When Veteran Fabian Henry is asked how his life would have been different had he not tried cannabis to treat his post-traumatic stress disorder, he doesn’t pause for even a moment before answering.
“Somebody would be dead and I would be in jail, or I would be dead,” says the former Canadian Armed Forces sergeant and 36-year-old founder of Marijuana for Trauma, which helps veterans and others suffering from PTSD obtain medical marijuana.
“Without a doubt. 100% certainty.”
Where have you been all my life?
Henry remembers well the night in 2010 when he first tried cannabis. Having returned from his second tour of duty as a combat engineer in Afghanistan in 2007, where a miscommunication between himself and a sergeant major had resulted in the death of two Canadian soldiers, he had been prescribed a cocktail of nine different pharmaceutical pills aimed at soothing the symptoms of his PTSD. But they did little to help him.
That year he was put on probation for threatening to kill the chief fire officer in his town; the following year, 2008, he was charged with drunk driving. He finally agreed to go into therapy by way of Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), but that wasn’t easing his pain, either. His wife left, taking their two kids with her.
In the meantime, his sister, who had been using medical marijuana for 10 years in the wake of surgery that removed a tumor in her spine, was urging him to give it a try. Then one night in 2010 he found himself at a neighbor’s, and the offer was made again. Finally, crippled by PTSD at 30 years old, he gave in.
“All of my receptors just went off!” he recalls, the impact of that moment still resonating in his voice some six years later. “It was like, where have you been all my life?!
“And I’m thinking, I have been lied to for 30 years.”
Reading between the lines
Armed with his first true experience of healing, Henry was on a mission. He didn’t have a medical marijuana card, so the first thing he did was to take the C$37,000 the VAC had given him in injury pay and use it to purchase two years’ worth of cannabis. He then set out to learn exactly how cannabis works to ease symptoms of PTSD, connecting with researchers like Dr. Alexander Neumeister of the Langone Medical Center at New York University.
But Henry took things a crucial step further.
In addition to reading up on cannabis science, he read up on veterans’ rights (“I was obsessed,” he readily admits). He learned that in Canada, by law, veterans had a right to medical marijuana, and the VAC had an obligation to provide it—for free.
And so in early 2014, he and five fellow veterans became the first six in the country to get the VAC to provide them with medical marijuana for PTSD. In March of that year, he opened Marijuana for Trauma in Oromocto, N.B., whose mission is to help veterans, first responders, and other civilians in need to legally obtain, as per Canada’s Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), the medical marijuana to which they are entitled in order to heal.
MFT has eight clinics across Canada and plans to have 15 open by the end of 2016. It currently supports veterans through two of the three phases Henry believes are necessary to fully heal: one, cannabis therapy, which consist of both getting patients on the strains best suited for treating their unique conditions while also getting both the necessary VAC paperwork and peer support network in place; and two, injury treatment, which leverages techniques such as biofeedback/neurofeedback therapy in conjunction with cannabis therapy. The third and final phase will take the form of a holistic healing retreat where patients can find support from their fellow veterans. The first facility, located near MFT’s headquarters in N.B., is currently under construction.
An ever-willing ear
Henry is unabashed in his praise for and gratitude to the VAC. “They are paying for the medicine that is saving lives right now,” he says, noting that in 2015, with MFT’s help, the VAC provided medical marijuana to more than 2,000 Canadian veterans.
“We get the best medicine, rigorously tested, and it’s delivered to our doorstep.”
Not every vet that Henry and MFT have tried to help has gotten what they’ve needed in time, however. Three went back on pain pills and took their own lives, and it is their stories, their names, and their faces that Henry carries with him.
In the meantime, every day there is another vet in need. “I can’t turn my phone off,” he says. “I’ve heard the same story 500 times in different provinces.”
But Henry keeps listening.
Filming for From Shock to Awe began mid-October 2015, when we followed The Cannaball Run for Vets from L.A. to Washington, D.C.. In April 2016, we joined veterans Ryan LeCompte, Michael Cooley, and Matt Kahl as Cooley and Kahl embarked on their first ayahuasca ceremonies. And in June, we filmed Fabian Henry and his group, Marijuana for Trauma. We—and the veterans—are counting on your support to make this film and spread the word about using psychedelic medicines to heal PTSD. Your donation is tax-deductible through our fiscal sponsor, the non-profit MAPS. Please click the button below and give whatever you can!
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