PTSD, is an anxiety disorder that afflicts some people who have lived through a highly stressful event, such as warfare, child abuse, sexual assault, terrorism, kidnapping, or other threats to a person’s life.
It is estimated that 11-30 percent of soldiers returning from military combat in Iraq or Afghanistan have PTSD. Around 7.7 million Americans are estimated to have the disorder, commonly associated with war veterans. The main symptoms of this psychologically crippling condition are depression, flashbacks, and anxiety — although pain, insomnia, and nightmares are also common.
Patients with PTSD respond to key stimuli and events that remind them of their initial trauma, even when this response is no longer appropriate. Cannabis, by aiding in something called memory extinction, may help sufferers reduce their association between stimuli (often loud noises or stressful situations) and the traumatic events from their past.
“There is mounting evidence demonstrating the benefits of medical marijuana for individuals suffering from PTSD,” said Chris Lindsey, legislative analyst for Marijuana Policy Project. The greatest role of cannabis for PTSD patients is a reduction in stress. This reduction, in turn, also decreases all PTSD symptoms, including panic attacks, excessive anger, insomnia, and depression.
In New Mexico, the first state to allow PTSD sufferers to treat their condition with cannabis in 2009, 27 percent of those holding a medical license qualified based on PTSD. The condition is the most common ailment among medical cannabis patients in the state.
Conventional Treatments Inadequate
Many who advocate for more research into the efficacy of cannabis for stress disorders cite the poor results obtained from conventional pharmaceutical drugs, such as Zoloft for the depression associated with PTSD. Cannabis researcher Dr. Sue Sisley explained:
“This illness needs to be treated in a multidisciplinary way. Drugs like Zoloft and Paxil have proven entirely inadequate.”Dr. Phil Leveque, an Oregon physician and medical cannabis advocate, was known for the large number of medical marijuana permits he issued for PTSD. Prior to his death in 2015, Leveque estimated he authorized 1,000 medical cannabis permits for PTSD alone. Said Leveque:
“Whether they were World War II, Korea, Vietnam, or vets from the current conflicts, 100 percent of my patients said [cannabis] was better than any drug they were prescribed for PTSD.”
Dr. Raphael Mechoulamis, the Israeli neuroscientist who discovered THC in 1964 and, later, the endocannabinoid system, has discovered that the cannabinoid system is integrally related to memory — and specifically to something called memory extinction. Memory extinction is the normal process of removing conditional associations from events or stimuli. Thus, a soldier may experience a panic attack after hearing an explosion in a movie or an ambulance siren in traffic because he or she hasn’t experienced memory extinction for a past traumatic event.
Unfortunately, Dr. Mechoulamis stressed that cannabis isn’t a cure for PTSD. Unlike a condition like Crohn’s or cancer, which can go into remission after proper treatment with marijuana, there is no known cure for PTSD.
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