Note: This story has been told by Beth, the wife of army veteran Justin. The story is written from Beth’s perspective. Beth’s hope is that her family’s story is able to help people and families alike. There are thousands of other people in Australia worried about their health, their jobs and their rights. If you have your own story, please feel free to contact us via the share your story section of the site or comment or ask questions in the section below the article.
My name is Beth, I’m 50 years old. My son is 16 and my husband Justin is 45. Up until 2017 my son and I always thought my husband was just a cook in the NZ army. He hid his active military service from us because of how difficult it is for him to relive his experiences. When we finally learnt of Justin’s service and saw how PTSD was affecting him, we were lucky to learn that cannabis could help.
Our family journey with medical cannabis began when Justin went for a jog on a rainy day. It was meant to be about a 15-20 min run, but when he wasn’t home after 2 hours I had a really bad feeling and went looking for him. I found Justin walking down a busy road with no idea who I was. I called the police. They found him and took him back to the station but he refused to give anything but his rank and name.
The sergeant at the station asked me if he’d seen active military service – I said no.
Luckily he has a tattoo of both our son’s name and my name on his arm. Despite not knowing where he lived they kindly brought Justin home. When he arrived home he didn’t know who we were and didn’t even know how to do basic things like make a coffee. My son was only 13 at the time and I am on high dose anti-anxiety medication which makes these even more scary.
As far as we could tell, he had fallen in the rain and hit his head which caused almost total amnesia. Justin’s memory began to return and he said, “All I know is that it feels right to be here.”
Signs of PTSD
Shortly after hitting his head, Justin started to have horrible flashbacks. I was confused because, as far as I knew, Justin was just a cook in the army. I started to do my research and found out that he had been deployed to East Timor for the peace keeping force.
After about a month of desperation I took him to the hospital. They did a series of memory tests most of which he was very poor on. When we left one of the nurses said that I should go to Centrelink to help support the care we’d need.
Thank god we’ve had people give us good advice and speak their minds to us along the way. It’s been a big help.
The turning point
During this period Justin would have awful periods of flashbacks where we’d have to call an ambulance to take him to the hospital. The ambulance would often call the police to help calm and control him. This happened quite regularly and the treatments he was getting weren’t stopping the mental and physical pain it was causing all of us.
Justin was getting horrible migraines, was throwing up tablets, the memories were getting worse and worse and he was starting to speak in Indonesian at times. I realised that I had to find some a different kind of help.
I turned to Google to see what I could find about treating PTSD. After doing my research, I found out that cannabis could help with PTSD symptoms.
Self medication chaos
Justin told me that he had been using cannabis to help with his PTSD for about 20 years. He never told me because he knew I was against drugs. Justin gave it up cold Turkey once our son reached a certain age. It was then that I realised that cannabis could be what saved us.
My anxiety made it extremely difficult to buy cannabis from illegal dealers. My stress hit an all time peak. I could find a reliable dealer, I had the fear of not having access or heightened police presence when there was a bust on TV. I thought, “ohh my god, what if he can’t get his medicine.”
There’s just so much bad stuff out there – the chemicals. And it was just getting scarier and scarier. It put my stress and anxiety through the roof. And then, we got dobbed in for growing. We knew it was wrong, but it was for medical reasons – to help our family.
I knew we needed the cannabis for Justin’s health. I felt forced to grow because of all the information out there about the extremely high cost of medical cannabis. So I found a site online that taught me how to grow. I wasn’t very good at it. I was picking the buds before they were ready, drying it out in the microwave, just to make sure he had some medicine each day.
And then we got busted. It was awful and things became really difficult.
Our journey to legal access
I was at a crossroads, not knowing what to do. The Hemp Health and Innovation (HHI) Expo was on. We knew cannabis helped Justin. And, I also know the woman who runs Medical Cannabis Queensland who was going to be there. We decided to see what it was all about.
There were a lot of different vendors there and I was handed lots of cards. I went with the team that wasn’t in your face, they were more laid back and seemed to care more about their patients. I decided to go with my gut, we called Tetra Health.
The team at the clinic was very helpful, kind and was able to get Justin what he needed with no problem. Our total cost, because he has a concession card was $150 for all of our appointments and the application.
A change of perception
I was brought up around drugs and alcohol clinics. I saw the worst of the worst growing up. I thought that people who used cannabis were just laying around stoned, walking into a 7 Eleven with the munchies. People just didn’t care about what was going on around them as long as they were stoned.
In actually learning more about cannabis out of pure desperation, I realised that people who are using cannabis actually do have jobs, they have families, a lot of them are professional people. These people are people who I have alienated for my whole life. They had stepped up to help me learn about cannabis before I even saw a doctor.
This changed my mind and made me realise that I was wrong.
A normal life
While Justin was used to smoking and getting relief from the THC, he currently takes a high dose THC oil (20:1 THC:CBD). If we were getting flower, we’d be paying $1200 a month. With the oil, we pay $310 a month.
Since we’ve been able to access medical cannabis, we’ve been able to go for a day out. We are able to have weekends away. My son hasn’t ever been on a holiday. We couldn’t go away because Justin needed cannabis to function and we had to hide his use because it was illegal.
We couldn’t even think about flying anywhere. We have family interstate but would never go because he needed cannabis.
Now we can. We can start to have weekends away. We won’t have the fear of crossing a border with cannabis. Justin doesn’t have the same kinds of PTSD episodes with cannabis and it’s helped give us a normal life.
It’s something we never dreamed of.
Advice for others
Don’t be scared. It doesn’t cost the same amount for everyone. So, it may not cost you as much as people make it out to be. It’s possible that for a hundred dollars a week, you can have a normal life. It’s not hard to do.
The doctors and nurses won’t scare you. For some, it is affordable. It’s not necessarily thousands of dollars a month and you can get a life back.