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Treating PTSD with Cannabis

Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, as its name suggests, is a mental health condition that is triggered by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. The disorder is commonly associated with war veterans and victims of harassment or abuse, but according to statistics, anybody can have it. In fact, about 8% of adults in the United States suffer from it at any given time. This is equivalent to around 25 million people, or roughly the size of the total population of Texas.

It’s quite normal for a person to feel bewildered and lost after a traumatic incident. Danger or harm, after all, can set off a person’s fight or flight response and trigger a different range of reactions. Witnessing a vehicular accident, for example, may cause someone to experience difficulty in adjusting to their environment in the few weeks or months following the event; this is perfectly natural. With time and proper self-care, they can eventually recover and return to their regular routine.

PTSD can be triggered by a similar event, but the way the condition manifests is quite different from what one can consider regular shock. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a person must experience all these in the span of 1 month before they are diagnosed with PTSD: at least one symptom of re-experiencing the event, at least one symptom of avoidance, at least one symptom of arousal or reactivity, and at least two cognition and mood symptoms. Flashbacks and nightmares, severe anxiety, and constant thoughts about the event or series of events that caused the trauma are few of the tell-tale signs of the disorder.  

These symptoms may show up within a month after the traumatic situation, but they can also appear out of the blue several months or years after the event took place. What’s more, they can be felt for months or years, vary in intensity, and seriously interfere with the patient’s relationships, career, and lifestyle. 

Research And Studies Show That Cannabis May Be Able To Help With PTSD.

PTSD: A Serious Mental Health Issue

Not everyone who has witnessed or taken part in a traumatic event will get PTSD. Even now, doctors are not sure as to why some people are more likely to develop PTSD than others. Among the causes they are looking at are a mix of stressful circumstances, how the body releases hormones in response to stress, inherited mental health risks, as well as the personality of the patient. Having PTSD increases a person’s risk for depression and anxiety, alcohol or drug use, eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts or actions.

The disorder is often treated using a combination of therapy and medications such as antidepressants. A meta-study published in February 2014 attests to the effectiveness of combining psychotherapy and medication to treat depression and anxiety disorders, including post-traumatic stress. A strong support system in the form of family, friends, or a support group can also greatly contribute to the recovery of a person with PTSD.

There are, however, barriers that can prevent a person with PTSD from getting the help they need. Some people are reluctant to find help, thinking that their condition is a sign of weakness. There are PTSD patients whose personal circumstances keep them from seeing medical professionals. Still, others may find that the medication they are taking have unwanted side-effects or don’t fully address the symptoms that they are experiencing. This, in turn, may discourage them from completing the treatment prescribed to them.

These patients, and even those who are fully committed to participating and completing their respective treatment programs, can find extra help by using medical marijuana.

How Cannabis can Help PTSD Patients Overcome Barriers

The legalization of marijuana -- for medical or recreational use, or both -- in many states has made people more aware of the health benefits one can enjoy from using the plant. In recent years, there has been an increase of well-publicized anecdotes and reports where marijuana was used to treat drug-resistant disorders and manage the symptoms of debilitating diseases to great success. Medical marijuana also shows a lot of promise when it comes to combatting depression and anxiety disorders.

A program held in New Mexico is of particular interest to patients with PTSD and professionals who specialize in treating mental health disorders. The program, which ran between 2009 and 2011 and involved 80 participants, was set up to collect and statistically analyze psychometric data on PTSD symptoms. The study found that compared to participants who didn’t use cannabis, those who used cannabis reported a 75% reduction in their CAPS (Clinician Administered Posttraumatic Scale) score. In short, cannabis can be associated to a significant reduction in PTSD symptoms.

How can medical marijuana help treat PTSD, depression, and anxiety disorders? The answer can be found in the cannabinoids in the plant, in particular, THC or tetrahydrocannabinol and CBD or cannabidiol. THC is responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis, while CBD is well-known for its medicinal use and relaxing effect. These cannabinoids are very similar to endocannabinoids, which are substances that play an important role in regulating appetite, mood, pain reception, and other physiological processes. The cannabinoids from marijuana interact with the body's endocannabinoid receptors, which then triggers the user to experience the effects of marijuana. 

Marijuana and PTSD Symptoms

Cannabis consumption can counteract the symptoms of PTSD by allowing the patient to:

1. Clear their mind - One can be forgiven for assuming that it’s unwise to expose a person with PTSD to THC. This cannabinoid, after all, can temporarily affect a person’s mental processes.  But if the patient is conditioned to have the right mindset and if THC is administered in controlled doses, the experience can result to increased sensory awareness, improved perception, and mental clarity. This state of mind can be a welcome relief for someone who has been battling dark, stressful thoughts for a long while.

CBD, on the other hand, can provide relief to a PTSD patient who doesn’t want to deal with excessive external stimuli. This cannabinoid can calm the senses and relax a person to prevent them from becoming overwhelmed.

2. Breathe easily - It’s not uncommon for patients with PTSD to have panic and anxiety attacks. These episodes can cause breathing issues such as stress-related asthma attacks and hyperventilation. The CBD in marijuana will not only help the patient relax, it can also have a beneficial effect on the respiratory system.  CBD has anti-inflammatory and bronchodilatory effects that can help decrease the resistance in the airways of the respiratory system, increasing the airflow to the lungs.

3. Reduce spasms - Some PTSD patients can also experience twitching and muscle spasms or contractions. These involuntary movements can cause a person to lose their balance or hit objects, which can lead to injuries. These symptoms are more common among patients whose PTSD was triggered by violent events or circumstances.

According to research, both THC and CBD can reduce the severity of involuntary muscle contractions. In fact, this is the same reason why marijuana is a popular choice for people suffering from sclerosis.

4. Reduce anxiety - Marijuana's calming effect helps reduce the symptoms of regular anxiety, allowing patients to become more tolerant of their environment. Because the person is less anxious, they have a better chance of keeping their thoughts and feelings in check even if they’re near an object or a situation that usually triggers a flashback.

Alleviate PTSD. RELAX Will Help You Unwind After Those Long And Rough Days.

Other Reasons Why Cannabis Is Great

There’s more to cannabis than just its calming and stress-relieving effects. Here are some of the biggest reasons why cannabis can complement PTSD treatment programs.

1. Lower Risk of Overdose
Conventional anti-PTSD medications have been proven to help reduce the severity of PTSD symptoms, but these products have one big caveat: it's quite easy to overdose on them. There's a very low margin of error when it comes to most types of conventional medicine for depression and anxiety. Take one or two pills too many and you’ll put yourself in a serious risk for liver damage, among other complications.

On the other hand, there is very little (if any) serious risk of overdosing on marijuana. Eating too much edibles won’t leave any lasting effect, and smoking too much weed in one session will just result in waking up a little later than usual.

2. Marijuana is Less Addictive
Is marijuana addictive? According to studies, yes, there is a low chance that a person can get addicted to marijuana. However, only about 9% of total users show signs of dependency on cannabis and cannabis products.

Here's another thing, people with dependency problems suffer from withdrawal symptoms when they suddenly lose access to their preferred drug. This is what regular coffee drinkers actually refer to when they say they feel lethargic or anxious if they go without their caffeine fix. According to research from Columbia University, at its worst, withdrawal from marijuana can feel like an "annoying, but not life-threatening" experience.

3. Marijuana is More Affordable in the Long Run
Let’s face it: marijuana and marijuana-based products are expensive. They might even cost more compared to the price of generic PTSD medication. Still, it’s important not to lose sight of the bigger picture. First, the legalization of marijuana is bound to cause an increase in supply, which could lower the cost of the drug. Second, your expenses from the seemingly endless checkups meant to keep your health in check while you’re taking conventional drugs for PTSD can quickly add up, which may cost you more money in the long run.

4. You Can Actually Enjoy Marijuana
Unlike taking traditional anti-PTSD drugs, the act of consuming cannabis can be quite fun and enjoyable. No one really enjoys taking their daily dose of Prozac or undergoing a routine blood test that will reveal if your medication has already affected your liver or thyroid.

In comparison, cannabis consumers love getting their cannabis fix. Whether it's mixed with edibles, vaped, or smoked, consuming medical marijuana is not that different from consuming recreational marijuana.

Tips on Consuming Cannabis

Just like with any other type of medication, there are a few things that you can do to maximize the benefits of using cannabis. It won’t hurt to keep a few of these tips in mind.

First, it is recommended that you ask for help before you start using cannabis. Remember that you want to use this substance as a form of medication to help you with your treatment, so it is best that you talk to your doctor about it. In addition to your doctor, you can also ask regular cannabis consumers and the people from your local dispensary if they can recommend cannabis strains or cannabis oil ratios that will fit your purpose.

Also, don't force yourself to use cannabis if you’re not comfortable with it. The good thing about marijuana is that there's a very high margin of error when it comes to dosage. But that doesn't mean you should start with a large dosage right from the start. It's much safer to start with smaller doses and to gradually increase your intake until you achieve the results you want.

Try to have fun while using cannabis. Each time you consume cannabis is an opportunity to relax. Have a fellow cannabis user join you in your session, enjoy good music while having a snack as you get high, talk and joke around with your friends – marijuana is equal parts medicinal and recreational.

And finally, observe local rules and regulations. It is your responsibility to find out what the law is when it comes to cannabis consumption in your area. Do your research beforehand and follow the rules and etiquette on responsible cannabis consumption to avoid any trouble.