Our Vets Serve Us, Can Pot Save Them?

Introduction: An Epidemic Problem

Photo Credit: FaceTheFactsUSAacts.org

Memorial Day is upon us, and this is the time we take a moment as a nation to honor, thank, and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the country. While this is a day of reflection for those lost and their families, it is also a time to acknowledge the veterans of the various armed forces who have returned from duty either suffering from a physical impairment, or from mental health issues related to the service they gave for their country. 
 
According to a 2017 report by the National Centers for Veterans Analysis and Statistics, there are an estimated 18.9 million veterans living in the US. A further study done by the US Department of Veterans Affairs compiled data showing that approximately 31% of Vietnam Veterans suffer from PTSD, coupled with 11%-20% of the returning soldiers from the war in Afghanistan and the Iraqi War. It represents an alarming danger.
 
The problem with percentages when we read them is that they tend not to mean anything to us. So, allow me to add another level to this. There are approximately 2.7 million veterans from the recent Iraq and Afghanistan war. Based on the studies conducted by the non-profit research group, RAND, that means approximately anywhere from 297,000 to 540,000 of our troops could be suffering from PTSD (based on the 11%-20% statistic). That number does not take into account any other military operation for which we have surviving veterans of, that is just from the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
Those numbers, like the statistics are staggering, and can cause a disconnect because it’s hard for the every-day individual to process that in a way that makes relatable sense. Odds are, each of you reading this: has served in the military, has a family member who served in the military, or at the very least, knows someone who has served. So from your current sphere and social circle, there is a good chance you may know someone who may be experiencing PTSD to one degree or another.
 
 
Close To Home
 
PTSD is an epidemic that affects us all. In my own family a cousin who has served as an Army Ranger for the last 26 years. During this time he has served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He opened up to me about his experiences with PTSD, and how he has seen it affect his friends. He is currently participating in a large group study conducted by the VA, but doesn’t have much faith in the current regimen for treatment, which amounts to just antidepressants.
“The guys that I know who are no longer serving, a lot of them have turned to cannabis as opposed to SSRI antidepressants.”

The reason he explained is because of the massive amount of side effects come from taking pills. “I’d rather take marijuana and have absolutely zero negative side effects, than take a pill that will likely make everything worse in the long run. I’ve never had anyone tell me that they get suicidal after cannabis, on the flipside I’ve had several friends, 9 exactly, who had PTSD, were on the pills and then committed suicide.”
 
“PTSD has different trigger points,” he explained to me. “My girlfriend, for example, worked in field hospitals. She saw people come in shot, bleeding, burned, you name it. For her though, it’s kids screaming. She worked on a lot of badly injured children and heard those screams non-stop. We go to a store and she hears a kid start crying or screaming, it just triggers everything all over again.”
 
I wanted to know then if he or his girlfriend had ever thought about using cannabis as an alternative treatment. “Of course I’d like to. At this point it’s past debate on whether or not it’s effective…it is, we all know it, other countries know it…but we can’t. We are still in service, and we are ruled by the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Justice). That supersedes everything. Even if we were stationed in Colorado or California, even if it was given by a doctor, it doesn’t matter because the military doesn’t recognize it as a treatment and the federal government still says it’s a controlled, scheduled one drug. So maybe when I’m out, but then I can’t go into law enforcement or federal jobs, so our options are limited when it comes to how we can treat our PTSD.”
 
 
When The Cure Is Almost As Bad As The Disease…

The National Institute of Mental Health defines Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as, “a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.” It is not limited to just those who have been in a combat situation. In fact, on a long enough timeline most of us will experience some kind stress induced reaction to a trauma or sudden event, the difference is a majority of people will recover naturally from the incident. People who continue to experience negative side-effects from a trauma for a long period of time would be considered to be suffering from PTSD. 
 
A major difference between people who recover from a trauma and those who have difficulty doing so can be attributed to the length of the event. PTSD is more potent for soldiers because of the duration and continual exposure to traumatic events. Being subjected to continuous high-stress environments for weeks, months, or years, causes the effects to be more severe and makes the recovery process all the more difficult.
 
Mental health continues to remain an area of science that continues to evolve as we come to learn more about the brain, consciousness, and how experiences and environment affect us or change us. This area of study needs to expand more if we are going to be able to care for people who are suffering from mental ailments such as PTSD. Currently the most used (overused, perhaps) treatment for PTSD is to prescribe the individual with some type of SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) or SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors). Antidepressants, like Paxil or Zoloft.
 
These medications are not without risk or adverse reactions. Ever seen a commercial for antidepressants? At the end the announcer talks like a speed-freak and rambles off all the possible side effects. The Harvard Medical School goes into more detail on their site and highlights some of the nasty side-effects: headaches, nausea, rashes, blood clotting, and reports of suicide, or suicidal thoughts and tendencies.
 
So what happens to all those veterans (or anyone suffering from PTSD) when the treatment becomes as bad, if not worse than the disease? What are the alternatives?
 
 
A Treatment Our Troops Deserve

Interestingly enough there are several breakthroughs when it comes to treating PTSD with THC. Some countries are making great progress, but we are still lagging behind because of arcane legislations and regulations… with the exception of a few progressive states (keep up the good fight California and Colorado).
 
In Israel, Dr. Mechoulam, who is credited for discovering the bodies own natural endocannabinoid system, has been conducting research into how THC can help treat PTSD. The implications go beyond that and Dr. Mechoulam, “…believes the neuroprotective effects of marijuana may eventually have applications for other neurological and psychiatric conditions, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease” (Veterans For Medical Cannabis Access). 
 
Part of PTSD has to do with a faulty switch in our brain’s memory extinction. Our ability to forget or mitigate a painful experience and still be able to move forward in a healthy manner. Think again about the example of a person in a car wreck. Perhaps you have been in one, I know I’ve had a few. After the wreck you’re shaken up a bit, maybe upset, maybe panicked, or any number of emotions. Maybe you are cautious about driving for a few weeks after, or you avoid the spot of your crash. That is normal and understandable. After a few weeks though, you are usually back to your routine, because of memory extinction.
 
With PTSD that is not the case. The event was so traumatic that memory extinction doesn’t happen. Memory extinction occurs in that our cannabinoid system…THC affects the cannabinoid system. Those with a healthy system can move past the event and stimuli, but those without continue to suffer through it.
 
Adding on this research here in the US, was a study conducted by New Mexico Psychiatrist, George Greer. Greer took a group of 80 veterans who had all been diagnosed with PTSD, “…including the symptoms of re-experiencing, avoidance, and hyperarousal” (Psychiatryadvisor.com). After administering cannabis to this group, there was an astounding 75% reduction in the aforementioned symptoms, and none of the reported side effects that the antidepressants can bring. There are other tests showing similar results and effectiveness. 
 
 
 
Hive Hacks

-OG Kush: With a 16% THC count, and earthy notes of pine and cloves, OG Kush is known to ease symptoms of: Alzheimer’s, Migraines, Parkinson’s, and more.
-XJ-13: With up to a whopping 22% THC count, XJ-13 has helped people ease the effects of depression, anxiety, and painful inflammation.
-Blue Dream: With a range of 15% to 25% THC count, this hybrid flower is helpful for those experiencing: PTSD, Anxiety, or depression.

  • As always consult with your physician as to what may be best for you.
  • Finally, and most importantly. Our veterans deserve our very best, some of them gave everything for service to the country. Those who served and returned should feel as if every resource is being utilized to help them. However, despite the overwhelming evidence, the research into cannabis as a viable means of treatment for PTSD is hampered to a crawl because of government legislation. The only way for this to change is for people to take action and say that our vets and our citizens deserve all means available to better their mental health. Write your elected officials, speak out at townhall meetings, consider joining the discussion or supporting advocacy groups like NORML or LEAP. 
    Your voice makes a difference, but only if you speak up!
     
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