Humans are biologically predisposed to react to stressful and traumatic situations. The “fight or flight” mechanism enables people to determine instantaneously how to react to any given situation. If this mechanism is forced to be used repeatedly and often, the body does not properly heal or develop. Often, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a debilitating and chronic illness, can develop. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports that 7 million Americans suffer from PTSD.
Living with PTSD, no matter the underlying cause of the trauma, can be extremely difficult for patients and their loved ones. PTSD can often bring anxiety and depression and if left untreated, could worsen. Untreated depression can mean challenges with finances, coping skills, self-care, family care, making plans, setting goals, completing deadlines and much more.
Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine published an article titled “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Evidence-Based Research for the Third Millennium” which describes how profound the symptoms of PTSD can be: “Traumatic events are profoundly stressful. The stress that results from traumatic events precipitates a spectrum of psycho-emotional and physiopathological outcomes. In its gravest form, this response is diagnosed as a psychiatric disorder consequential to the experience of traumatic events.”
According to a 2017 report published by the National Academies of Sciences, PTSD is a stressor-related disorder which develops as a result of a patient’s exposure to a traumatic event. The psychological symptoms that develop because of the trauma affect mood, cognition, memories (both suppression and the inability to form new memories) and physical health. Additional symptoms include anxiety, insomnia, nightmares, an acute response to fear stimuli, atypical memory processes and a continuous feeling of distress or emotional arousal.
According to the U.S. Depart of Veterans Affairs Here are some facts (based on the U.S. population):
- About 7 or 8 out of every 100 people (or 7-8% of the population) will have PTSD at some point in their lives.
- About 7 million adults have PTSD during a given year. This is only a small portion of those who have gone through a trauma.
- About 10 of every 100 women (or 10%) develop PTSD sometime in their lives compared with about 4 of every 100 men (or 4%).
- Trauma is common in women; five out of ten women experience a traumatic event. Women tend to experience different traumas than men. While both men and women report the same symptoms of PTSD (hyperarousal, reexperiencing, avoidance, and numbing), some symptoms are more common for women or men.
The National Center on PTSD supports the idea that PTSD is a significant public health concern. They state: “This threat is all the more serious considering the fact that PTSD symptoms seldom disappear completely; recovery from PTSD is a lengthy, ongoing, gradual and costly process, which is often hampered by continuing reaction to memories. Treatment usually aims at reducing reactions and to diminishing the acuity of the reactions. Treatments also seek to increase the subject’s ability to manage trauma-related emotions and to greater confidence in coping abilities.
One of the most vulnerable groups of individuals affected by PTSD are Veterans. Often, Veterans witness the atrocities of combat and are affected by “the politics around the war, where the war is fought and the type of enemy the Veteran faced (National Center for PTSD).” According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the statistics are staggering:
The number of Veterans with PTSD varies by service era:
- Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF): About 11-20 out of every 100 Veterans (or between 11-20%) who served in OIF or OEF have PTSD in a given year.
- Gulf War (Desert Storm): About 12 out of every 100 Gulf War Veterans (or 12%) have PTSD in a given year.
- Vietnam War: About 15 out of every 100 Vietnam Veterans (or 15%) were currently diagnosed with PTSD at the time of the most recent study in the late 1980s, the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (NVVRS). It is estimated that about 30 out of every 100 (or 30%) of Vietnam Veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime. (USDVA)
As Veterans return home after their service, they must assimilate back to society which is often difficult. The stress of reintegration can be overwhelming and lead to additional or exacerbated symptoms. While PTSD can be treated with therapies and pharmaceutical medications, those are not always successful and additional treatments are necessary. Veterans will not be denied benefits because of marijuana use and Veterans are encouraged to speak to their physicians about medical marijuana.
This Journal of Psychoactive Drugs article discusses the correlation between “combat-exposed veterans who use marijuana appear to use more as the magnitude of PTSD symptoms and their expectations of marijuana-induced relief of those symptoms increase. Participants generally expected marijuana to relieve PTSD symptoms, especially those related to intrusions and arousal.”
A January 2018 Scientific American article titled “As Vets Demand Cannabis for PTSD, Science Races to Unlock Its Secrets” details a 2009 clinical trial in Canada which showed that the nighttime administration of THC reduced the frequency and intensity of nightmares in 72 percent of the 47 patients studied.”
Medical marijuana and cannabinoids can be used to treat a patient’s physical and psychological health, alleviating the symptoms of PTSD. There are numerous studies that have offered support that the proper use of cannabinoids can decrease the negative symptoms of PTSD. The endocannabinoid system consists of cannabinoid receptors all over the body. This system enables a connection between body and mind, signaling to all other systems when something feels good or bad.
When the body is defensive against trauma, this system begins to fail, resulting in physical, mental and/or neurological conditions. The compounds THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) found in cannabis signal the same cannabinoid receptors as anandamide. The cannabinoid receptor AEA is commonly referred to as the “bliss molecule” because of its ability to relieve pain and anxiety.
Frontiers in Neuroscience (FIN) concluded that CBD may offer therapeutic benefits for a variety of disorders related to “inappropriate responses to traumatic events,” and that CBD had fewer side effects than the pharmacological therapy currently used to treat this type of disorder. FIN also recommended that cannabis and CBD be used in conjunction to “psychological therapies for PTSD.”
If you or a loved one suffers from PTSD and/or the side effects associated with pharmacological therapies, speak with a medical marijuana physician. Your certified medical marijuana physician will discuss your health care routine and conditions to determine which strain(s) and method(s) will work best.