A lot of people associate Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with veterans who have returned home after fighting in a brutal conflict. In reality, a surprising number of people suffer from this condition. According to the National Center for PTSD, approximately 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women suffer from ‘trauma’ at some point in their lives.
Around 10 percent of women experience PTSD during their life compared to around 4 percent of men. While the number is significantly higher for individuals that served in the military (up to 30 percent of Vietnam veterans suffered from it), PTSD is something that affects people who have seemingly ‘normal’ lives.
What is PTSD?
According to the American Psychiatric Association (ACA), PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can happen if you have either witnessed or experienced a ‘traumatic’ event. Such events include rape, a natural disaster, terrorism, death or a violent assault. Those who work as soldiers, police officers, firemen or ambulance operatives are more likely to witness or experience such an event.
PTSD was poorly understood for a very long time and had a number of different names. During World War I, it was called ‘shell shock,’ and afflicted soldiers were often told to ‘pull themselves together.’ If you suffer from PTSD, you’ll have disturbing feelings and thoughts for a long time after the event. As well as feeling angry, fearful and alone, you may even experience flashbacks or have nightmares.
It is important to realize that PTSD can happen to absolutely anyone and is not a sign of weakness. It is more common after specific types of trauma such as sexual assault or combat.
Signs of PTSD
Although it is possible for PTSD to begin immediately after the traumatic event, it is not diagnosed as a disorder unless the symptoms last for a minimum of a month. Also, the symptoms must interfere with your home life or work and cause significant distress. In tota, there are four distinct PTSD symptom types.
1 – Relieving the Event
Also known as ‘re-experiencing symptoms,’ these symptoms involve reliving the traumatic event. For instance, you could experience upsetting memories of the event which affect you when you’re not expecting them. In other cases, the trauma could be set off by a reminder. Examples include war veterans hearing a car backfire, a rape victim seeing a report of a sexual assault or an automobile accident victim driving past the scene of an accident.
In these cases, the instant you relive the moment can feel scarily realistic to the point where you believe it is happening all over again. As well as seeing the image in your mind, you could also experience the same physical sensations and emotions as you did when it actually happened; this includes familiar sounds, smells, and pain.
2 – Avoidance & Numbing
If you experience avoidance symptoms, it means you try to avoid any situation that reminds you of the traumatic event. For example, if you were sexually assaulted at a train station, you will do what you can to avoid visiting train stations again. You may even avoid sights, sounds, smells and people that remind you of the event.
As it is too upsetting to risk reliving the event over and over again, you distract yourself in any way possible. It is common for PTSD sufferers to immerse themselves in activities such as jigsaw and crossword puzzles as a means of blocking out any potential reminders of the trauma. In some cases, you may even try to block everything out by becoming emotionally numb; after all, it is better to feel nothing than feel angst and fear, right? As a result, you become withdrawn and communicate less with people around you.
3 – An Increase in Negative Feelings Such as Guilt & Shame
The trauma could cause you to think differently about yourself and others. For example, you may have a sense of guilt because you believe it was your fault. This is common amongst victims of rape. You feel ashamed that you ‘allowed’ the traumatic event to happen and take no pleasure in things you used to enjoy.
4 – Hyperarousal
Another symptom of PTSD is always feeling ‘on edge’ and jittery. You now believe the world is a dangerous place and see potential threats everywhere. As well as always being on the lookout for danger, you become cranky, irritable and prone to bouts of sudden anger. You may also find it extremely difficult to sleep. In some cases, you might begin to act erratically and take up unhealthy habits such as smoking or drinking alcohol to excess.
Unfortunately, it is common for other conditions to accompany PTSD such as depression, substance abuse or anxiety. An estimated 50 percent of men with the condition develop alcohol problems. The next most common problems amongst men with PTSD are depression, conduct disorder, and narcotics. Almost 50 percent of women with the condition develop depression. The next most common issues are specific fears, social anxiety, and alcohol abuse.
Also, it is common for people with PTSD to have problems readjusting to society. Statistically, you are more likely to get a divorce, become unemployed, abuse your spouse or get fired if you have PTSD. Detailed research involving Vietnam veterans with the disorder discovered that they had trouble forming interpersonal relationships, were prone to violence and found it hard to get a job.
Conventional Medical Treatments
Also known as counseling, psychotherapy involves discussing your feelings with a therapist. The most effective forms of therapy focus on the traumatic event rather than the rest of your life. As you can’t change what happened, your only chance of recovering is by thinking differently about the event, the world and your life in general.
Psychotherapy is unquestionably a difficult experience because, for it to be effective, you have to remember what happened as best you can without being overwhelmed by fear or stress. When you’re in therapy, you put your experiences into words. When you remember the event, analyze it and make sense of it, your mind can finally store the memories away and allow you to move on to other matters. It is only when you feel safer and in control of your feelings that you can take charge of your memories; you won’t feel the need to keep avoiding them. From that point onwards, you’ll only think about the memories when you choose to rather than having them spring out of nowhere to upset you.
There are several types of psychotherapy including:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is often classified as the most effective form of psychotherapy. It involves speaking to a therapist to understand how to change the extreme forms of thinking that make PTSD worse. The most common forms of CBT are:
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT): You learn skills to help you understand how the traumatic event has changed how you think, feel and act. You could change the way you feel about the event if you alter the way you think about it.
Prolonged Exposure (PE): This is a difficult form of therapy because it involves talking about the traumatic event until the memories no longer upset you. It helps you gain control of your thoughts and feelings related to the trauma so you can stop avoiding certain places or people that remind you of the event.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR involves focusing on hand movements or sounds when you discuss the event. It helps the brain process flashbacks and makes sense of the trauma.
As the name suggests, this form of therapy involves meeting with a group of people who have experienced a similar type of trauma. You may find it easier to talk about what happened when surrounded by a sympathetic group that knows what you are going through.
Medication Which is Not Cannabis
There are several types of medication prescribed for PTSD sufferers including:
The purpose of this medication is to reduce the strength of your PTSD symptoms and also deal with the effects of depression. As well as helping with symptoms of anxiety, antidepressants can help you sleep and improve your concentration. SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) medications are the most popular. Common SSRIs including sertraline and paroxetine; both of which are Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved.
This form of medication can relieve severe anxiety but as this form of prescription drug is known for being regularly abused, patients are advised only to take it for a short period.
This drug is sometimes prescribed for PTSD patients that suffer from recurrent nightmares and insomnia. While Prazosin is not FDA approved, it is a widely used medication.
Medical Marijuana and PTSD
Using marijuana for medicinal purposes is unquestionably one of the most controversial aspects of the American healthcare system. While most states have a cannabis law of some kind on their books, a variety of legal issues has prevented researchers and doctors from fully examining the impact of marijuana on PTSD sufferers.
Despite certain relaxations in the law, there is still a strong group that protests against the use of marijuana for any medical purpose. On the Department of Veterans Affairs website, for example, it claims that marijuana is harmful to people with PTSD. However, the site offers no links to this alleged research and fails to point out the reasons for the lack of research to date.
In simple terms, big pharmaceutical companies don’t want cannabis used for PTSD relief because it interferes with an industry worth a fortune. While lobbyists for the pharmaceutical company rail against marijuana, they fail to acknowledge the fact that opioid painkillers are responsible for approximately 20,000 overdose deaths a year in the United States. These painkillers are addictive, lead to a slew of unwanted side effects and don’t address the underlying problem.
An increasing number of war veterans have spoken about how cannabis helps reduce their anxiety and enables them to sleep. According to veteran Leo Bridgewater, cannabis ensures you don’t have to decompress before you go to bed because marijuana does it for you. He said that veterans don’t use cannabis to ‘chase a high,’ they use it to control the symptoms of their PTSD. However, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I dangerous drug under the Controlled Substances Act of the DEA. This gives it the same classification as heroin, and it is considered more ‘dangerous’ than cocaine!
Medical Marijuana Research and Breakthroughs
Dr. Raphael Mechoulam was the first person to identify THC as marijuana’s psychoactive compound. Now, the Israeli scientist believes its neuroprotective effects can eventually be used for a variety of psychiatric and neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Mechoulam has also discovered that the brain’s cannabinoid system is related to memory with an emphasis on the ‘extinction’ of memories. The memory extinction process is a normal one and involves removing associations from stimuli. This finding is extremely relevant in the field of PTSD study because sufferers often respond to stimuli that provide an unwanted and unwelcome memory of a traumatic event. Dr. Mechoulam hopes to begin his study on the effects of marijuana on PTSD patients (veterans in this case) soon.
Anecdotal evidence to date suggests that the best way to use marijuana to treat the anxiety caused by PTSD is to use low to moderate dosages with a stable blood level. In other words, it is not as effective if you use large doses of cannabis or use it when your blood pressure is too high or low.
Another fascinating study, this time by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), found that people with PTSD have lower levels of anandamide compared to people who don’t suffer from the condition. Anandamide is an endogenous cannabinoid compound, and in mammals, it triggers the same receptors activated by THC and other marijuana plant components.
One of the issues with PTSD is the lack of endocannabinoid where the body doesn’t produce enough of it to fill receptor sites. When a PTSD sufferer uses cannabis, they replenish the all-important endocannabinoids, and this act potentially brings them relief from their memories. The combination of research and first-hand accounts from people living with PTSD suggests that marijuana plays a pivotal role in preventing unwanted memories associated with the trauma from surfacing.
It has taken a very long time, but in 2016, the DEA finally gave formal approval to a controlled clinical study to show the effect of marijuana on veterans with PTSD. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is funding the program by providing MAPS with a $2.156 million grant. It is the first time in American history that any federal agency has approved a clinical trial on marijuana with a view to possibly making it a prescription drug.
While it depends on the results of the study, there’s a possibility that a cannabis-based treatment for PTSD could be on the market by 2023. This is still a long time away; especially since less than half of American states allow PTSD as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. Let’s take a look at the 5 best marijuana strains for treating PTSD.
5 Marijuana Strains That Treat PTSD
One of the ways that marijuana can help PTSD sufferers is by helping them cope with the nightmares and flashbacks they get that prevent them from sleeping. The research we mentioned above suggests that marijuana helps with memory extinction and reduces the anxiety and stress which triggers panic attacks. For the record, you need to understand the difference between cannabis strains with high levels of THC and CBD.
While high-CBD cannabis strains are ideal for daytime usage because of their mood-stabilizing effects, high THC marijuana strains are your weapon of choice at night because they help aid restful sleep. There are hundreds of available cannabis strains online so to save you some research; we’ve identified five of the best.
1 – Blue Dream Cannabis Strain
This Sativa-dominant cannabis strain is grown in the state of California and is one of the most popular marijuana strains around. As well as providing you with an element of mental invigoration, it provides you with soothing full-body relaxation. Blue Dream is a balanced hybrid with a pleasant Blueberry and Haze aroma. It has an extremely high THC content of between 17 and 24 percent with a CBD content of between 0.1 and 0.2 percent. Blue Dream helps you ease into social interactions and promotes a significant uplift in your mood.
2 – OG Kush Cannabis Strain
OG Kush marijuana strain has become immensely popular since its introduction in the 1990s. The exact origin of this cannabis strain is a mystery although it is possibly a mix between Hindu Kush and Chemdawg. Although not everyone is in agreement, it is likely that ‘OG’ stands for Ocean Grown with a nod towards its Californian heritage.
It is ideal for people with PTSD because it provides a pleasant and euphoric effect. It does a remarkable job of calming your entire body which makes it perfect for a relaxing evening. Its THC content is between 20 and 24 percent with a CBD content of 0.2 percent.
3 – Pineapple Express Cannabis Strain
If you’re reading this page, you’ve probably heard of the movie ‘Pineapple Express’ which depicts this strain of marijuana as a powerful super bud. In reality, it is smooth and well-balanced. Users experience a feeling of clear-headedness which makes it the strain of choice for creative individuals.
If you have PTSD and want to go out and about but are feeling anxious, use some Pineapple Express to allay your fears. It will ease your anxiety but ensure you’re still a highly functioning individual. Its THC content is approximately 20 percent, and its CBD content is 0.1 percent.
4 – Master Kush Cannabis Strain
Just to be clear, the Master Kush cannabis strain is probably not ideal for beginners because it is rather potent. Put it this way; this strain is popular in Amsterdam coffee houses which should give you some idea as to its strength.
However, if you have PTSD, have used cannabis before and have problems sleeping, Master Kush could be the answer to your prayers. Insomniacs will love this strain as it provides a blissful and euphoric sensation as it guides you to sleep. Its THC content is 20 percent while its CBD content is 1 percent.
5 – Cannatonic Cannabis Strain
This strain is very much a daytime delight due to its exceptionally high CBD content. Cannatonic provides you with a relaxed and calming sensation, but you’ll also notice a major improvement in your mood along with a marked reduction in anxiety. If your PTSD is causing you to get angry, take some Cannatonic to calm you down. Its THC content is 6 percent while its CBD content ranges from 6 to 17 percent.
Final Thoughts About Marijuana and PTSD
Those without sufficient knowledge of marijuana believe it is a ‘coping’ drug for those who wish to self-medicate. In actuality, there is a growing body of research which suggests it meets a real need amongst individuals with PTSD. At present, there is no universally successful treatment for PTSD. While therapy can help, it has a high dropout rate, especially amongst veterans. Medication such as opioid painkillers is not particularly effective and likely causes more harm than good.
Scientists are finally allowed to perform detailed research into the effects of marijuana on PTSD under clinical trial conditions. Obviously, if you have never used cannabis before, it is wise to consult with a medical professional. If you are not used to marijuana, strains with a high THC content could increase your level of anxiety. Hopefully, the new research into the drug examining the relationship between THC and CBD will lead to new strains of marijuana for people prone to anxiety.
Of course, the damage caused by PTSD cannot be completely erased or fixed by any form of medication. However, for an increasing number of people, marijuana causes respite when nothing else does. While the industry will doubtless be under scrutiny and face competition from pharmaceutical companies, we hope the results of the forthcoming research definitively show a positive outcome when people living with PTSD use marijuana.