Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychological disease that comes after a patient goes through a disturbing, life-threatening, or violent event. Examples of these events are natural disasters, sexual assault, domestic abuse, or wars. PTSD is often manifested in different ways, but there are three typical manifestations:
- Experiencing or reliving the trauma again via nightmares or flashbacks.
- Avoiding the things that one associates with the disturbing, violent or life-threatening event. The avoidance could be done emotionally or physically.
- Experiencing a state of heightened arousal, or where one experiences problems with focusing or sleeping. The patient could also undergo mood swings.
How prevalent is PTSD?
It is said that seven out of every 10 American adults experience a traumatic event at least once in their lifetimes. That puts the estimate at more than 223 million people.
One in every five of those who experience a traumatic event will develop PTSD, which translates to an estimated 44.7 million people suffering or struggling with PTSD. At any given time, approximately 24.4 million Americans or around 8 percent of the population suffers from the psychological disease. Also, it is said that one in every nine women would suffer from PTSD. Men are half as likely to suffer from PTSD as women.
What are the effects of PTSD on society and the economy?
PTSD is not just a personal problem. According to several institutions, such as the Sidran Institute, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Veteran Affairs, PTSD has tremendously deleterious effects on the economy and general society.
To give you an idea, just imagine these statistics:
Anxiety disorders will cost at least $42.3 billion a year and this is because of mistakes occurring during diagnosis and even while under treatment. This number includes the costs of medicines, indirect workplace costs, therapy, medical and non-medical treatments, and mortality costs.
People suffering from PTSD have one of the highest rates of healthcare availment. Yet, with millions suffering from PTSD, a lot of people not too long ago did not recognize or acknowledge the disease. Most people did not see PTSD as a true disorder until the 1980s.
It was only in 1980 when the American Psychiatric Association included PTSD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Until then, PTSD did not have a set criteria for diagnosis and specific symptoms.
According to the DSM, PTSD is a mental disorder that can have biological effects. It can affect survivors of terrorist attacks, serious accidents, combat and war, assault, natural disasters, abuse, and major emotional losses such as the death of a loved one.
PTSD can cause changes in the way your brain is structured, as well as in the way it works. The problem with PTSD is that the manifestation of symptoms may not always be immediately apparent. For some people, it takes months before the symptoms show up. Others will exhibit very subtle symptoms at first and then progress to have more severe symptoms as months pass by. For some, however, the onset of symptoms can be seen immediately after the traumatic event.
PTSD can also develop at any stage in life. There are children who suffer from PTSD.
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
What are the manifestations of PTSD? Some of the symptoms you should know include unwanted and poignant memories of the event, nightmares, intense worry or guilt, emotional numbness, and feeling on edge. Some consciously avoid situations and reminders of the traumatic event that they experienced. For instance, some people avoid candles, matches, or fireworks after losing their home in a fire.
PTSD in the military
Most people mistakenly think that PTSD is only experienced by soldiers and veterans who have come home after spending some time in a battlefield or war-torn area. What’s worse, there are a lot of misconceptions about PTSD sufferers, possibly because of the way they are portrayed in pop culture. Movies and television shows portray them as war freak, temperamental, and unstable.
In the military, soldiers who suffer from PTSD are thought to be emotionally and psychologically weak. They are often recalled from combat zones, while some are even discharged from service. The good news is that the Department of Veterans Affairs is trying to debunk all these misconceptions.
The VA is responsible for taking care of around five million veterans annually. They also fund research that touches on a number of health conditions that affect former soldiers, including PTSD.
Close to half of all outpatient mental health patients suffer from PTSD. According to the VA, around two out of 10 soldiers deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom have experienced PTSD, while one out of 10 soldiers who served in the Gulf War also has it. Among Vietnam War veterans, that number is as high as three out of every 10.
As such, the demand for PTSD treatment is also increasing. Around 2.9 percent of research funds appropriated for medical and prosthetic research go into PTSD-related studies. Around 10.4 percent of the funding for stroke and intramural cardiovascular disease research goes to PTSD, as well. Additionally, 5.3 percent of the budget for spinal cord injury research goes to PTSD studies.
On top of combat-related trauma, females in the military also suffer from PTSD because of sexual assault in the military. Around seven out of 10 female soldiers develop the condition after experiencing sexual trauma.
Where to get medical cannabis for PTSD?
The United States government has banned the use of cannabis for medical purposes in the 1970s after classifying it as a Schedule I drug. Now, close to half a century later, cannabis is still considered an illicit drug, even though several research studies have found it to be useful in treating certain illnesses and conditions.
So if you are suffering from PTSD and traditional prescription drugs are not doing it for you, what do you do? You go to Canada, of course. While there, you would probably meet Fabian Henry, who owns Marijuana for Trauma, a medical cannabis company that opened its doors in Edmonton, Alberta. Since October 2016, the company has been helping PTSD sufferers get their hands on medical pot, allowing them to process their trauma while also relieving the symptoms and treating the condition.
Henry knows what he is talking about. He does not only run Marijuana for Trauma, but he is also a PTSD patient himself. Henry has been dealing with the emotional and psychological effects of being in then Afghanistan war zones twice.
Henry is working with several doctors to help customize the amounts of cannabis and its components that are sold to PTSD sufferers. He says that he will continue to use medical marijuana for his PTSD.
How does cannabis help treat PTSD?
Using marijuana as a way of coping with several diseases and conditions is well-known and well-documented. This is especially true for those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. In the past, most people would see this trend as a problem. Veterans are getting stoned. It is like a depressed person taking to alcohol. However, because of recent discoveries related to the medical uses of cannabis, this thinking is starting to change.
Veterans with PTSD are not getting stoned to avoid the problem. It is, in fact, their way of dealing with it head on. This is good news because traditional prescription medication usually have serotonin reuptake inhibitors. SSRIs increase the serotonin levels in your brain, helping improve or regulate mood. The use of SSRs in treating PTSD is subject to debate, with some studies saying that SSRIs have no effect on PTSD at all.
Because of SSRI having inconsistent effects on PTSD, there are some patients that are looking for alternative treatments. One of these alternatives is cannabis. Research points to its efficacy in:
PTSD often manifests itself through episodes of chronic anxiety. The cannabidiol or CBD in cannabis is extremely helpful in combating feelings of anxiety and improve the mood. CBD is also known for a variety of medical uses.
Stopping the scary nightmares
Dreams happen in the rapid eye movement stage of your sleep. This is also where nightmares occur. Cannabis use can lead to lower REM sleep, helping stop the nightmares. A study that was published in CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics showed that cannabinoids, which are found in cannabis, can effectively reduce or stop PTSD nightmares.
Helping you sleep
Cannabis has also shown promise in combating insomnia brought about by PTSD. The THC in cannabis helps you lower sleep latency, thus leading to better sleep.
What science says about medical cannabis for PTSD
A study that was published in Molecular Psychiatry points to cannabinoids as having great potential in helping PTSD sufferers deal with recurring nightmares and other symptoms. The study says that these plant-derived cannabinoids are psychoactive compounds that can benefit trauma sufferers.
Another study was recently published on Science Daily. This time, they found that cannabis helped reduce the likelihood that the sufferer would relive the trauma. They are also less likely to avoid situations that remind them of the traumatic event. Cannabis also caused a significant decline in hyperarousal. In short, medical pot is effective in addressing the three main categories of symptoms that PTSD sufferers manifest.
On top of scientific studies, you also have a lot of anecdotal evidence. Empirical evidence are gathered from several credible sources by similarly trustworthy institutions. For instance, Dianna Donnelly is a patient and counselor at the Canadian Cannabis Clinics. In one interview conducted by the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Donnelly recounted her experiences with medical cannabis.
Donnelly claims that she started using cannabis to manage her depression, and she found it helpful in decreasing the negative chatter in her head. However, she recalls that a friend of hers who suffers from PTSD describes how different cannabis is from traditional prescription drugs. According to Donnelly, traditional medicines numbed his feeling, while cannabis allows him to feel his emotions. With this, he is able to process the trauma rather than avoid or bury it.
Medical pot is often used in conjunction with other treatments when it comes to addressing PTSD. Oftentimes, medical marijuana is used with therapies involving peer support groups. Furthermore, it is not just any cannabis strain. You need to choose one that has the right levels of THC and CBD to see some beneficial effects in treating PTSD.
The thing with studies and research involving cannabis is that they are too few and most of the studies are still preliminary and the results are largely inconclusive. Nevertheless, with Canada and several U.S. states now legalizing cannabis for both medical and recreational use, there is hope that more and more studies are going to be conducted at faster rates.
* * *
The studies on the effects of cannabis in treating PTSD are still in their infancy, but early results are encouraging. We now have scientific studies that prove that marijuana shows promise in treating PTSD, and we have people who attest to its effectiveness. With more and more people getting access to medical marijuana, we might be looking at the start of the time when we no longer have to worry about PTSD and its many symptoms.
It seems that PTSD sufferers would benefit from getting the full spectrum of cannabis. THC and CBD both have their merits in fighting PTSD. There are still a lot of other compounds in marijuana that are not being looked into. For instance, terpenes such as Beta-Caryophyllene have proven to be good for fighting anxiety. Plus, terpenes such as Myrcene can help you sleep better because of their sedative properties. These terpenes are all found in cannabis.
There are several ways to use cannabis for PTSD. You can smoke or vape it to get THC and CBD. Or you can use it in essential oil form to get the most out of terpenes found in cannabis. There are also CBD oils that you can put under your tongue. The most important thing is to consult with your doctor so that you can get the most out of cannabis as you use it to treat your PTSD.