Texas has one of the most stringent medical cannabis laws in the country, making veterans like Viridiana Edwards struggle with chronic pain and PTSD.
Every day as Viridiana Edwards wakes, she feels that her body is like a roll of aluminum foil crumpled into a crouching position. Her legs are numb and her arms and back muscles are tense. The American veteran feels so nervous that she’s worried about pulling a muscle when she lifts her arm to brush her teeth.
“The best way I can describe it, is just a marionette that’s been in the case for years” says Edwards. “I feel like a puppet with all of my strings in a knot.”
Each morning, she starts by stretching and rubbing her neck with a homemade body oil made from olive oil, chamomile, arnica flowers, and hemp-based cannabidiol (CBD). She says she begins to relax almost immediately. Once Edwards uses her CBD, she feels “like the strings just fall off.”
Edwards, aged 33, is an American Army veteran who works daily with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After serving in the U.S. military for more than ten years, she received medical retirement due to injuries sustained in Afghanistan. As others have in recent years, Edwards advocated actions to expand the legalization of medical marijuana in Texas. The American veteran believes that cannabis is the only thing she’s used without the harmful side-effects of other medicines. Even a tiny amount has made it possible for her to reduce her other medication from a few dozen pills every day to just one as needed.
She shared her experience with the Texas lawmakers during the last two legislative sessions. She urged them to expand the conditions and allowable dosages of legal cannabis, but it was moving slowly. In 2015, Texas legislators approved the law for Compassionate Use. This bill allows people with intractable epilepsy to use deficient levels of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Two years later, an expansion bill had substantial bipartisan support in the House but didn’t receive a full vote. The program was extended in 2019 to include other conditions such as terminal cancer and neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, but still excluded PTSD sufferers.
HB 1535 Passed At Texas House
Texas has one of the country’s most restrictive laws on medical marijuana and is one of eleven states with a low THC program. As of May 2021, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 36 states permitted the use of medical cannabis. Seventeen states allow small amounts of recreational use for adults.
In Spring 2021, House Bill 1535 passed in the Texas House. The bill raised the THC cap in medicinal products from 0.5% to 5% and expanded eligible conditions for the first time to include chronic pain and PTSD. However, the Senate significantly reduced the measure, with chronic pain removed and the new THC limit reduced to 1 percent.
Republican Chairman of Senate Committee Bryan Hughes, who heard the bill, and the Senate Sponsor Charles Schwertner did not request to comment on why the bill was narrowed. Some opponents of expanding the legalization of medical marijuana said that it might cause more recreational cannabis use.
Governor Greg Abbott signed HB 1535 into law on Tuesday, July 12.
Veterans, advocates, and doctors say that the 1% THC cap is much lower than many people need for treating PTSD and other conditions. Even 5 percent of what Edwards says she would need to treat her symptoms ultimately is permitted in the original House bill.
Edwards Recalls Afghanistan Attack
During her junior year in 2005, Edwards, a first-generation U.S. citizen, met a military recruit at her El Paso high school. Her parents told her that they had no money to pay for college to pay so she saw the military as her way out from her hometown.
She was deployed four years later. On her way to Kandahar, Afghanistan, she says a rocket attack delayed her flight. She recalled that it was less than an hour when she experienced another rocket attack. The alarm went off, and in an English voice, the lady said “rocket attack, rocket attack.” Edwards dropped down to the floor at that point. “So that was our welcome,” she said. Edwards also said that she didn’t sleep that first night, as rockets continued, injuring people nearby and triggering requests for blood donations.
When Edwards returned to the United States nearly a year later, her cycle of PTSD, chronic anxiety, and pain started. Her pain soon became too bearable. She visited a Veterans Affairs clinic but realized that her prescribed medications didn’t help her. Each drug had a new side effect, such as extreme weight gain, dizziness, drowsiness, and nausea. The U.S veteran soon took more medicines to treat these side effects. Edwards took up to 23 pills every day, from six to seven treatments.
She also used Botox for migraines that required her to receive 42 injections on three different occasions between her shoulders, neck, skull, and forehead. Botox gave some relief but did not stop her migraines completely. In consequence, Edwards says she felt she was losing hope that she would find something that would help her.
Edwards tried cannabis with a handmade watermelon bong first as a teenage girl. Edwards later tried medical cannabis on holiday in California in 2015.
“I remember just this kind of silence within my body,” said Edwards. “The pain, the anxiety, just so many things that I was going through on a daily basis, were just gone.”
She has since advocated for expanded access to legal medical cannabis in Texas and studied its influence on the soldiers while attending graduate school at El Paso and Baltimore University of Texas. Although she was pleased to have PTSD added to the new legislation as an eligible condition, she says that she is frustrated by the strict restrictions and the slow legalization process. Edwards recalled when she raised her hand in Fort Bliss, Texas, saying that when she would serve her country, she doesn’t remember “picking and choosing” who she would “serve and protect.”
The new medical cannabis law is set to go into effect in September.