Earlier this week, the state legislature of New Jersey voted to add PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana, and recently a judge in Illinois ordered that PTSD be added to the Illinois medical marijuana program, as well. While PTSD is most often associated with military veterans, it's an anxiety disorder that can happen to anyone who has been through an emotionally charged, traumatic experience, especially if that experience involved a threat of serious injury or death. The symptoms that point to PTSD include reexperiencing, avoidance, and episodes of hyperarousal that may include insomnia, social isolation, or flashbacks of the traumatic memory. PTSD persists over time because of changes that happen in the brain at the time of trauma that leave the brain hyper-responsive to adrenaline and stress.
Veterans across the country have been turning to marijuana for years to help soothe PTSD symptoms, and many are finding some relief for their symptoms. As many as 20% of military veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from PTSD. VA hospitals in some states like Nevada and Maine allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for their PTSD patients, but many others do not have that opportunity.
That might change with a new PTSD and marijuana study that's currently underway to determine the benefits of marijuana on veterans with PTSD. Volunteer veterans in Maryland and Arizona will be asked to smoke up to two joints a day, and report on their progress. Different strains will be tested, as well, to determine which marijuana strains might be the most effective for treating PTSD symptoms. If the study helps show some tangible benefits, it might urge more states to add PTSD to their list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana.
Marijuana is believed to help relieve many symptoms of PTSD including insomnia, anxiety, and depression, and there may be even deeper benefits that have yet to be fully understood and realized. One study found that cannabinoids aided in the memory extinction process in mice, a finding that has huge applications for PTSD sufferers. The mice were exposed to a noise which was followed by an electric shock. After a few days, the shocks were discontinued but the mice were still exposed to the noise that used to precede the electric shock. In the mice that received the cannabinoids, they were able to readjust to the sound after a few days and no longer had a flinching response in fear of the anticipated shock. The mice that did not receive any cannabinoids never adjusted to the noise and showed the same flinching response as if they were going to get shocked even after the shocks had been eliminated. So why is this relevant for PTSD sufferers? People with PTSD can react to triggers in their environment that remind them of the intial trauma they experienced. For example, the sound of firecrackers can bring back memories and emotions associated with gunfire for those who have lived through such encounters. If cannabinoids can help mice develop memory extinction that allows them to disassociate stimuli from a learned response and instead react with a new response, human sufferers of PTSD could possibly find the same benefits.
To get the most benefit from using marijuana for PTSD symptoms like insomnia, the Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access website recommends low to moderate doses, preferably in the form of edibles that provide a precise, measurable dose. If you're taking marijuana for PTSD and you know you're going to be in a potentially triggering situation, the Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access website advises vaping or smoking a small to moderate amount, several times, in advance of the potentially triggering situation. As with any medicine intended to treat a health condition, it's always best to talk to your doctor first to find out the best type of medicine for you, how much you should take, and how often.
If you suffer from PTSD and you're lucky enough to live in a state that allows medical marijuana use for your symptoms (or if you live in a state like Colorado that has recreational marijuana), why not give marijuana a try and see if it could be of benefit? It could very well be the missing key that opens a new path toward hope and healing.