DENVER—By now, medical marijuana may seem old hat to most Coloradans, but one state lawmaker thinks the law for medical pot needs to be expanded.
Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont), who's been actively involved in marijuana issues, introduced HB 1364, which would add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the list of medical conditions that qualify patients for access to medical marijuana.
It's a complicated issue. There's a well-studied connection between PTSD and substance abuse, something that's taken a heavy toll on the lives of many veterans.
This raises the question of why the state would want to enact a law that would seem to suggest the use of pot for PTSD.
Singer, who has a background in counseling and social work, says as a practical matter anybody with PTSD can walk into a marijuana store and buy pot anyway.
"If they want to self-treat they can do that now, they can go to the liquor store or anywhere," said Singer.
He sees that as a danger that could be reduced by involving doctors.
"We can't have soldiers or anybody else self-prescribing this for their PTSD," Singer tells 9NEWS. "You don't want a budtender acting a psychiatrist."
"Budtender" is an industry term for the clerks who work behind the counters of marijuana stores.
Because PTSD affects many veterans, who receive federal benefits, Singer says it's important to provide them with the ability to get a red card.
"If they're using marijuana not under doctors orders, they can potentially lose their VA benefits," Singer said.
Complicating the issue, marijuana can have medical benefits for PTSD patients.
"The effects of marijuana help with anxiety, especially the physiological and cognitive effects," said 9NEWS psychologist Dr. Max Wachtel. "It keeps them from churning over and over the traumatic stuff they've been through and helps when the body tenses up."
Wachtel buys Singer's argument that the drug would be safer to use under a doctor's supervision, especially a psychiatrist, but says he himself would have reservations about referring a patient for a medical marijuana card.
"I would probably wait. It still feels illegal and like a drug to me," said Wachtel, saying that doctors are cautious by nature and that there needs to be more extensive study of the advantages and disadvantages of pot for anxiety disorders.
While the medical marijuana system could be seen as safer for PTSD patients than the recreational marijuana system, it's also cheaper.
Patients with medical marijuana red cards are not required to pay the new special taxes on the drug.
Despite that cheaper access, Wachtel does see other advantages from a safety perspective, even if a patient becomes addicted.
He points out that alcohol can also provide some of the same relief from PTSD symptoms as marijuana, but unlike pot, alcohol carries the risk of death from overdose.