After being diagnosed with PTSD following his second combat tour in Afghanistan, Matthew Kahl became part of the Army’s Wounded Warrior Battalion where he received the best care the military has to offer.
It almost killed him.
In the case of PTSD, the best care the military has to offer “means a long list of psychiatric medications,” Kahl said. “It was horrifying. It sucks the life out of everything. You’re not able to think correctly. You’re not able to do much at all. When you’re under the influence of the medication sometimes you’re extremely erratic. You can be screaming at the walls one second and the very next second be nodding off in the middle of a sentence. It’s no way to live. And it’s an easy way to drive most everybody out of your life.”
Although not yet diagnosed, Kahl figures he was suffering from PTSD after his first tour in Afghanistan.
“When I got back, I thought I was fine,” he said. “I thought I was perfectly together. I was greatly mistaken.”
Ten months after returning from Afghanistan the first time, Kahl tried to commit suicide.
“I woke up in the hospital 48 hours later knowing that something was seriously wrong with me,” he said. “But I continued to deny it to my friends, my family, my unit, even myself. And I deployed again.”
His PTSD diagnosis came after he was medevac’d out of Afghanistan during his second tour of duty there.
The doctors at the VA put him on “an extremely wide variety of substances,” Kahl said. “Everything from antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, anti-anxiety drugs like benzodiazepines. I was on opiate narcotics. Also several other neuroleptic drugs designed to eliminate seizures. I was on so many medications — between 15 and 20 depending on the given month — that my liver started to shut down and my kidneys started to shut down also. It was literally killing me. I was dying before everyone’s eyes.”
“I was in a pit of hell,” Kahl said.
Finally a high school friend — “one of the few I hadn’t driven away with my antics” — approached him and suggested he try using cannabis.
Kahl’s response? “Why would I add another drug to my already extensive regimen?”
“He came back with a very reasonable answer,” Kahl said. “He said ‘I’m not your doctor. You try it. You don’t like it, you don’t ever have to do it again.’ That made sense to me. I tried it and within five minutes I knew” cannabis would help.
“Every single time I visited the VA doctors after that point I would take my list of medications, which was almost a full page, and I’d just go down the list and started marking stuff off and slashing other things in half. I think I made my VA doctors pretty nervous.”