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MAPS Bulletin Winter 2013: 2013 Annual Report
Media > Recent and Archival
January 3, 2014

Why Colorado’s First Legal Marijuana Buyer Was A War Veteran With PTSD

Leaf Science

Leaf Science announces that the first person to legally purchase recreational marijuana in Colorado was Sean Azzariti, a war veteran suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Azzariti explains how marijuana helps him manage the symptoms of PTSD, stating, “Cannabis saved me when PTSD was just overwhelming me.”

Originally appearing here.

Sean Azzariti officially became America’s first recreational marijuana customer when he bought an eighth (3.5 g) of ‘Bubba Kush’ and a truffle from Denver’s 3D Cannabis store at 8 a.m. on New Year’s Day.

Azzariti is also a former Marine, having served two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after returning home, reports the MailOnline, and has found marijuana the most effective treatment for his condition.

“Doctors just prescribed more and more pills – they were treating my symptoms but not my problems… Cannabis saved me when PTSD was just overwhelming me.”

Because of this, Azzariti has been an activist for legal marijuana for the past few years. In an interview with MailOnline, Azzariti explained the reason for his dedication.

“I have a lot of friends who are addicted to Xanax and antidepressants – all sorts of prescription drugs because they’re trying to deal with the same things I am. They wouldn’t dream of trying marijuana because of the stigma. I want to say, Look I’ve done the same thing as you and I’ve been there and this helped me. It may not be for you but just give it a try.”

Perhaps worse than the stigma of using a drug that has been illegal in the U.S. for more than seven decades, is the fact that people like Azzariti are still labelled recreational users.

While some states allow PTSD as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana, many others, including Colorado, do not. But Azzariti’s experience with marijuana is not unique; it’s the research that seems to be lagging behind.

Animal studies suggest that marijuana can indeed help calm the fear and anxiety from PTSD, as neuroscientist Dr. Kerry Ressler recently explained to NPR.

Dr. Ressler, who conducts research on PTSD at Emory University, says when traumatized mice are given THC, they tend to be “less anxious, more calm, you know, many of the things that you might imagine.”

Other studies have even managed to explain why: compounds in marijuana act on areas of the brain responsible for fear and anxiety. By mimicking natural mechanisms of the brain, cannabis seems to help regulate overactivation of fear systems, common in PTSD.

But even with so much supporting evidence, researchers who’ve tried to perform human trials, such as Dr. Sue Sisley of Arizona State University, report being roadblocked by the federal government.

“The government has already decided the fate of marijuana… They decided that, in their heads, marijuana has no medical benefit.”

Until such studies are conducted, it’s all too easy for policymakers to reject PTSD as a qualifier for medical marijuana. Which leaves war veterans like Azzariti with no choice but to continue using marijuana ‘for recreation.’

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