Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Medical Cannabis

Originally appearing at Issue no. 27 of Treating Yourself magazine featured a personal account of Derek, a volunteer firefighter and paramedic from Arizona combating post-traumatic stress disorder. In an effort to offer emergency relief, Derek landed in the middle of two of the most tragic accidents in helicopter aviation rescue history. Occurring within 72 hours of one another, these crashes involved three helicopters and claimed seven lives. This fatality count nearly reached eight, when in the aftermath of these tragedies, Derek’s anger, depression, and nightmarish flashbacks built up to an emotional overload almost concluding in suicide: “…He found at this point that he could only sleep about one hour at a time, and when he did sleep, the nightmares were constant and horrific. His moods were becoming manic, he was having crying breakdowns, and he found himself smashing things in his apartment at random.” In an attempt to cope, Derek relocated to California where he found professional PTSD treatment, including a 0.5 mg Xanax perscription for anxiety, a twice-a-day 20 mg Celexa perscription, as well as Busparin doses to excellerate the effects of the Celexa. Derek recalls his state at this time being “functional but unstable”. These medications relieved his depression, but were not satisfactory in addressing his condition as a whole. With insurance running out and no psychiatric care provded from his employers, Derek spontaneously turned to marijuana as an alternative solution. He immediately noticed his radical mood swings becoming subdued, his productivity rise, and even scaled down his Xanax doses to .25 mg once every 3 to 4 weeks. Derek has since been implementing his medical training and experience to address the lack of research, consistency, and documentation of ingredients in products available to medical marijuana users, particularly with PTSD and anxiety treatment. Read Derek’s full story here: While definitive medical research regarding medical marijuana treatment for PTSD is still needed, some information available currently works to support the positive results Derek experienced through the use of the plant:

  • In 1891, Dr. J. B. Mattison recommended cannabis as a treatment for opiate addiction, stating that the plant was: “a drug that has a special value in some morbid conditions, and the intrinsic merit and safety of which entitles it to a place it once held in therapeutics… It will, at times, fail. But so do other drugs. But the many cases in which it acts well, entitle it to a large and lasting confidence.”
  • In 1890, the British physician J. Reynolds highly recommended Cannabis indica for alleviation of insomnia, which remains effective for years without producing tolerance. CBD (cannabidiol) induces sleep in insomniacs with fewer dreams and no side effects.
  • As early as 1843, Jacques-Joseph Moreau de Tours extolled the value of hashish in the treatment of depression, decalring that one of the primary results of hashish use is happiness.
  • Clinical studies have highlighted the relaxant power of marijuana, showing that CBD can help many patients to remain nearly free of convulsions without toxicity, behavioral impairment, or tolerance.
  • Some receptors in the human brain are specifically designed for CBD. A protein on the cell surface activates G-proteins inside the cell to a cascade of other biochemical reactions that generate euphoria. THC receptors have also been identified within the hippocampus, cerebral cortex, basal ganglia, and spinal cord.
  • According to research, studies, and personal accounts, cannabis produces a wide spectrum of perceptual effects, including mood changes, facilitaion of interpersonal behavior, and reduction of aggressive behavior.

These pieces of evidence might assist in explaining how and why Derek’s PTSD symptoms- including poor sleep, nightmares, anxiety attacks, depression, and agressiveness- were quelled through medical cannabis implementation. His story is just one of copious walks of life that are leading an increasingly larger amount of people to the door steps of a local medicinal marijuana facility in search of relief. A blog post from a Lansing, MI, medical marijuana clinic points to an account (PDF) in Treating Yourself magazine by a soldier who finds that medical marijuana helps him cope with PTSD symptoms. While physicians at the Veterans Administration and other treatment centers continue to pour ineffective pills down the throats of suffering soldiers, thousands of veterans are finding that marijuana genuinely helps them. MAPS’ planned study of the risks and benefits of marijuana for symptoms of PTSD in war veterans has provisionally passed the FDA review process, but it remains to be seen whether the federal government will allow us to purchase the marijuana we need for the study.