Cannabis in Vietnam
by Bruce Dunn
I first became aware of marijuana being used when in the army in Vietnam in 1969. Although I had read a fair amount about marijuana and its relative safety the safeness seemed even more so upon using. In those days, in that time and place, marijuana was probably used by most of those serving. It was also a time of racial tension. Martin Luther King had been assassinated, Newark burned, Detroit burned, and Watts burned. Some Black men were angry. Across the road from the hootches where we lived was an EM (enlisted man’s) club where alcohol could be had and some times entertainment. On a regular basis the MP’s had to go to the EM club to break up a fight or a brawl. Across the road, the guys with the reefer, blacks and whites together, on a very regular basis, smoked their herb and were peaceful.
The first time I ever heard of marijuana as medicine was an army friend who used it for relief from his asthma. The next time was in ’88. I was a patient at Thomas Jefferson Spinal Cord Injury center and was out on the 13th floor balcony with my brothers who were visiting to get some air. Another patient came wheeling out and positioned himself at the other end of the balcony and in short order we smelled that smell. My brother went over to talk with him to find out what was up. The patient explained that although his legs were paralyzed he would get violent spasms in them and marijuana worked better than anything else in quieting them and that the nurses would let him smoke in his room if the outside weather was inclement. Later I understood that the reason the pot worked for him is because it relaxes smooth and skeletal muscle.
When I broke my neck I also injured various nerves going to the musculature on the left side of my neck and shoulder. As a result I have constant severe pain in my shoulder. Morphine is very helpful but comes with side effects that require other medication. I also have pain in my neck, in the trapezoids. Marijuana helps keeps my neck muscle soften and relax, often pain free. Without it the muscle gets tight and hurts greatly. Cannabis is also useful to me because it is distracting and often motivates me to get things done when I’m inclined to do otherwise.