On Easter Sunday of 2007, something terrible happened that would change Noah Starr’s life forever. It ended up taking over five years, thousands of pills, relationships lost and learning about medical cannabis before he could turn his life around at all. “People call marijuana a gateway drug and it absolutely is. It’s been the gateway to my recovery,” says the former Canadian Armed Forces combat engineer. “I’ve had times when I was in the hospital because I didn’t know where to turn. I have been one of those soldiers,” says the young man from Fredericton, N.B.

While serving in Afghanistan, Starr witnessed six fellow soldiers get hit with an IED that their truck ran over. Starr was assigned to search for roadside bombs a short distance away, and he was one of the first to respond to the explosion. Starr said that “It hit really close to home because I was wearing the exact same uniform that these guys were wearing. It made it very real for me and I think it put into perspective what could happen.”

He couldn’t get this incident out of his head, the whole experience was permanently etched into his mind. He was extremely aware that was dealing with legitimate psychological problems, so he informed his superiors that he needed help. At that time the help consisted of prescription medication and access to a social worker to help him while overseas. He felt confident that the help would be adequate until he returned to CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick, where he found out that there were only two psychiatrists available for the entire 2,000 member battle group that just returned.

According to Starr, “It took me six months before I even saw a doctor. It wasn’t until January of 2008 that I had a working diagnosis of PTSD. It was almost a year before a doctor said, ‘You’ve got PTSD. We’re going to start you on a program.”

He was given a cocktail of anti-depression, anti-anxiety, and sleep aid medications to deal with the PTSD. “At my worst point there were about six different drugs at one time and only ever seeing that if this wasn’t working there was another drug or an increase of a drug, If I ever forgot these drugs, I would get a wicked withdrawal reminder and my quality of life was almost non-existent” Starr said.

The treatment continued for years, while Starr was twice denied a transfer to a Joint Personnel Support Unit, which is a military designation used as a way station for ill and injured members. So he stayed at CFB Gagetown where he struggled to even make it to work on time after taking heavy doses of sleeping pills on a regular basis, which his superiors grew tired of.

These types of problems would eventually lead to his release from the military in December 2012 after being judged “unsuitable for further service” due to personal problems that were deemed “within his control” thus making him “an excessive administrative burden.” So after losing his mental health and his career, Starr began seeking out alternatives as he got ready for civilian life.

He examined some psychedelic drugs but ended up settling for medical cannabis, which he had to obtain illegally off the street. This treatment helped his uncontrollable anger tremendously, which had been plaguing him for years. “Even that stuff did have a wonderful effect on me. The second that it touches my lungs it just washes out of me. It just goes away and I can’t describe it in any other way. It just melts off me” he said.

He has not had any pharmaceutical drugs since early 2013 and relies solely on medical cannabis. His former girlfriend has separated and his two children are not allowed to see him, which is a dreadful consequence of all his problems. He is currently running a property management company in addition to working as a marijuana mentor at CannaConnect, which is a group that focuses on helping veterans obtain medical cannabis and other benefits. Starr comments that ““My life will never be normal. I’ve come to terms with that,” he said. “But it’s as normal as I think it can be.” The trend of people foregoing pharmaceuticals and choosing medical cannabis is surely growing and veterans who suffer from PTSD can be huge beneficiaries of cannabis treatments.