First and foremost, I am writing this as an open letter to my family, friends and my brother and sister veterans. I do not claim my PTSD experiences are like anyone else’s. Nor can they be compared. What I do recognize is the complete chaos and total helplessness that PTSD is able to arouse in me.
I am inviting all South Carolina vets with PTSD to write an honorable, direct, open letter to the Governor as well. Hopefully it will help him understand it is not about getting “high” but getting “normal.”
To my brother and sister vets who suffer from PTSD, you have my ultimate respect. Just living life everyday proves to be a tough fight some days. It is worth the fight! Keep living!
I am a 24 year vet, former Naval Officer. I am still proud of every single thing my guys and I ever did tactically. We worked in South America, Africa, South West Asia and Asia. I have never had any issues with my orders or the accomplishment of my mission. I loved my job and was good at it!
Four years ago I was stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint 50 miles from the Texas/Mexico border. By law and the Constitution, I did not have to stop. By law, I didn’t have to talk to them. I did not know the law. I stopped, talked to the Border Patrol Officer for a moment and as I was about to move on, I was directed to pull over into a search lane. They found a number of legal prescriptions for my Cluster Headaches (none of them opiates) and an ounce of medical cannabis for which I also had a California prescription.
As they cuffed me, I leaned forward in a professional manner and talked to the Border Patrol Officer to let him know that I was a veteran with a legal prescription for medical cannabis. Generally, there is a sort of tacit brotherhood between military and law enforcement professionals. So I let him know about several high profile, anti-drug operations I had been involved with while in the Navy, thinking it might influence him. What happened next changed my life forever and not for the better.
Cannabis Is Illegal
The next thing I heard from the Border Patrol Officer (to this day, I have never forgotten his name or where he lives): “I don’t care who you are, what you’ve done, you are just another Fucking Doper.” At that second, had I not been cuffed, I would have tried to kill him. The rage came so fast it was frightening to me. Then they sat me next to an illegal alien who had been arrested 17 times for crossing the border. He was not hand cuffed, he had all the water he wanted to drink and the Border Patrol agents were all joking and chatting with him.
I won’t bore you with all the details of my 30 plus hour stay in the “shit hole” known as the Sierra Blanca, Texas jail, off Interstate 10. Summarizing the best I can: No phone call to let my wife know what happened and to arrange bail/a lawyer. I was held in the isolation cell without heat for 8 hours. It was about 50 degrees. When I was finally put in the cell block, I found out everyone there was from California and was arrested for cannabis. Profiling, you think? What was more disturbing was everyone except me was African American and 2 of the 8 had been held without charges for over 60 days!
Please understand, this was the first time I was ever arrested and the first time I was stopped by law enforcement for anything other than a speeding ticket. It was a shocking discovery about the law and how it really works in America. This Sierra Blanca checkpoint was a corrupt, small town, cottage industry; a 5 building town: Border Patrol, Police Station, Jail, Courtroom and a bank. Probable cause, the right to an arraignment, the right to contact an attorney—these were all meaningless concepts. Yet these were the essential American rights I thought I was fighting and risking my life for in the service. Suddenly, those decades of sacrifice, the horrors of war, the numerous deaths of much beloved brothers– all of which had been safely compartmentalized and justified in the name of patriotism—came crashing down and almost suffocated me. I thought “This just doesn’t happen in the United States.” Yes… it does… and in more places than Sierra Blanca, I am convinced of that now.
I had 2 days to think about everything that happened to me as I drove home. With each mile and each minute I was changing and I didn’t even know it. As I drove, the rage within me was growing beyond anything I had ever experienced and I LIKED IT. The anger just completely took over. By the time I arrived in South Carolina to my wife, I was in full-fledged rage, otherwise known as PTSD. I was no longer the same person she knew when I left for California for my neurologist appointment.
Once I was in the depths of PTSD, I was unrecognizable as the person I used to be. I had previously been social, kind, generous, non-violent. I trusted in, and was proud of, my country. During the last 4 years of PTSD: I bought an axe handle (more defensible than a bat) and named it “Clyde.” Clyde rode in the passenger seat of my car, everywhere. I also started carrying my Sig Sauer 45 in the back of my car. It was loaded and ready for action. I planned to blow up the cars of some thieves that robbed me. I had it all ready to go– down to the kerosene soaked fuses. I used Clyde a few times to threaten people who trespassed on my farm. I threatened my best friends with untold physical damage if we had a disagreement. In my rage, I even paid $88k to have several politicians in South Carolina privately investigated so I could find dirt on them.
The rage brings highs but it also brings some of the most devastating depression humans can experience. My experience at its worst: I sat at my farm by myself for 4 straight days in my car with the top down. In my passenger seat was my trusty Clyde but also my Sig 45. I wanted to die. I could not figure my life out. I could not understand how everything I had ever believed in was a lie. My family was scared of me. Not because I threatened them. They were scared because they knew I was out of control crazy but they could not convince me of it.
Fight or Flight
For 4 days, 8 hours every day, my weapon was on the passenger seat. I tried to find reasons to stay alive, not to find reasons to shoot myself, I already knew I should die. I was convinced my life had run its course and that I was the only one that really knew what was going on. I would pick up my weapon a couple times a day to do the deed. However, I told myself if I could find a good enough reason not to, then I would come back the next day and see how I felt. Fortunately I did. What kept me from shooting myself? First, I thought of all the damage my two friends had caused by their suicides in the same year. Their families were completely devastated and I saw that up close and personal. When I was at the farm with my weapon, the only thing that stopped me was my family. What would they think? Why would I want to hurt them more than I already have? They didn’t deserve this! I had a grandson to raise. On Friday of that week, I drove home, put my weapon away and asked my wife to call my psychologist. I finally admitted I was sick.
My neurologist in California prescribed Indica medical cannabis for my Chronic Cluster Headaches. My California shrink also prescribed the same for PTSD. Results: my PTSD is well under control while I am in California which is about 1 -2 weeks a month. The cannabis keeps me grounded, not aggressive; it normalizes me. My time in South Carolina is a struggle. The anachronistic laws in South Carolina penalize tens of thousands of Vets with PTSD, including myself.
It is criminal to prevent us from accessing a medicine that treats a whole host of PTSD symptoms and makes us feel relatively normal. Instead, PTSD is treated with the meds listed below. We know that cannabis is less harmful than any of these drugs. We have Soldiers, Sailors and Marines in this State who could lead more normal, happier lives if medical cannabis was legal. Nope! We would rather arrest them and put them in jail. THANKS FOR YOUR SERVICE!
Endless Medications, No Cure
Veterans diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are prescribed hundreds of different drugs (average is 5-7 drugs a day)!
Antidepressants prescribed for PTSD: Amitriptyline, Amoxapine, Bupropion, Citalopram, Clomipramine, Desvenlafaxine, Desipramine, Doxepin, Duloxetine, Escitalopram, Fluoxetine, Flurazepam, Fluvoxamin, Imipramine, Maprotiline, Mirtazapine, Nortriptyline, Paroxetine, Phenelzine, Protriptyline, Sertraline, Trazodone, Trimipramine, Venlafaxine, Vilazodone, Vortioxetine
Anti-anxiety drugs prescribed for PTSD: Alprazolam, Buspirone, Chlordiazepoxide, Clonazepam, Diazepam, Estazolam, Hydroxyzine, Lorazepam, Midazolam, Oxazepam, Temazepam, Triazolam
Antipsychotic drugs prescribed for PTSD: Aripiprazole, Asenapine, Fluphenazine, Haloperidol, Iloperidone, Loxapine, Lurasidone, Olanzapine, sometimes in combination with fluoxetine, Perphenazine, Pimozide, Prochlorperazine, Quetiapine, Risperidone, Thiothixene, Ziprasidone
Mood stabilizing drugs prescribed for PTSD (anticonvulsants, as well as some atypical antipsychotics): Carbamazepine, Divalproex sodium, Lamotrigine, Oxcarbazepine, Valproic acid
Sleep aids prescribed for PTSD: Butabarbital, Eszopiclone, Prazosin hydrochloride, Ramelteon, Zaleplon, Zolpidem
I invite anyone to compare the side effects of any of these drugs to medical cannabis.
Finally, to my family and the friends that remain, I love you all. Thank you for saving my life!
Dan Engle is a 24 year Naval Officer veteran. Conducted Drug Interdiction Operations in South America while in the Navy. Previously, Mr. Engle owned two international businesses. He now owns legal Cannabis Farms and a cannabis consulting business. He is married with two children and one grandchild.