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Lansing, MI -- After returning from Iraq, Dakota Serna found himself battling PTSD and taking prescription pills for roughly three years after leaving the service. Due to a botched hernia operation, doctors began prescribing painkillers along with his antidepressants, leading to ulcers in his stomach and intestines.
With the prescription pills taking their toll on his body and mind, Serna abandoned the FDA-approved medications after a friend shared a joint with him. No longer suffering from incessant nightmares and insomnia, Serna found that his anxiety had decreased, and his patience had returned. Instead of making him more hostile, cannabis offered Serna a peace of mind that the nauseating combination of pills never gave him.
During a Senate Committee meeting last week in Lansing, Michigan, Serna spoke before the members to discuss HB 4209 and how it affects medical marijuana patients. According to Michigan state law, patients suffering from a number of illnesses, including Alzheimer's disease, cancer, HIV, seizures, and PTSD, qualify for medical marijuana. Before his microphone was suddenly cut off, Serna had been attempting to explain how HB 4209 places a greater tax burden on people who barely survive on fixed incomes.
“I am a veteran,” Serna addressed the ">panel. “A Marine. Served my country. Fought in Iraq. And I’ve received, and battle with PTSD to this very day. Now, I didn’t just get my post-traumatic stress from rolling down the street and seeing car bombs or having mortars falling out of the sky and hurt a few people. No. I kicked in doors, and I killed people from distances less than we are from each other.”
“I’ve seen children skewered from rebar from collapsed buildings. Skewered! I’ve seen human remains. I’ve watched my friends die at my feet. And that’s just my struggle. And medical marijuana is the thing that saved my life.”
While asking the Committee to vote “no” on HB 4209, Serna explained that many people on disability cannot afford the tax hike in the bill. Upset that many patients would no longer be able to afford both their food and medicine, Serna explained, “This bill not only takes more money from them, it taxes their medicine – you’re going to give some of that medicine to the sheriff’s department, the jackboots, the thugs that come into people’s homes and kick in the door.”
At that point, State Senator Rick Jones had Serna’s mic cut off and ordered him out of the building. After being unable to finish his testimony before the hearing, Serna recently spoke with the Free Thought Project to discuss his political actions and his experience with marijuana. Unlike the Michigan legislator, we did not interrupt him.
DS: The point I was making to senator Jones is that lawmakers and current laws allow for drug task forces to kick in doors and ruin American citizen's lives over a plant. The sheriff's departments make up a significant portion of these task forces. I used the term thugs because that's how I viewed my own self sometimes when I was kicking in doors in Iraq. I had no idea he would react in such a manner.
AE: You were prescribed antipsychotics, antidepressants, xanax, vicodin, tramadol, oxycodone, depakote, and apresoline all at the same time. How adverse were your reactions to that horrid cocktail?
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DS: Oh man... It was bad. I had no idea it was the pills early on. I struggled with anger, guilt, suicidal, and homicidal thinking. I couldn't grab the bull by its horns so to say. I kept digging myself deeper into a hole that resulted in a ruined marriage and drinking binges. I was on scripts for about three years after leaving the service. I was still having the same mental issues, but I noticed I was having internal issues as well.
DS: I found out I had ulcers in my stomach and intestines. I was put on more medication to start treating that. One night after a week of being on depakote, I had a bad episode which scared me. I stopped taking all my medication. The very next day I found a friend, we smoked a joint. I haven't looked back since. I'm off all prescriptions.
AE: How does marijuana affect you in comparison?
DS: I'm able to go a few nights without dreaming. I'm not waking up every other hour in a pool of sweat, screaming. I don't react to situations with immediate hostility. I'm able to process things much better before I make a decision. I'm able to keep myself from going overboard with anger. I have such a higher quality and love for life now. I wouldn't change a thing.
AE: From your perspective, how does HB 4209 negatively affect patients?
DS: I don't think that the legislators really know how disabled some of the patients are. These are some of the sickest people I've ever met. A majority live on minuscule disability checks and already struggle to survive financially. 4209 takes even more money from them.
AE: Is there anything you'd like to say that you were unable to at the senate meeting?
DS: I met with Jones a few weeks prior to testifying. His belief is that cannabis is okay to use only in terminal cancer patients. He hasn't received proper medical cannabis education and therefore in my opinion, shouldn't be on a panel that makes decisions that affect the lives of Michigan's patients. Would you trust a plumber to fix your car?
DS: I have the upmost love and respect for law enforcement. I have friends and family on the blue side. My comments weren't directed at all police. Just the laws and lawmakers.
AE: Do you think it would be more effective if marijuana patients contacted Jones and told him their stories or is there no hope in changing his mind?
DS: I don't think so. He is pretty dead set at opposing any new "social drug." I think it would take a big demonstration or two, to maybe get favor from more of his colleagues rather than worry about one man. Although it wouldn't hurt to flood his office with calls.