Kevin Richardson knows better than most that post-traumatic stress disorder in military veterans is not simply the result of being in combat.
A medically retired Marine Corps veteran, Richardson is the founder of Weed for Warriors Project, a group dedicated to promoting the healing properties of medical marijuana specifically for veterans suffering from PTSD. He was inspired to create the group after experiencing the hell of PTSD, and the relief from it that cannabis can bring, firsthand.
“Cannabis helped me become a better husband, a better father,” he says. “There’s still ups and downs, but the downs are not near as bad as they were.”
Somewhat ironically, it was a lifetime of trauma that steered Richardson into the military in the first place. He both suffered and witnessed severe abuse while growing up in San Jose, Calif.—abuse that was alternately physical, verbal, and sexual in nature. He was placed in foster care at age four after his father was arrested for robbing a liquor store and his mother, rather than answering the subsequent knock on the door from the police, escaped out the back with a fellow addict, leaving Richardson to fend for himself.
He joined the Marine Corps at 19 in an attempt to get away from the gangbanging life of crime that he had since fallen into, but rather than mitigate his own violent tendencies, in boot camp he found himself being rewarded for them. Indeed, he learned within mere days that if he didn’t dish it out he may not get out of basic training alive. “They turned me into an animal,” he says. “I lost all compassion for people.”
Not only did he survive boot camp but his infantry unit was the first to be deployed following the 9/11 attacks. He served in the Marine Corps until 2004, when he was discharged with a 40% disability for the injuries he’d sustained. Upon returning home, he got a job training federal law enforcement security. “So, for a while it was OK,” he says. “Life was still OK.”
But he was in extreme pain as a result of his injuries and so began taking prescribed painkillers and drinking heavily. Meanwhile his relationship with his wife—whom he had married between boot camp and infantry school—was constantly on tenterhooks due to his inability to manage his anger, and his kids were crying constantly for what seemed like no reason. But he found himself unable to ask for help. “I didn’t want to go get help because I thought it was admitting that I’m weak.”
Six years went by before he sought psychiatric help from Veterans Affairs, where he was finally given a diagnosis of PTSD. But even with that knowledge, things did not get better. “At the time to sleep I would drink half a bottle of Nyquil and take three, four Vicodin, Benadryl, and a couple of Flexeril just to fall asleep at night,” he recalls. “I started getting treatment and going to PTSD 101 classes, but next thing I know I went from two prescriptions to, like, 17 prescriptions.”
In April of 2014 he tried, not for the first time, to commit suicide. After he got out of the hospital, the fellow vet who had driven him there suggested he try cannabis.
“I started smoking that and really started having some relief. I started sleeping better. I have some intestinal issues from the anthrax shots we got in the military and I didn’t know that at the time; I just thought it was because of stress or alcohol abuse. I started doing that and I was weaning myself off all these drugs. I was able to take less of these psych drugs. I was able to take less painkillers. I started drinking less. I was getting surgery around that time. This is really what made me change my mind about alcohol. They did a blood test and the doctor pulls me into this room and says, do you drink alcohol? I said, a little bit. I didn’t want to admit I was drinking two gallons of vodka a week. He goes, well, I can see it in your blood. You’re killing yourself. So I started getting off all the alcohol. And it was all through cannabis.”
By the following November he had founded Weed for Warriors to not just educate veterans about how medical cannabis can help with PTSD, but to provide the camaraderie that they so sorely miss in civilian life. “We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers,” he says. “No one has been through what we have been through. No one knows what we have gone through.”
And Richardson says he hears from vets all the time that Weed for Warriors has saved their marriages, their families—even their lives. “You can’t tell me cannabis is not helping veterans heal. It may not be the cure, but it’s a solution.”
It’s been an invaluable solution for Richardson himself.
“I still have a lot of mental issues that I struggle with, and it becomes exhausting at times,” he says. “But the way cannabis has helped me reflect on some of the things I went through as a child and in the military, and some of the abuse, it helps me—not that it’s OK—but it helps me realize that that’s not who I am no more and it’s not going to have control over my life anymore.”
Meanwhile, the healing journey that the plant has brought to Richardson’s family continues.
“It’s all through cannabis. We’re all finding healing through my cannabis usage.”
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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