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  • Loren King

‘Unprescribed’ an impassioned plea for medical marijuana

Numerous veterans battling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other war-related afflictions have found relief from their mental and physical disorders in marijuana. Trouble is, it isn’t a prescribed treatment.

The documentary “Unprescribed” makes a cogent, thorough and sensitive argument for medical marijuana use, especially for traumatized veterans. It’s hard to argue with the facts. Veterans talk about the epidemic of veteran suicide, a consequence of treatment that relies primarily on what one vet, Fabian Henry, calls “the pharmaceutical train,” drugs such as Seroquel, an antipsychotic medication. These heavily prescribed drugs, says Henry, turn many into “zombies … lazy, fat zombies.”

Produced and directed by military veteran Steve Ellmore, “Unprescribed” features moving testimony from combat veterans such as Joshua Frey, who joined the Marines in 2003 and was severely wounded in Fallujah, Iraq. Awarded two purple hearts, Frey details his long struggle to cope with his injuries with the dozens of heavy-duty drugs prescribed by the doctors in VA facilities. His wife Sarah talks about how her husband went from being an “active, friendly, joyful person” to “a shell of a human being … isolated.” Frey finally found some peace and relief by smoking marijuana and was able to discontinue the regimen of sedatives, anti-depressants and painkillers he’d been taking.

Another passionate voice in the film is that of Boone Cutler, a vet who describes his long stay at Walter Reed Army Medical Center as the “worst time of my life.” Cutler had suffered a traumatic brain injury in battle; he later developed PTSD. He was given Seroquel and numerous other medications. He’d never smoked weed in his life, he says, but he was desperate. Culter is now a vocal advocate for marijuana as a medical alternative.

Who would argue with these veterans’ experiences? Yet, as advocates state again and again in the film, there has been a concerted effort to stigmatize marijuana, from PSAs featuring celebrities in the 1980s to current drug laws that classify marijuana as a Schedule One drug with no medical benefit, which prohibits the VA from dispensing it and forces desperate veterans to obtain it on their own.

Professionals such as Dr. Sue Sisley discuss the pain of losing patients to suicide. “I had nothing more to offer them. We had exhausted conventional treatments,” she says. The mother of a veteran shares her traumatic story of watching her son’s slow suicide because of the mix of debilitating drugs he’d been prescribed.

“Unprescribed” makes an eloquent case and does its job of educating viewers about the plight of war-scarred veterans who seek relief from damaging pharmaceutical cocktails. They want something better — and they want it to be readily and legally accessible.

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