08 Jul Medical Cannabis and the Treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
This is the first of a two-part in-depth article dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and how it affects Veterans. We discuss the many different methods of treatment, including medical cannabis as a viable form of therapy for those who suffer from the symptoms of PTSD.
Before we talk about the forms of PTSD treatment and medical cannabis, let’s first identify what PTSD is and who it afflicts.
The human body is remarkably adept at protecting itself from getting harmed—this is especially true during and after experiencing a trauma. The mechanism or stress response for this is typically named “fight or flight.” The term was originally coined in an effort to help people develop the skills they needed to make quick and potentially lifesaving decisions during a time of crisis or threatening situations.
In most cases, people with a high resiliency to trauma can bounce back from the dramatic conditions causing their fight or flight response to manifest, and they are able to continue about their daily lives without any further issues. Unfortunately, more and more people are developing a condition commonly called PTSD. The symptoms can last for months—and in some cases even years—after the stress inducing event that triggered the response.
What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has been defined as a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma. PTSD symptoms may include, but are not limited to, insomnia or sleep issues, irritability or anger issues, mood swings, poor concentration or inability to focus, phobia of places or people that remind the sufferer of the prior trauma, mental blackouts, and a re-experiencing or reliving of the trauma itself.
Many sufferers of PTSD develop symptoms after experiencing a dangerous event, suffering a shock or, going through a horrific experience. As a result, they feel under duress and at risk when there is no obvious or imminent danger in everyday situations that a non-sufferer would classify as “normal.”
As it turns out, PTSD is not a new disorder. The fact is, people have been diagnosed with suffering from some form of trauma as far back as the 1700s, if not earlier. It was during the 1700s that a doctor named Josef Leopold from Austria attempted to describe what he termed “nostalgia” in soldiers.
During the latter part of the 1800s, the famous writer, Charles Dickens was said to have witnessed a horrific train accident. From that point forward, he suffered from symptoms of anxiety and insomnia, which are associated with today’s PTSD symptoms.
However, the most closely related cases came to light during World War I when the term “shell shock” was used to describe soldiers who suffered from various ailments associated with the horrors of war. Even further evidence came to light during World War II, when shell shock was replaced with the term “Combat Stress Reaction.” It wasn’t until the 1980s that the term or phrase “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” was used as part of the publication of the third volume of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Although the standard symptoms of PTSD are grouped into several categories, diagnosis can initially be difficult to determine with some people. For some, the symptoms manifest themselves immediately after the trauma, and for others, they may not show up until months or even years after the trauma or PTSD-inducing experience.
However, one thing is universally agreed on, and that is the fact that to be diagnosed with PTSD, you need to experience at least one of each type of symptom and need to have those symptoms for at least a month.
Symptoms of PTSD
The four main categories of PTSD symptoms include:
· Re-experiencing/intrusive memories. This category of symptoms encompasses a large number of different things. For some people who suffer from PTSD, it can mean experiencing flashbacks to the triggering event. While for others, it can include torturous nightmares and recurring dreams associated with the trauma or event. In other cases, it may just be as simple as an individual having trouble dealing with or coping with their ongoing thoughts about the trauma they endured or witnessed.
· Avoidance. Avoidance is a very common symptom amongst those who suffer from PTSD. It causes them to avoid and stay clear of locations, people, or thoughts that remind them of or are somehow connected to the trauma in a manner that causes the individual to access or trigger memories and feelings associated with the PTSD-inducing trauma.
· Mood or thought changes. It has been proven that PTSD can change the way people think and feel about the world around them. Mood or thought changes can cause the PTSD sufferer to struggle with remembering the event or trauma. They create a negative feeling about themselves and the world around them—resulting in their losing interest in even the simplest things, activities, and events they normally would have enjoyed. In short, they start to feel as if life is against them, and they remain in a constant state of battle with everyday activities.
· Physical or emotional reactions. This is also referred to as or called arousal symptoms. They are physical and emotional changes as a result of PTSD and can include trouble focusing, difficulty sleeping, bouts of insomnia, startling easily, and taking on self-destructive behaviors like reckless driving or drinking too much alcohol. In some cases, people suffering from PTSD have been prone to showing outbursts or becoming uncharacteristically aggressive toward themselves and the people around them.
When children develop PTSD, it is not uncommon for them to have slightly different symptoms from adults. For many children, the symptoms associated with their PTSD largely depends on the age of the child. Younger children under the age of six may experience bed-wetting or a continuous need to act-up or re-enact the trauma inducing event. In some severe cases, the child may even develop loss of speech. In older children, the general trend is to see the same symptoms adults typically have when suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Although it is fairly common for people to experience one of more symptoms of PTSD immediately following a traumatic event, it may not always be an accurate diagnosis. Typically, the symptoms for PTSD are ongoing and long lasting. If a person’s symptoms seem to fade, dissipate, or resolve
themselves after a few weeks, then chances are good they were actually suffering from acute stress disorder. It’s not until symptoms linger for a month or longer that the diagnosis for PTSD is determined and rendered in most individuals.
Who Suffers From PTSD?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America more than 8 million Americans suffer from some form of PTSD. Interestingly, although anyone can develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, the condition generally shows its affects in women rather than men.
According to the National Center for PTSD, more than 10 percent of women will at some point in their life develop symptoms of PTSD. Men, on the other hand, will only develop the symptoms of PTSD about 4 percent of the time. This is despite the fact that 60 percent of men will experience a traumatic event, which could trigger PTSD at some point during their lifetimes, compared to 50 percent of women experiencing the same such event or horrific experience.
Some contributing factors that could make one person more likely to suffer from PTSD than another include a family history of depression or anxiety that increases the risk of developing the condition.
Additionally, some people habitually experience more stress and trauma over the course of their normal everyday life when compared to others. The number of scary experiences or traumatic events a person experiences can significantly increase their susceptibility to developing symptoms associated with PTSD. Traumas such as child abuse, sexual assault, witnessing or living through a man-made or natural disaster other violent crimes, and witnessing or experiencing combat can all be the trigger point for a PTSD episode to embed itself in the individual.
On the more scientific and chemical side of the house, it has been proven that the way a person’s brain regulates certain chemicals or a person’s natural temperament can also influence whether they are more likely to develop PTSD.
Veterans and PTSD
One of the biggest and most susceptible groups to suffering from PTSD are the men and women who serve as soldiers within the United States military. The fact is, soldiers who engage in combat and witness or experience horrific events can be severely affected from the trauma associated with that event. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the percentages of combatants who
suffer from PTSD are fairly similar among Veterans who served in the Vietnam War, Gulf War, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom.
At the time of the last study, which was performed in the late 1980s, nearly 15 percent of all Vietnam War Veterans had been diagnosed with PTSD. This is similar to the findings that 12 percent of Gulf War Veterans suffer from PTSD. When combined with the estimation from the Department of Defense that between 11–20 percent of all Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduing Freedom Veterans have PTSD, you can see why this is a growing concern among the medical community.
Once a wartime engagement has ended, it is not uncommon for many soldiers to go through a variety of different emotions—ranging from confusion and anger to feeling scared and depressed. These feelings are normal, provided they last a short amount of time. It is when they linger on and begin to disrupt that soldier’s daily life that they become associated with the tell-tale signs of suffering from PTSD.
Veterans who have been diagnosed with this condition have seen or experienced something terrible that caused them to fear for their lives or feel helpless. Many of them improve with time, but others need intensive help to regain a sense of normalcy. About one in three people who experience PTSD will typically have symptoms for an extended period.
Sadly, experiencing combat is not the only way a soldier can develop PTSD. Some Veterans have issues involving the politics of war, the location of the battle, the type of enemy they faced, and more. There is even a PTSD triggering experience called military sexual trauma (MST), which has been known to be a contributing factor in developing PTSD.
MST can occur during wartime, training, or peacetime and can take several forms, including sexual harassment and sexual assault. More than half of female Veterans have reported being sexually harassed while serving, and nearly a quarter reported being assaulted.
This particular trauma isn’t just confined to women though. A reported total of 38 percent of male Veterans state they had also been victims of sexual harassment. In fact, the Department of Defense reports that more than 50 percent of all Veterans who experience some sort of military sexual trauma are men. This is mostly as a result of more men than women serving in the armed forces.
Now that we have clearly defined what Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is, what the symptoms are, and who can be affected by it, the second portion of this article will focus on one specific group of people who suffer from PTSD, with that group being the military Veterans, and how medical cannabis can be used to safely and properly treat them and their symptoms.