Many veterans who’ve experienced military combat often suffer and cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is common for these veterans to always feel on edge, on the verge of panicking, or feeling emotionally numb. For veterans, PTSD (sometimes referred to as ‘shell shock’ or ‘combat stress’) can severely impact their livelihood. Fortunately, congressional committees are fighting for medical cannabis access for veterans, and states are beginning to take measures to address their veterans, but what is the latest in research and what can one expect? Let’s find out.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD is a “psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as natural disaster, as a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat or rape or who have been threatened with death, sexual violence or serious injury”. The nervous system has two automatic or reflexive, manners in which it responds to stressful situations. Mobilization is the first one which is known as the flight-or-fight response, while the other is immobilization. Immobilization is where PTSD occurs as the person has undergone too much stress and is still under stress when the danger has passed.
As a veteran, being able to get past the PTSD involves transitioning out of the mental and emotional war zone, which is challenging and the reason why veterans seek out multiple methods to deal with the condition. A study conducted by Miriam Reisman reported that between 13.5% and 30% of deployed and non-deployed veterans screened positive for PTSD, which is why the condition has been made a priority through various initiatives.
According to data on Healthy Place, treatment for PTSD is typically accommodated for the general public, of who the vast majority have not experienced military combat. At this time, there is little in the way for combat-related PTSD treatment specifically. But veterans utilize general PTSD treatment and still experience recovery. The trauma that stems from combat is a little more complex, however, at the end of the day, trauma is trauma.
A 2020 study reported that the top conditions reported amongst veterans include chronic pain, sleep problems, anxiety, and depression. They also reported that veterans were overall unsatisfied with their health after returning home, with women reporting the most health concerns in comparison to non-deployed and male peers.
A 2020 survey conducted on 1,700 US, Iraq, and Afghanistan veterans found that 46% of them were being prescribed antidepressants, 35% were prescribed anti-anxiety medications, 36% received prescriptions for sleeping pills and 32% were being prescribed opioids. Additionally, Dr. McNabb reported that the Defence Department found nearly one-in-four active military service individuals were taking opioids, but only .001% were receiving care for diagnosed opioid use disorder.
Dr. McNabb and team conducted their study in order to assess the efficacy of cannabis for veteran health conditions and symptoms, including PTSD. The following information is available on the study conducted by Dr. McNabb and colleagues in an attempt to better understand the efficacy of cannabis for PTSD.
Veterans can expect to find conflicting information regarding the efficacy of cannabis for their PTSD. Most available research ends with the conclusion that more conclusive research related to cannabis use and PTSD should be conducted; however, there are plenty of anecdotal reports and studies that portray the medical benefits associated with consuming cannabis to assist with the symptoms associated with PTSD.
Currently, several states have approved medical cannabis for PTSD. The study reported that cannabis was associated with a reduction in PTSD-related nightmares as well as contributing to improved sleep. Dr. McNabb and team also mentioned a study conducted in 2018 by Shishko and colleagues. Shishko’s study evaluated 5 other studies on cannabis for PTSD and found that three of the studies found benefits, while the other two reported worsened PTSD outcomes.
A 2019 study by Stephanie Lake and colleagues conducted an analysis of health survey data from more than 24 thousand Canadians who had PTSD. They found that the participants who did not medicate with cannabis were more likely to present with severe depression as well as suicidal thoughts, more so than those who did medicate with cannabis. The Lake study suggested that individuals with PTSD turn to cannabis as a result of limited options for PTSD treatment.
While the jury is still out on the precise interaction between cannabis and PTSD, veterans are continuing to use cannabis as an alternative means to pharmaceutical medication cocktails-which are often associated with adverse effects and are risky in terms of potential addiction, overdose, and death.
The Endocannabinoid System in our bodies makes cannabis a viable alternative to pharmaceutical medications due to its function of promoting homeostasis in the body. It also plays a role in regulating vital functions- making it a viable target for treating symptoms related to PTSD. A 2020 study found that all symptoms of PTSD were reduced by more than 50% immediately after cannabis consumption. The same study also found that with more time, there was a larger decrease in intrusions and irritability.
Veterans with PTSD can expect to benefit from the medicinal benefits in terms of alleviating symptoms. A recent study published in 2020 provides evidence of such when they analyzed data from over 400 individuals, who tracked their PTSD symptoms before and after cannabis use by means of an application called “Strainprint”. Over a period of 31 months, the group used the application more than 11,000 times. The study revealed that cannabis reduced the severity of intrusive and returning thoughts of the traumatic event by 62%, reduced flashbacks by 51%, irritability by 67%, and anxiety by 57%. Unfortunately, the reduction in symptoms was not permanent but did provide momentary relief.
While cannabis is gaining more traction as a viable medicine and getting legalized across the US, there are still many veterans who might be hesitant about pursuing cannabis therapy out of fear of losing their benefits from Veterans Affairs. The VA cannot take away a veteran’s benefits over cannabis. In fact, the agency promotes transparency and even encourages veterans to be open with their physicians about their cannabis use. Interested veterans should also consider seeking these top suggested strains that can help with PTSD.
While more certainty is required in the form of clinical trials, plenty of anecdotal reports concerning cannabis for PTSD display the potential benefits one can get from medical cannabis. Considering the risks involved with conventional means of treating PTSD, veterans stand to gain the most from the therapeutic properties associated with cannabis. A study published in Science Direct emphasized perceiving cannabis as a medicine, not a means by which to “get high”, doing so “would allow them to function better”.
The researchers go on to explain that those who saw cannabis as a mere recreational drug had created a mental barrier but ultimately it was the lack of effective therapeutics from conventional medication which led to their decision to use cannabis as an alternative treatment for their PTSD. Unfortunately, as with most areas concerned with cannabis, more research needs to be conducted in order to offer consumers more certainty.
Veterans suffering from PTSD deserve to have proper treatment and should not hesitate to consult medical professionals who will assist with creating treatment plans while considering all options which should, in our opinion, include cannabis.
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Joseph Smith Jr says:
July 13, 2021 at 5:29 pm
Everything written here is correct.Because I’ve experienced it first hand.I’ve been out of the military including Vietnam for 51 yrs.I knew something was wrong with me.I couldn’t quite figure it out.People joked about me being shell shocked.We laughed about it at times.But,it wasn’t until 40 yrs later.I was admitted to the VA hospital for evaluation.There I was diagnosed with PTSD and Major Depression.I was released for a short time.Only to be readmitted because my condition got worse.I spent several weeks the first time.Released and put on medication.But,I returned a few more times again for a few more weeks.Since my last visit to the hospital.I’m still feeling a little out of whack.I’m in therapy with other Vietnam Veterans.They are in the same condition as myself.But,they are fortunate enough to have a card for cannabis.All I want is to find relief.
Chane Leigh says:
July 19, 2021 at 1:59 pm
Thank you for your courage to share your experience with us. Perhaps we could help you get your medical card too, if you would like. Feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-833-663-7284 for more information. I wish you continued strength and courage on your journey.