Marijuana and Mental Health: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Sep 6, 2021
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Despite controversy and certain government interventions, marijuana continues to move forward for recreational and medicinal use. As we enter into a more progressive era, we are now equipped with an improved understanding of the plant itself, and its uses beyond the stigma that surrounds it – that it can actually encourage recovery from those suffering from their burdens. 

Recent studies show that chemical compounds have versatile therapeutic effects, which stimulate the human body’s endocannabinoid system. This biological system is composed of composed of endocannabinoids, which are molecules made by the human body. Unfortunately, experts find the ECS complicated and have not yet determined its exact functions and other potential uses. It has been linked to various central nervous system functions, however, which includes mood, stress, and sleep, among others. This newfound knowledge has helped shed light to the good side of cannabis, helping it become better recognized as a source of relief and treatment, especially for conditions of the mind like anxiety and insomnia. A bigger breakthrough is its apparent effectiveness in people suffering from PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a form of anxiety. It is brought about by traumatic events and equally disturbing episodes, such as cases of sexual assault and military combat. There are three classes of symptoms that describe PTSD: 

  • Re-experiencing
  • Avoidance 
  • Hyper arousal  (flashbacks, social isolation, insomnia)

The tenacity of the effects of PTSD is linked to the changes that occur in the brain chemistry at the exact time of trauma, as here, adrenaline and the stress hormones are said to be hyper-responsive. 

Living with PTSD is a woman named Jen Natalie, who has been plagued with incapacitating symptoms since the age of nine. With it comes a tangle of other issues, such as ADD and insomnia. She takes Adderall to alleviate her difficulties with concentration, but she has found that cannabis works best to curb her anxiety. At 19, she finds that it helps her perform daily tasks such as work, school, and relationships, which is difficult without it. According to her, anxiety causes her mind to race all the time, but the use of cannabis helps her slow down, thereby allowing her to think through the trauma without hiding from it. Since then, her sleeping pattern has returned to normal and anxiety attacks are close to non-existent. 

Fortunately, Jen Natalie lives in a state where medical marijuana is legalized. What about those PTSD suffers without access to this unprecedented relief? Such is the case with many combat veterans across the country, who are very much susceptible to the impacts of PTSD. In fact, statistics show that 1 in 5 of military personnel that have been deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq have been diagnosed with PTSD. Considering the fact that marijuana continues to be prohibited in many states, these veterans have no choice but to resort to antipsychotics and antidepressants. More often than not, these medications have little to no success in treating PTSD symptoms, most especially the severe cases. 

Army first sergeant, Gregory Westbrook, recalls the effects of the drugs on his brothers. According to him, the drugs prevent them from getting up in the mornings. Most of the time, soldiers who come back with PTSD have no issues before deployment. Going back to America, though, and being put on these drugs, they cannot function property. Often times these veterans fall asleep in the chair, which makes holding a civilian job extremely difficult. Westbrook expresses support in the medical use of marijuana, as he feels like it could help his brothers get their lives back. 

Even with continuous research there are still no specialized and effective methods available for those suffering from PTSD, but with new discoveries regarding the endocannabinoid system, the human body’s therapeutic hotspot, treating and understanding PTSD in-depth is well on its way. From all the data that has been gathered, researchers conclude that one pillar of PTSD is the deficiency in endocannabinoid. Here, the body ceases to produce the required amount of endocannabinoids to fill the receptor sites. Here is where marijuana takes on a therapeutic role, as it helps replenish the missing endocannabinoids that can be found in, well, cannabis. Researchers are further convinced that marijuana can truly bring relief to PTSD patients, finally helping them sort through their memories and recover. 

Although promising, scientists still urge and advice PTSD patients to consult medical professional firsts, most especially as they are dealing with marijuana. There are cases showing that consumers unaccustomed to the effects of THC marijuana have found their anxiety symptoms aggravated after use. However, studies are now being conducted on cannabidiol or CBD, a component of marijuana. This component is capable of counteracting the THC effects, which includes anxiety and paranoia. Further research could lead to more tolerable kinds of medical marijuana, perhaps combining THC and CBD for the best results. 

The extent of damage caused by PTSD cannot be fully treated by any medications at the moment, but many sufferers find respite in medical marijuana, especially when everything else fails. There is still a much needed development for more effective medications, preferably without the disastrous and adversative side effects, along with the opposition of research organizations backed by the government. Despite what many believe, marijuana truly holds promising pharmaceutical possibilities, and with a little more momentum moving forward, a stronger educational foundation on the healing properties of marijuana could spread to many. 

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