Iraq veteran finds a way out of PTSD through cannabis

By WALLACE BAINE | Santa Cruz Sentinel, Calif. (Tribune News Service) | Published: May 9, 2016

SANTA CRUZ (Tribune News Service) — Some of the triggers are obvious — loud noises, open spaces, the darkness of night. Others, not so much. Like roadkill.

It's not that animal corpses reminded Jake Scallan of all the death that surrounded him during his deployment in Iraq. It's something more immediate, more horrifying than that.

"They use to hide IEDs in dead animals," says Scallan. "So (after I returned from Iraq), I would see roadkill and just gas it, drive in the middle of the road, cut everybody off. Y'know, I feel like I'm a fairly self-aware person and I try to be aware of what's going on with me. But sometimes something snaps. And you're watching yourself, thinking 'Why am I doing this?' "

That's what post-traumatic stress disorder feels like, and in the case of the 28-year-old Santa Cruzan, it almost destroyed his life. A couple of years after returning from Iraq, Jake found himself on suicide watch at a psych ward at the VA, where the nurses carried pepper spray and the chairs were weighted down so they couldn't be thrown across the room.

Eventually, Scallan crawled out of that deep hole. His story is told in a new book, the title of which encapsulates his life from that moment to now. "Cannabis Saved My Life: Stories of Hope and Healing," by Santa Cruz journalist Elizabeth Limbach, chronicles the stories of people across the country who found relief from their crippling physical or psychological problems through cannabis.
In fact, Scallan has devoted his life to cannabis and its power to put lives back together. He now runs the Veterans Compassion Program at the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance, a group that, under California's Proposition 215, provides veterans with cannabis and the support system they need to help them navigate their medical issues.

Scallan and his organization hold monthly meetings at the VFW post in Live Oak for veterans interested in cannabis therapy, and what started as a gathering of eight to 10 people has ballooned to 10 times that many. The vets need help, said Scallan , not only with healing from their serious ailments but from the heavily pharmaceutical treatments proscribed to them by the VA.

For years after his diagnosis, he was taking a trail mix of mind-fogging pills: Zoloft, Klonopin, Seroquel, Vicadin.

Today, Scallan is off the pills entirely. He and his girlfriend are house-hunting. He's consumed with the art and science of growing cannabis. He's found a purpose in a life that once looked lost.

"I still have my good days and my bad days," he says. "But working with cannabis has propelled my life to the level where it is now. It allows me to slow down, think and not get angry."

(c)2016 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.)
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