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Veteran Walks 750 Miles Through Snowstorms To Protest Cuts To Medical Marijuana Treatments

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Cuts to medical marijuana coverage 'makes me sick,' says P.E.I. veteran

Post by Guest on Fri 19 May 2017, 05:39

Cuts to medical marijuana coverage 'makes me sick,' says P.E.I. veteran

Dennis MacKenzie among more than 100 protesters on Parliament Hill on Thursday

By Shane Ross, CBC News May 18, 2017

Dennis MacKenzie says the federal government's decision to reduce medicinal marijuana coverage for veterans takes away their "right to health."

The Charlottetown veteran and about a dozen other Islanders were among more than 100 people on Parliament Hill Thursday for the Marijuana for Trauma protest.

"I was very proud to be where I was, but disgusted to be fighting," MacKenzie said on CBC's Mainstreet P.E.I.

New rules set by Ottawa will reduce the daily amount eligible for coverage from 10 grams to three as of May 22.
More than 100 people gathered on Parliament Hill on Thursday to protest the government's reduction in medical marijuana coverage for veterans. (Submitted by Dennis MacKenzie

"Cutting our medicine is putting us back at risk," said MacKenzie, who served in Afghanistan.

Golf course or wheelchair

MacKenzie said he marched Wednesday with a 79-year-old veteran who relies on his 10 grams of cannabidiol, or CBN.

"He takes his 10 grams a day, and he's on the golf course. Without it, he's in a wheelchair," MacKenzie said.

'It's so frustrating to even talk about. It just makes me sick. It's our right to health.'
- Dennis MacKenzie, veteran and medical marijuana user

The Veterans Affairs website says the maximum of three grams per day was based on current scientific evidence and consultations with veterans, stakeholders, licensed producers and medical experts.

MacKenzie agrees there needs to be more research, but it shouldn't affect a system he says is already working.

"Don't take that system out of place while you're trying to figure your system out," he said.

'So frustrating'

Veterans Affairs says veterans can purchase additional grams per day through their provider, if authorized by a health-care practitioner.

But Marijuana for Trauma members are concerned about the wait times to get in to see health-care professionals to get authorization.

"You take any other medication and say you are going to reduce it on a person by 70 per cent, it would just never happen," MacKenzie said.

"It's so frustrating to even talk about. It just makes me sick. It's our right to health."


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Consequences of pot program cuts 'should be alarming,' says veteran with PTSD

Post by Guest on Thu 18 May 2017, 17:43

Consequences of pot program cuts 'should be alarming,' says veteran with PTSD

Fabian Henry plans to stage a peaceful demonstration in Ottawa to protest changes to the federal program

By Elizabeth Chiu, CBC News May 18, 2017

Afghanistan veteran Fabian Henry says he needs 10 grams of marijuana a day to treat PTSD, and that pharmaceuticals haven't worked

Military veterans who smoke, eat or vape as much as 10 grams a day of medical marijuana for chronic pain or PTSD are facing a dramatic cut in reimbursement within days for a treatment many say is the only one that works.

Nearly 4,500 veterans are currently reimbursed by Veterans Affairs for up to 10 grams a day of medical marijuana, but on Monday, that will be capped at three grams a day.

The move affects 2,578 veterans. Their coverage will be cut by as much as two-thirds.

Veterans Affairs spent $63.7 million in 2016-17 for medical marijuana — triple the amount spent the previous year.

In a statement, Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr said "this is not about dollars and cents."

He said the department is following the recommendation of the College of Family Physicians of Canada that establishes three grams as the upper limit for medical cannabis while research continues to emerge.

Henry recently walked to Ottawa from New Brunswick in protest of changes to the medical marijuana program.

The move has angered Fabian Henry, an Afghanistan veteran and the founder of Marijuana for Trauma — an Oromocto, N.B., company with 15 locations to help veterans access medical marijuana.

'Veterans are sitting at home in anxiety'

Henry, who was medically released from the army in 2012, said he smokes 10 grams of marijuana a day.

"A couple thousand veterans are sitting at home in anxiety right now wondering how they're going to survive on 70 per cent less medication," Henry, 37, said from a hotel room in Ottawa.

The New Waterford, N.S., native just finished a five-month walk to Ottawa from New Brunswick. He plans to stage a peaceful demonstration Thursday on Parliament Hill to protest the cut to reimbursements.

The reduction means veterans who use medical marijuana will have to pay out of pocket for their full dosage or medicate with less weed.

Henry said cannabis is the only thing that works to treat his post-traumatic stress disorder and tame suicidal and violent thoughts. Anti-psychotics, benzodiazepenes and anti-depressants have failed, he said.

Emerging research

When Hehr announced the cutback in November, an internal department review showed a skyrocketing number of prescriptions and the lack of a policy on reimbursement.

Hehr said the new policy will be reviewed and adjusted as more scientific evidence becomes available.

Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr says medical professionals are in the best position to authorize appropriate treatment for patients.

"There is sufficient anecdotal evidence from veterans that it works, which is why we continue to be the only jurisdiction in North America that reimburses," said Hehr.

Not too much pot

Henry said medical marijuana has greatly improved his quality of life so that he's able to work.

He said the marijuana doesn't make him stoned because of the strains he uses and the tolerance he's built up over the last six years.

New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have almost the same number of veterans receiving compensation for medical marijuana. More than 1,500 of them live in the two Maritime provinces — that's 35 per cent of all claimants across the country.

Exceptional circumstances

Veterans who have authorization from a pain management specialist or a psychiatrist for more than three grams a day can continue to receive higher compensation. So far, 46 veterans, more than half the applicants, have that approval.

New Brunswick has 794 veterans who receive medical marijuana compensation, the most in Canada. In Nova Scotia, there are 759 patients.

But Fabian said the wait to see a specialist can take months — his own appointment is in the fall — and that lag will leave veterans in the lurch.

In response to complaints, Hehr said his department is working with veterans who are having difficulties getting the paperwork together.

The department has simplified the authorization process for veterans who have both chronic pain and a psychiatric condition. Now approval from either a pain management or a psychiatrist will suffice.

'This should be alarming'

Henry is unsatisfied. He is urging the minister to hold off on the reimbursement cutback until the department finishes its own research project on the effects of marijuana on veterans.

He said the potential consequence of having veterans run out of medication "should be alarming" to the department.

"The one medication that was working is going to be drastically reduced and potentially flare up people's PTSD," said Henry.

"I don't really know what's going to happen. I just know it ain't going to be good."

Cannabis 'cannot be the whole treatment'

Michel Doiron, the department's assistant deputy minister, said one of the most effective ways of helping people in mental health distress is "engagement and support early and often."

He said cannabis may play a role in treatment "but it cannot be the whole treatment regime."

Doiron said the department provides support to access thousands of mental health practitioners across the country, operational service injury clinics and military family resource centres.


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Veteran Walks 750 Miles Through Snowstorms To Protest Cuts To Medical Marijuana Treatments

Post by Guest on Wed 12 Apr 2017, 15:37

Veteran Walks 750 Miles Through Snowstorms To Protest Cuts To Medical Marijuana Treatments

By Mark Leger Apr 12, 2017

Fabian Henry was walking on the side of the road one day in late March when a van pulled up alongside him. A Canadian military veteran on a 750-mile walk to protest cuts to the government’s medical marijuana program, Henry was nearing the end of his day. He had walked more than 10 miles and it was snowing heavily.

The driver of the van was a military veteran, and they ended up having a 15-minute conversation about Henry’s journey from Oromocto (home of Canadian Forces Base Gagetown) to Ottawa. They also talked about the van driver’s own personal situation. He was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Henry counselled him on the military’s monetary-entitlement programs and the potential medical benefits of cannabis.

“[The military is] not proactive in telling you what you’re entitled to…and he knew nothing about cannabis, and he’s on pharmaceuticals that just don’t work for PTSD,” says Henry, the founder of Marijuana For Trauma, a veteran owned-and-operated company that helps people suffering from PTSD. It also provides guidance and advice to veterans trying to access programs and entitlements through Veterans Affairs Canada.

Henry's journey to becoming a cannabis advocate

Fabian Henry says his dad has been a great support.

Henry’s journey as a cannabis advocate began a decade ago with the events that led to him developing PTSD himself. An Army engineer, he was on a mission in Afghanistan and mapping routes where military convoys might encounter land-mines. There was a communication breakdown between Henry and another soldier relaying information about safe routes, and a military vehicle ran over a mine that exploded and killed two men.

“Two Canadian soldiers were killed because of that mistake,” says Henry. “And when I got back it basically raged [inside me] for three years. I lost my wife, my kids, everything I worked for.”

Henry was diagnosed with PTSD, and prescribed pharmaceuticals to help treat it. But they didn’t work, says Henry, and his life spiralled out of control. In 2008 he was both charged with threatening to kill the Oromocto fire chief, and driving under the influence of alcohol.

“I took nine pills a day for three years and I almost killed myself,” says Henry.

He tried cannabis for the first time in 2010. His sister was using it as part of her recovery from having a tumour removed from her spine, and he decided to give it a try as well. He experienced immediately results and stopped using pharmaceuticals entirely.

“I couldn’t believe the relaxation my body felt for the first time in three years,” he says.

“I haven’t taken a single pill [since then]. It’s the smoking or vaping the cannabis that relaxes my brain, gives me time to process what’s going on around me. I find I have better situational awareness now. I’m more conscious of my movements and my actions. I’m not out to get anyone. I’m not angry.”

Henry wanted to better understand why cannabis worked for him, so he began studying its potential medical benefits. As part of his research he contacted people like Dr. Alexander Neumeister at the Lagone Health Center at New York University. Neumeister published a study in 2013 that addressed the potential medicinal benefits of using cannabis to treat PTSD.

Neumeister stressed the need to search for alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs that didn’t effectively treat PTSD.

“There’s not a single pharmacological treatment out there that has been developed specifically for PTSD,” said Dr. Neumeister at the time his study was published.

“That’s a problem. There’s a consensus among clinicians that existing pharmaceutical treatments such as antidepressants simply do not work. In fact, we know very well that people with PTSD who use marijuana - a potent cannabinoid - often experience more relief from their symptoms than they do from antidepressants and other psychiatric medications. Clearly, there’s a very urgent need to develop novel evidence-based treatments for PTSD.”

When Henry began using medical marijuana it was not subsidized for treating PTSD, so he got it from the black market. He spent $37,000 on cannabis in two years, until Veterans Affairs began paying for up to 10 grams per day for veterans like Henry.

“That’s what I had to do to stay alive,” says Henry about resorting to the streets for his medical marijuana.

In late May, the federal government plans to cut the amount it will subsidize from 10 grams a day to three, a decision that inspired Henry’s protest walk, 158 Days In Honour Of 158 Lives – the number of soldiers who have died serving in Afghanistan.

Henry firmly believes that cannabis use will prevent more suicides in the future, and he says the military has to change its policies to make it easier for veterans to make medical marijuana an integrated part of the treatment process. Veterans Affairs will not allow patients to use cannabis in any of its treatment centres, for example, which Henry says is putting veterans at risk.

“It’s insanity,” says Henry. “They want you only on pharmaceuticals. But most of these guys get off the pharmaceuticals because they don’t work. And they’re saying you can’t come here and use the [stuff] that works. You have to take our stupid pills that don’t work."

“I don’t think [the suicides are] going to end until they allow the use of cannabis in hospitals and treatment programs on a regular basis,” says Henry. “When that happens, we’ll see a reduction.”

Henry says the planned cut from 10 grams per day to three will also put soldiers at increased risk. A report released in January showed that nearly 75 percent of veterans in the medical marijuana program use more than three grams per day, and one in three use the maximum allotment of 10 grams per day. That includes Henry himself.

“I’m worried,” he says of the impending cut. “I’m going to go from 10 grams a day to three on May 22, and I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do.”

He’s also concerned about the veterans he works with at Marijuana For Trauma, which opened in Oromocto in 2013 and now has 15 clinics across the country. He says they serve 2,100 veterans who use cannabis in their treatment programs; 80 percent of them say they’ve have reduced or eliminated the use of pharmaceuticals as a result.

“All of them say their lives are better, whether it’s PTSD or chronic pain,” says Henry.

Henry realizes that cannabis is not a cure for PTSD, but he considers it an important part of the treatment process.

“You got to treat the symptom with the right medicine. You have to allow the use of cannabis to treat the symptoms so you can actually go get something out of treatment. You can actually go talk to a psychologist and process your trauma. You can’t do that on pills."

“The cannabis allows me to get sleep and be present, and live a better quality of life. It’s not actually curing PTSD,” he says. “I still need to meditate, and do yoga and eat healthy food.”

Henry plans to incorporate this holistic approach to recovery into the services provided to former soldiers. Veterans For Healing - another support organization started by Henry - has purchased a 100-acre piece of land in Cape Breton and plan to open a retreat center there sometime in the next three years. It will feature courses in meditation, yoga, organic cooking, and horticulture. The area also has beautiful, rugged coastal landscapes that are great for hiking.

"All of these types things help them decompress,” says Henry. “That’s all I think we need. Get on the right medicine, which is cannabis. Get into to the right treatment program, which is the [Veterans Affairs] treatment program, and then have a maintenance program for the peer support side of things at the end.”

That sums up Henry’s mission to provide an effective, wraparound treatment and recovery program for military veterans suffering from PTSD. And he attacks this mission with the kind of resolve and energy that led to his long journey to the nation’s capital through snowstorms and freezing temperatures. He plans to arrive in Ottawa May 18, four days before the cuts will take effect.

People gathered in the Marijuana For Trauma vape lounge in Oromocto last December the day Henry left on his awareness walk.

As he passes through towns and cities along secondary highways, lugging a backpack adorned with the flags of Canada and Veterans For Healing, he drops a letter through people's mailboxes explaining his campaign to maintain current funding levels for medical marijuana.

People who receive these letters, and others aware of what he’s doing, honk their horns as they pass by.

Others pull over their cars to show their appreciation in person. One guy stopped on the side of the road on a day it was well below zero. He handed Henry a hot chocolate, and said, “Thank you for what you’re doing. Thank you for your service. He got back in his car and left.”


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Re: Veteran Walks 750 Miles Through Snowstorms To Protest Cuts To Medical Marijuana Treatments

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