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In 2001, Mario joined the Marines. He was placed with an infantry unit two weeks prior to the September 11 attacks and was deployed to Iraq in 2004. In Iraq, Mario served as an infantry team leader in direct combat. Now, as Mario finishes his education at Columbia University, he continues to recover from the trauma of military combat.

Mario describes his return back to the US as a total shock. He explains, “It took a year before I could do anything.” During this time, he began treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Mario’s symptoms included insomnia, hyper-vigilance, nightmares, panic attacks and social withdrawal.

Psychiatrists prescribed him many medications; however, he suffered from severe side effects. He explains, “If I took the medications, I’d sleep, but feel like a zombie. If I didn’t, I’d lay awake for hours just thinking and I’d still feel like a zombie the next day. My eyes were bloodshot. I couldn’t function. It was terrible.”

Soon thereafter, Mario began to use medical marijuana and explains, “It was like a miracle for me. It helped me sleep, and I didn’t feel out of it the next day. It calmed me down and brought down my hyper-vigilance. I was finally able to carry on with my life.”

Now, as Mario is completing his Bachelor’s degree and serving on the Executive Board of the US Military Veterans of Columbia University, he reflects, “Medical marijuana helped me a lot. I think there is an overwhelming consensus in the veteran community that while it’s not for everyone, there should be access for people who need it.”

In order to obtain and use medical marijuana legally, under the supervision of his physician, Mario would have to leave the state.