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Libby Stuyt, MD Testimonial

Medical Director, Circle Program at Colorado Mental Health Institute, Pueblo, CO

90-day inpatient treatment program funded by state of Colorado for persons with severe co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse who have failed other levels of treatment. Stuyt is a board- certified Addiction Psychiatrist and Senior Instructor for University of Colorado HSC Department of Psychiatry. She has published several abstracts and articles on tobacco cessation in mental health and addiction treatment settings and the benefit of auricular acupuncture in tobacco-free inpatient dual diagnosis treatment. She is the current President of the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA).

I am Libby Stuyt, MD, I am an addiction psychiatrist. I have been treating people with drug and alcohol problems for the past 26 years. I am not a prohibitionist. In fact, I used to think there was no real difference between alcohol and marijuana. But that was the marijuana of the ‘60s and ‘70s. I didn’t vote for legalization of medical marijuana but at the time I wasn’t that concerned about it because I do believe there are some benefits of marijuana medically. We don’t know what they are but I think they potentially are. However, I must say that my thinking has changed.

I believe the industry has been totally irresponsible and our elected officials have been irresponsible not keeping the industry in check. Because, what they have done is they have worked really hard at increasing the levels of THC to astronomical proportions. I am not aware of any medical condition that has benefited from high dose THC. And I would love to have someone tell me one that is. All high dose THC does, other than getting people high, is it increases the risk of addiction and mental health problems. Any time you increase the strength of a drug you increase its addictive potential. This is why heroin was really never made available once it was developed. They very quickly recognized the powerful addictive potential of that drug. We’ve seen this with OxyContin, we’ve seen this with the long-acting higher dose drugs. They are more addicting.

So, we have this data that says 10% of the population, at most, become addicted to marijuana. However, that was based on the ‘60s and ‘70s dose of THC. Back then it was 3%, 4%, maybe up to 10%. We are seeing the average THC in our marijuana of 17% but you can get it as hash oil, shatter, you can get THC up to 90+%! This is what we have available.

So, the problem is, people only make a drug more addicting in order to make money out of it. And that is what is happening here. The more people you addict the more money you can make. I see this no different than the Big Tobacco. Before we mass produced tobacco, there wasn’t anywhere near the tobacco addiction. But, the companies began mass producing cigarettes and adding all these additives including ammonia to increase the absorption of nicotine, making it more addicting. This is what big companies do in order to make big money.

Most people in my field recognize that addiction is a trauma-based illness. People start using a substance for a variety of reasons but people continue using a substance because they find it works for them. And what it works for is trauma. People who have had bad life experiences. It numbs them. They do not have to think about it. They don’t have to feel about it. And, they don’t care about it. Marijuana does this.

However, I think it is really misguided to think that marijuana treats post-traumatic stress disorder. And I mean “treat.” This is no different than benzodiazepines. They do not treat PTSD. Opiates do not treat chronic pain. All addictive drugs do is mask the symptoms. They make it so you don’t care. And it works. People who have PTSD, it is very traumatizing. They cannot function, sometimes. And they find that they can function when they are doing the drug. However, they have to take it every single day. If they miss it, the symptoms come back. It is very clear it isn’t treated because they still have the PTSD. They still can’t do the thing that caused the trauma. They still can’t go where the trauma happened. They have to avoid that place but they can deal with the symptoms. And that is setting the person up for addiction. Because, when you use a substance every single day you are more likely to become addicted to it and then you have to have it because you have withdrawal.

Marijuana has a very distinct withdrawal syndrome. And so, it happens to people. They get very uncomfortable and they have to use the substance. And you set yourself up for increased mental health problems.

There was an excellent observational study done through the Veterans Administration, published in 2015. The VA isn’t giving the vets marijuana. But, what they are doing is “treating” their PTSD. And so, they followed 2,276 veterans over a nine-year period. These people are in treatment for PTSD and then they are following them four months later after treatment, evaluating their symptoms of PTSD based on their marijuana use. They found that the people who never used marijuana and the people who quit using marijuana in treatment had the most reduced symptoms of PTSD. They did the best.

The people who continued to use marijuana during treatment and after didn’t have as good an outcome. The people who started using marijuana after treatment for PTSD had the worst outcome and had the most violence. Most people attribute marijuana to chilling and calming down. I think that’s probably with the very low level THC and the low-level CBD. But, we don’t know. The research hasn’t been done. But it is guaranteed not with the high-level THC. We are seeing a lot of violence with the high dose THC.

I get troubled when I hear veterans say that marijuana is the only option they have for the PTSD. That is so sad. Because in Pueblo we actually have a lot of options for “treatment.” But, what these people are saying is if Pueblo actually voted to get rid of recreational marijuana they would have no other options. That is horrible. Because, it doesn’t “treat” it.

Treatment for PTSD basically involved therapy. What has to happen is the person has to resolve the trauma. It has to be digested in the brain. What PTSD is, is the trauma is stuck in the brain and it needs to be processed and digested. And how this happens is through therapy. And there are many different effective therapies. Some of them don’t even require the person to talk. They don’t even have to relive their trauma over and over again. This is what EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing) is, and there is another method called brain synchronization therapy. These are treatments that actually help people resolve trauma without having to relive it over and over and over again.

There are several requirements for the treatment to be effective:

  1. The person has to be clear-minded. That means the person has to not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

  2. The person has to be calm enough to be able to handle the emotions that come up when you are processing the trauma.

Now these therapists that we have in town, and we have many, both in the public sector and the private sector and the VA, who are well trained and know how to help people to calm down. They have a toolbox and they can take things out of their toolbox and help people.

One of the things that we have increasingly available in town is a tool called the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association 5-point ear protocol. It is not a stand-alone treatment but it is very helpful in calming people down. And we are getting more and more people trained in this because we had a law change where we can train licensed professionals in the behavioral health care field to do this. Acupuncturists also do this.

We actually have several acupuncturists in town who offer free NADA clinics – it sounds like nothing but it’s the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association – they offer free clinics for veterans and their families on a regular basis. So, treatment is available and we do not have to subject people to this treatment that isn’t really a treatment and which actually prolongs and makes things worse.

I am into educating and I want people to understand. There is a whole lot that people don’t understand about trauma and how it affects the brain. But, people can learn and understand that PTSD is actually curable. You do not have to have PTSD the rest of your life. But you can choose to use a drug that will mask the symptoms that will guarantee that you will have it for the rest of your life.

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