When dealing with mental health issues such as PTSD suffered by military veterans, the VA’s automatic treatment is a “combat cocktail”, which simply describes a complex mix of anti-depressants that have their own side effects. This overreliance on antidepressants and opioids has left many veterans looking for an option that is more natural, with milder repercussions.
It is reported that in excess of two million veterans admit to having used cannabis to deal with their post combat issues, with a number in the tens of thousands even declaring that it saved their lives.
So, what is it about marijuana that makes it helpful in the management of PTSD?
Today, we will take you through a journey of how marijuana can help manage or even "cure" PTSD and why more and more military veterans are turning to it.
Let’s dive right in!
What exactly is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), often also referred to as "combat stress," or "shell shock" happens after the experience of a traumatic or life-threatening event.
Your nervous system might respond reflexively in two different ways to a stressful event:
Mobilization, also known as "fight-or-flight" allows you to survive in a combat situation. In such a situation:
- Your heart beats faster
- Your blood pressure will rise
- Your muscles tighten
- Your strength and reaction speed will increase
After the situation has passed, your body should go back to its normal restful functioning.
Once the danger has passed, your nervous system calms your body, lowering your heart rate and blood pressure, and winding back down to its normal balance.
Immobilization, or PTSD occurs when you are unable to move on from the event and you become “stuck” with your natural reflex on high alert and becoming completely unable to relax.
How Does Cannabis Help PTSD?
Some of the PTSD effects suffered by veterans include:
- Panic attacks
- Detachment from others
- Overwhelming emotions sometimes of guilt and shame
- Self-destructive behavior
- Thoughts of suicide
In the management and treatment of PTSD, benzodiazepines and antidepressants are often prescribed.
In recent times, the number of veterans choosing to use cannabis and its derivatives to manage and treat their conditions has increased drastically. Anecdotally, they report significant improvement in their symptoms which include:
- Severe anxiety
- Lack of appetite
- Anger issues
- Depression and general sadness
So, What Exactly Does Cannabis Do?
Preliminary research has shown that cannabis has the ability to “remove” the bodies natural associations to painful or disturbing memories. This is particularly helpful in PTSD patients that experience flashbacks when they encounter a trigger event. This could be by what they smell, see, or hear which could be associated to previous combat experiences. By extinguishing the memory associations, these PTSD patients may see increasing improvement in their symptoms.
After an episode of combat, or trigger event, the question of why some veterans suffered from PTSD and others do not often arises. Researchers theorize that veterans who suffer from PTSD often have an imbalance in their brains hormone production. In this instance of applying marijuana as a solution, the cannabinoids in marijuana could restore the brains natural hormonal balance and create an environment for more optimal functioning.
Another way cannabis treats PTSD is by preventing or minimizing nightmares. THC has been shown to limit the active phase of sleep (REM) where vivid dreams are likely to occur. a simple explanation of a complex problem. PTSD by definition is characterized by a constant state of tension and awareness, which makes sleeping very difficult. Many of these thoughts and vivid dreams occur during REM sleep so minimizing the brains REM activity can help reduce trigger events:
By reducing the REM sleep, the veteran will experience less nightmares associated with PTSD and sleep better, setting off a cycle to wellness.
A study to test this used a cannabinoid receptor stimulant known as nabilone. It was found that up to 72% of the subjects either stopped having nightmares, or had them in drastically reduced severity.
THC, the primary cannabinoid found in marijuana, also decreases anxiety in the correct personal dosage. This allows the user to experience a feeling of calm and a "slowing" of the racing thoughts associated with PTSD, giving relief in an instant.
Chronic Pain – Apart from PTSD, military veterans also often suffer from chronic pain in the muscles, bones, and joints due to strenuous combat conditions. Cannabis contains pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties that ease off this pain.
Whether used for pain relief, help in combating anxiety or stress or even inducing sleep, a very large number of veterans have found significant relief from cannabis.
And what’s more?
Marijuana does not have most of the side effects associated with pharmaceutical drugs, including headaches, agitation, sexual dysfunction and even slumps that could lead to suicidal thoughts.
It is apparent that it’ll take a lot more research and a drastic shift in public opinion for cannabis to be legally accepted as an alternative to the current treatment protocol for veterans. However, there has been concerted efforts by veteran advocacy groups for access to medical cannabis, and with time, green might just become a accepted treatment option for PTSD.