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  • Writer's pictureMartin Polanco

Marijuana for PTSD: Why Vets Want Legalization

Originally posted April 12, 2017

The effects of war can have lasting impact on those involved. It’s estimated that some 20 percent of people returning from war suffer from some serious psychological trauma. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an extremely severe anxiety condition, is something that can progress after a person has experienced an upsetting and disturbing incident. War, and engaging in active combat, is one of the major reasons people develop this often-incapacitating condition.

What are the Symptoms of PTSD?

The symptoms of PTSD can be debilitating. Insomnia, sleep deprivation, depression, stress, and anxiety become common. Nightmares and flashbacks are normal and can lead to severe fear and panic. Typical symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Being easily startled

  • Experiencing severe guilt or worry

  • Depression

  • Frequently feeling intense and on-edge

  • Loss of interest in activities a person once enjoyed

  • Insomnia or difficulty sleeping

  • Fearful thoughts

  • Flashbacks

People suffering from PTSD will often unwillingly play the traumatic incidents they’ve experienced repeatedly in their mind. They simply cannot turn off the memories of the event that has triggered their PTSD. This can lead to serious emotional imbalance, keeping a person in a painful cycle that can eventually ruin their life.

Because PTSD can be completely debilitating, even with the medicine prescribed to take away a person’s pain, many vets are turning towards alternatives to help with some of the crippling feelings associated with PTSD. Medical marijuana has shown great promise in helping treat the symptoms that accompany PTSD…without leaving people addicted and suffering from negative side effects. For the countless people who suffer from PTSD, marijuana has shown to bring tremendous relief to the terrible symptoms associated with it.

Traditional Treatment for PTSD

Medication prescribed to those who suffer from PTSD includes antidepressants such as Paxil, Zoloft, and Prozac. And while these medicines work for some, they don’t work for everyone. And, not everyone who suffers from PTSD wants to be subjected to taking prescription medication. As one vet put it, these medications can leave you feeling like a “zombie.” The problem is that doctors who treat soldiers with PTSD are encouraged to offer them a cocktail of antidepressants…and discouraged to offer them any type of alternative treatment.

There isn’t anything that has been developed specifically to treat PTSD. The people who can’t find relief with what they’re prescribed are left without options. Many of them turn to drugs or alcohol to help them through–anything that will numb their pain momentarily. However, this often leaves them worse off from where they started. According to the US Department of Veteran Affairs, 2 out of 10 veterans who suffer from PTSD also suffer from a substance abuse disorder.

Our vets have suffered enough and deserve an option to help them through the trauma they’ve experienced.

Why More Veterans are Turning Toward Medical Marijuana for PTSD

Cannabis tends to slow things down, something that comes as a welcomed relief to those who experience the racing, fearful thoughts that are common with PTSD.

It all comes down to the endocannabinoid system in the brain. A 2013 study showed that there is a connection between PTSD and the cannabinoid receptors a person possesses in the brain. Conducted by researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center, this study showed that people who suffer from PTSD have lower levels of certain endocannabinoids than people who don’t suffer from PTSD. The low-levels of this particular endocannabinoid (CB-1) in people that have PTSD is called anandamide, derived from the word ananda, which appropriately “bliss” in Sanskrit.

Low levels of this endocannabinoid can keep a person is cycles of thought that don’t allow them to forget the painful memories associated with their trauma. Normal CB-1 activity in the brain helps to deactivate memories and allow a person to forget the traumatic events that have taken place in their life. When a person has low levels of CB-1 activity, they can’t escape the haunting memories and anxieties that PTSD is famous for.

Medical marijuana helps to replenish the low levels of CB-1 endocannabinoids in the brain, bringing relief to the nightmare of negativity a person who suffers from PTSD faces on a regular basis. It brings relief without the slew of side effects found in other medication prescribed for PTSD.

The Slow Momentum of Medical Marijuana Used for PTSD

As promising as marijuana proves to be for those who suffer from PTSD, it seems the government is slow in recognized for the potential it contains. Of the 28 states (plus Washington DC) that have approved medical marijuana, only 20 of them have passed laws that allow cannabis to be prescribed for PTSD. Surprisingly enough, Colorado (one of the pioneer states leading the medical marijuana movement), has not passed a bill that allows doctors to prescribe pot for post-traumatic stress.

States that haven’t passed legislation that would allow veterans (and others) who suffer from PTSD the option of medical marijuana site lack of evidence as one of their main concerns. Studies on marijuana and PTSD are in their infancy stages, yet as more evidence becomes clear of the benefits the plant contains, people are hopeful it will soon be commonplace to have it prescribed for this unfortunate condition.

Until then, vets are taking matters into their own hands and medicating regardless of the legal statutes that are currently in place. One veteran describes how “cannabis helped get me out of the hole I was in,” something that all-too-many people returning from war could really use help with.

Cannabis can be key in helping vets regain the freedom they’ve lost in their life. No one deserves to suffer from PTSD. If medicinal marijuana holds potential to help people out of their misery, we shouldn’t hesitate to make research a top priority.

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