PTSD—the common name for “post-traumatic stress disorder”—is one of the most common psychiatric disorders in the United States. Characterized by intense, often disturbing thoughts or feelings about a traumatic experience that persist long after the incident has passed, PTSD will affect about one in eleven of us during our lifetimes.
PTSD has gone by many different names in the past, such as “shell shock” and “combat fatigue.” But PTSD doesn’t just happen to veterans; that’s one of the PTSD myths we’ll explore in a moment. And it’s important to know that while PTSD is resistant to many traditional therapies, it is treatable. In fact, recent research indicates promising links between one of humankind’s oldest plant medicines, cannabis, and PTSD. We’ll share what we know about the intersection of PTSD and cannabis, and the ways in which this safe and gentle all-natural medicine might help alleviate this troubling disorder.
While the statistics on PTSD and veterans are troubling—it’s believed that anywhere from 11% – 20%+ of veterans suffer from PTSD—they’re hardly the only ones to suffer from this potentially debilitating disorder.
People who have experienced childhood trauma, anxiety or depression, and those who live or work in high-stress environments are all at increased risk of PTSD. And overall, women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with the disorder.
Still, of all the challenges facing America’s veterans when they return to civilian life, PTSD ranks among the deadliest, as untreated PTSD all too often ends in suicide.
Sometimes, PTSD does show up relatively soon after a traumatic event. But in many cases, the symptoms may take months or even years to emerge. That’s one reason it’s especially important to keep an open mind about the disorder, and not to assume that exposure to trauma will simply “go away.”
Too many people fear that the admission they may suffer from a common psychiatric disorder is a sign of weakness. In reality, the responses that characterize PTSD are not voluntary; they are our brain’s natural response to threat or danger. This fear response is not rational, but reflexive. And it most certainly is not a sign of weakness.
Though PTSD is troublingly common, it’s far from the only response to a traumatic event. In fact, fewer than 7% of those who suffer a traumatic event will develop lifelong PTSD. Experts believe that other life factors, such as a lack of social support or repeated traumatizations—are factors that help determine whether someone will eventually develop PTSD. But far from everyone exposed to trauma will.
In fact, the symptoms of PTSD are diverse, ranging from difficulty sleeping or concentrating to hypervigilance to active avoidance of thoughts, feelings, even places related to the initial trauma. That’s one reason it’s so important to be aware of PTSD, and to seek help early. Identifying this psychiatric disorder for what it is is the first step to getting it under control.
It’s a common misperception that people who suffer from PTSD are naturally violent. But while hyperarousal or even violent acts occur in a very small proportion of the PTSD community, it’s far from the only response. Still, one potentially aggravating factor to be aware of is a substance abuse issue, which can increase the chance of violence for those who suffer from these two disorders.
There are all too many reasons people with PTSD avoid treatment. For one, there’s the aforementioned stigma that it’s a sign of weakness. For another, they may naturally be reluctant to risk reactivating the trauma. But the fact of the matter is that while some cases of PTSD do simply “go away,” it’s difficult to predict if, when, and how this will happen. It’s another reminder that seeking help early can give you crucial insights on the condition, and help you form a plan of action to get on the path to wellness.
This is a major one and deserves some unpacking. Simply put, PTSD can’t be treated if one doesn’t actively seek treatment, and there are currently a number of evidence-based approaches to PTSD, including:
But today, we want to share details about a different approach: The intersection of PTSD and cannabis.
When used intentionally and in moderation, cannabis may help manage the symptoms of PTSD in several ways. Because those suffering from PTSD often feel as though they’re reliving their trauma over and over, one study suggests that cannabis can help, by aiding in the regulation of memory function. And another study published by University College London suggests certain cannabinoids can improve quality of life by aiding sleep, a major—and sometimes overlooked factor—in PTSD.
And finally, a 10-year study sponsored by the nonprofit MAPS on cannabis and PTSD is well underway and showing promise. Needless to say, the topic of caring for those with PTSD is near and dear to our hearts; we’ll be sure to keep you appraised in the fight against this insidious and often misunderstood disorder.