Veteran spotlight: “My time in Afghanistan caused my PTSD” – a patrol medic speaks

In the second part of our veteran feature, we continue to look at veterans who are suffering with pain or psychiatric disorders, and whose needs are not being met by traditional medication.

We spoke to Paul* who served with the British Infantry for over 6 years as a Patrol Medic, completing tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland, as well as spending time in London and Germany.

Paul talks to us about his PTSD condition, how this was brought on, and how medical cannabis treatment has helped him where other more traditional treatments have failed. 

*Paul’s name has been changed at the request of the interviewee

Which part of the Armed Forces did you serve in? 

My Iraq tour finished in 2003 and I left the army in 2005. I had a break for a few years, but realised I missed army life. I wanted to get back into it,  although realistically, I probably didn’t realise just how much stress and strain I was under back then.  

When I felt better, I then re-joined as a patrol medic in 2008 for another six years, serving in Afghanistan for a seven-month tour from 2009 to 2010. There were times where there would only be one medic for a whole platoon – a platoon is split into three sections and you could be going out with each of the patrols. 

Iraq was very organised and felt more conventional, but it was my time spent in Afghanistan that really affected me – It was completely different.

How did your PTSD condition arise? 

My PTSD arose from my experiences in Afghanistan, because of what I saw and experienced in my line of duty as a patrol medic. It was more traumatic than any other period spent in the army. 

I experienced anxiety and flashbacks –  the worst were the dreams and nightmares and not wanting to go to sleep. I ended up turning to alcohol and drinking myself into a stupor to blank these things out.

How long have you been suffering from PTSD?

It was only recently that I sought help – my diagnosis was about a year ago. My GP wasn’t very helpful.  Four years ago, I went to my doctor and he said he couldn’t diagnose PTSD and gave me a prescription for antidepressants. I then found the Military Veterans Service, an NHS initiative that offers support and assessment and that really changed things for me.

Where and when did you first hear of medical cannabis as a treatment? 

My best friend lives in California and I went to see him. I chatted to him, and lots of doctors out there, and even looked up case studies of people using medical cannabis treatment for PTSD. It was only last year that I really looked at it in depth. 

I spoke to my GP but found  she was quite dismissive and unsupportive. But then I found The Medical Cannabis Clinics. 

Which doctor are you currently seeing?

I had my first consultation with Dr Angeliki in May this year at The Medical Cannabis Clinics and have been prescribed the NOIDECS Indica and Sativa flower blended strain to take both day and night time. I had tried cannabis previously in California, but this is new to me and it’s still early days. 

What is the impact that medical cannabis has made upon your PTSD and the quality of your life? 

I was previously using alcohol to blank things out but then you can’t sort yourself out as alcohol gets in the way and it becomes a barrier. Medical cannabis has really helped me stop drinking and the urges to drink have completely gone away. I have been alcohol-free for well over a hundred days now.  

It’s also helped me concentrate on other important things in my life. Medical cannabis helps me sleep at night and also relieves my anxiety. 

Do your friends or family know of your treatment and, if so, what do they think?

They do know. Regrettably I was using non-medical cannabis before this and my family and friends were very unsupportive, due to how it’s been portrayed in the last thirty years, growing up in Manchester.

Now that it’s legally prescribed and I’m seeing a specialist, it’s been legitimised and accepted – and after taking it, they could see that I was able to go out again, stop drinking, and that everything had changed. 

I’m still taking antidepressants, as my TMCC doctor has advised I stay on those for now. I have been taking antidepressants on and off for seven years but if the treatment is effective, I’d like to come off them completely. 

In case you missed it, catch up on the first part of our double feature here – “I was a combat patrol medic in Afghanistan & suffered a debilitating car crash with PTSD flashbacks”