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Lobbying for Legalization: A veteran's voice



CJ Parker is one of the thousands of American service men and women who suffer from Gulf War Illness, a condition with multiple and varied symptoms including chronic fatigue, headaches, joint/muscle pain, and issues with the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, neurological, respiratory and reproductive systems.
While Parker emphasizes that not all GWI patients share her attitude towards the use of marijuana, she now spends much of her time lobbying for the legalization of marijuana on behalf of those, including many veterans, seeking viable alternatives for the management of their pain. (View a Slideshow of Parker's photographs from the past year,'Lobbying for Legalization')

Like many veterans, I have tried many careers to work around my discomforts since I got of the military in 1991. During that 10-year period after the military, I was a police officer, electrician, bartender, had a Class "A" CDL and drove 40 states, a musician and a photojournalist. I managed coffee shops and sold everything from eyeglasses to ceramic tile to try to find a way to continue working, even though my body was slowly deteriorating underneath me.

After long rest periods, I was able to get up and try something new, but depending on the amount of activity involved, I would slowly lose my ability to maintain the position after a period of time. Then I would rest again, and start another career — blaming the careers and not my body.

Since 2002, I've been going to the VA Hospital for care on average 30-40 appointments a year.By 2004, at the age of 36, I finally gave up the fight to find work that would fit my pain and fatigue spells.

I don't want this story to be about me, but about the fact that there are so many of us, just like this, struggling to exist and struggling for recognition to push the government into fixing the problem.

I first found out about the medical uses for cannabis while overseas in the UK. The only thing I knew about marijuana before that was the low quality "Mexican brick weed" common here in the U.S., which I later found out is typically full of pesticides and fertilizers.

I was surprised to see a reduction in the need for my pharma immediately after using just small amounts of the better grade on a daily basis.

Within a short period (a month at most), I was able to go without the majority of my prescribed medications and was able to improve my diet to become less malnourished, thereby improving my overall physical state. I was also able to walk further with less pain than before and went back to doing yoga. I learned about the different methods of ingestion such as vaporization, marijuana infused foods, oils and tinctures.

I participated in a study of vets conducted by Dr. James Baraniuk at Georgetown University last July and was given a diagnosis of "Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency" because I stopped taking medical cannabis for this study two weeks prior and was hit with a return of the majority of my symptoms within that time.

I am now trying to sell my house in Indiana and relocate to one of the 16 states where medical cannabis is legal. After relocating to a place that offers safe, consistent access to medical cannabis, I hope to regain a quality of life where I can be more active in my community instead of looking over my shoulder, in fear of incarceration for trying to stay alive, or going without because it's difficult to obtain in a non-medical cannabis state like Indiana.

When I am not using cannabis as medication, I am on a regiment that includes up to 18 different medications for my 20 individual diagnoses on any given day. Many other veterans are not trying cannabis for fear of losing benefits, medical care, or incarceration.

We've lost more veterans from suicide than in the actual war theater. Enough is enough.

Do you or someone you know suffer from Gulf War Illness? Contact News Editor Rebecca Townsend at and let her know how GWI has affected you.


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