Marijuana and PTSD: Veteran Sean Azzariti heartbroken but hopeful after bill's failure

Earlier this week, an effort to add post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of conditions legally treatable by medical marijuana in Colorado failed -- a development cannabis advocate Brian Vicente described as "shameful."

Veteran Sean Azzariti offered emotional testimony in favor of the bill and admits to being frustrated that the effort fell short again, just as it did in 2010 and 2012. But while he's disappointed, he has new reasons for hope for a change in the future.

"They had me testify first, which was a little nerve-racking," Azzariti says of his Monday appearance before the House committee on State, Military and Veterans Affairs. "I tried to stay as even-keeled as I possibly could, but when you're testifying about something so personal to you, that you've been working on for years, it's hard not to get choked up."

Azzariti feels some committee members were open to his arguments, while others "were completely close-minded" -- and the latter group won the day. The measure, known as House Bill 14-1364, was voted down by a 6-5 margin.

The result "definitely broke a lot of hearts," Azzariti concedes, but it hasn't dampened his enthusiasm to fight for the issue, which he embraced after PTSD followed him home after military duties overseas.

"I served in the Marine Corps from August 2000 to October 2006," he notes. "My primary duty station was in Jacksonville, North Carolina, but I deployed twice to Iraq -- first in Al-Qa'im and then in Al Asad.

"I wasn't an infantry guy kicking down doors," he continues, "but I was in charge of security for my base. I did a bunch of convoys from base to base and I was also in charge of making sure that no one coming onto the base was carrying bombs and ammunition." In Al Asad, for instance, "myself and my post were the last line of defense before you got to the airstrip, and with foreign nationals coming through all day, they could easily have gotten to the airfield and done some damage if we weren't there.

"We were constantly being mortared, constantly being shot at," he points out. "It was a very high-stress job."

Upon his return to the States, Azzariti says he "started to exhibit symptoms of PTSD. But when I went to see doctors, they really only treated the symptoms, not the core problem -- and they gave me ridiculous cocktails of medication. At one point, I was prescribed four-to-six milligrams of Xanax a day, four milligrams of Klonopin a day, thirty-to-fifty milligrams of Adderall a day and then a drug called Trazodone to help me sleep. At one point, I was taking thirteen pills a day."

When Azzariti continued to suffer from symptoms of PTSD, compounded by side effects from the medication he was gobbling, he grew concerned.

"I came to the realization that if I kept taking all of that, I wouldn't last too long. I wouldn't be functional. It was sending me down a really bad path."

At that point, Azzariti "started to research how cannabis might be beneficial to my PTSD, and I found a lot of anecdotes from veterans, rape sufferers and a lot of other kinds of people about how cannabis was useful to them." So, in 2008, he applied for a medical marijuana card -- and was turned down, because PTSD isn't deemed a qualifying condition in Colorado.

Continue for more of our interview with veteran Sean Azzariti about PTSD and medical marijuana, including a video.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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