols, triglycerides, alkanes, flavonoids, etc. GW Pharma is claiming ownership of cannabis as a drug in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
Patent No. 9,168,278 granted for the use of the cannabinoid THCV as an appetite suppressant in a weight loss medication. Patent No. 9,017,737 granted for the use of CBD and other cannabinoids to prevent or treat psychotic disorders. Patent No. 8,771,760 granted covers with the use of cannabinoids for constipation. Patent No. 8,790,719 filed in 2013 makes claim for the use of plant-derived cannabinoids in the treatment of prostate cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer.
Jesus said “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” Someone illegally self-medicating with cannabis by putting it in their bodies to heal themselves does not defile themselves. However, someone speaking words out of their mouths that cannabis is not medicine is beyond ridiculous at this point in the debate and is a denial of science and plain evidence in the historical record.
In 1988 US Drug Enforcement Agency, Chief Administrative Law Judge Francis Young determined: “Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care. It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record.”
As Thomas Jefferson said, “If people let the government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.”
It is time to assert the ownership and dominion we have over our own bodies and our own health. The truth we learned in elementary school is more valid than ever today that we are what we eat. Our bodies are our temples and we don’t need the government, the medical establishment or Big Pharma to defile them.
Let’s chase the money changers out of our temple and reconsecrate the kingdom within with some of that good old natural holy anointing oil, you know the kind with kaneh bosm in it! 😉 I mean come on folks Messiah literally means the anointed one.