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Donnamarie Freedman is convinced medical marijuana would have been far better for her son than the mix of powerful, toxic drugs his doctors gave him.
Those drugs, she said, left Dane Freedman depressed, constipated, sexually impaired and unable to sleep and eat. In the end, he climbed into the back seat of his car and shot himself through the heart.
On Tuesday, the Camp Hill woman was a central figure in the push to convince Pennsylvania lawmakers that medical marijuana can help, and even save the lives of, military veterans recovering from mental and physical injuries of war. The event at the state Capitol also featured three doctors who argued that many doctors favor allowing medical marijuana.
Dane Freedman graduated from Camp Hill High School in 2007 and joined the U.S. Marine Corps, becoming a machine gunner and seeing combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He received an honorable discharge in 2011 and began classes at Penn State's main campus. But then he was stricken with aliments including post traumatic distress syndrome and depression, forcing him to take a medical leave of absence.
According to his mother, he received care from the Veterans Administration, and was put on 21 pills per day, including several drugs that have possible side affects including suicide. "All this did was make Dane a zombie," said.
She said "the use of cannabis gave him a life." However, she said the VA system detected marijuana in a blood test and hospitalized him for 21 days for dependency, and told him marijuana would interfere with the other drugs.
Mike Whiter, another veteran who spoke Tuesday, said the VA health system tests for marijuana in patients taking prescribed drugs for things such as PTDS, and those who test positive are ineligible for treatment.
Donnamarie Freedman brought to Tuesday's event a large basket filled with bottles of medications she said VA doctors had prescribed for her son.
In late 2013, Dane Freedman was reeling from the death of his service dog, according to his mother. She says his cell phone showed he spent much of Dec. 13 trying unsuccessfully to buy marijuana. He eventually consumed more than twice the legal limit of alcohol. Shortly before killing himself, he sent his mother a test saying he was "saved." He was 25.
Donnamarie Freedman had become involved in the push for medical marijuana before her son's death.
"I will fight until my last breath to legalize marijuana for medical use, as I saw first hand what it did and how much it helped our Dane," she said.
Tuesday's event also featured three doctors who favor legalizing medical marijuana. While medical organizations including the Pennsylvania Medical Society oppose the Pennsylvania bill that would legalize medical marijuana, these doctors argued that most individual doctors support allowing medical marijuana, and there is substantial evidence supporting benefits for many kinds of patients.
One was Dr. Sue Sisley, an Arizona internal medicine and psychiatry specialist and a lead investigator in a study of the impact of medical marijuana on veterans with PTSD who don't benefit from approved medications.
"The evidence is now overwhelming that medical marijuana relieves pain, nausea, vomiting and so many other symptoms associated with MS, cancer, AIDs, and it does it with remarkable safety," she said. "Medical marijuana is far less toxic than many of the medications that we physicians prescribe to patients every day."
The Pennsylvania Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill, SB 3, which would legalize medical marijuana. But the bill now sits in a House committee whose chair, state Rep. Matt Baker, R-Tioga, says he won't allow a vote on the bill, on grounds that most doctors and medical organizations oppose medical marijuana without more research.
The doctors who spoke Tuesday cited a volunteer survey conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine which found that 96 percent of responding Pennsylvania doctors would favor giving medical marijuana to an elderly patient suffering from late stage breast cancer.