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PTSD patients fight to keep medical marijuana

By Vanessa de la Viña, vanessa@kvia.com
Published On: Jan 14 2014 07:14:02 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 14 2014 07:29:00 PM CST

ABC-7's Vanessa de la Vina reports.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. -

For years, patients in New Mexico with certain health conditions have used medical marijuana as a treatment.

Now one psychiatrist is fighting to get post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) off the list of qualified conditions.

On Wednesday the state board of health heard both sides of the argument at a meeting in Santa Fe.

There are currently more than 8,000 patients enrolled in the medical marijuana program in the state. Of those, about 3,300 are PTSD patients.

ABC-7 sat down with Keith Marker, a navy veteran who served in Afghanistan.

"It's been a constant struggle. I've had numerous ambulance rides, and when I got my medical cannabis card, my life completely turned around," Marker told ABC-7.

After being diagnosed with PTSD, he was placed on a long list of anti-depressants. Marker said the side-effects of those medicines were horrific.

"I was in my camis and I decided to hang myself. My dad actually came down to the garage and saw me hung with a noose, blue, tongue sticking out, swirling around," Marker recalls.

After several suicide attempts and a downward spiral, Marker finally got his medical cannabis card. 

Using medical marijuana, he said he was able to wean himself off of the anti-depressants.

"That was probably one of the best decisions I've ever made for myself. Once I did that the suicidal tendencies, everything, started minimizing. Eventually I think they're going to go away. I'm actually truly happy now feeling good about myself and I'm starting to have better chances at making friends," Marker said.

On Wednesday, Marker shared his story at the board of health meeting.

Albuquerque psychiatrist William Ulwelling filed a petition to remove PTSD patients from the medical marijuana program.

Ulwelling argued there is no scientific evidence that the drug benefits PTSD patients.

"When they heard the success stories from all of the members who testified, I don't think anybody who has half of a heart could have denied any of those people medical cannabis, seeing the drastic improvements of what it's done for us," Marker said.

The board voted unanimously to keep PTSD as a qualifying condition, temporarily saving the treatment.

Marker said it saved his life and could help thousands of others.

"I'm alive again, and New Mexico saved a veteran's life. I appreciate them for that," Marker said.

Ulwelling did not respond to ABC-7's request for comment.

The final decision on this matter ultimately lies in the hands of interim secretary of health Brad McGrath.

McGrath was appointed by republican governor Susana Martinez, who has made it clear she is not in favor of the medical marijuana program.

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