by Laura Geftman, LCSW
In honor of remembering the those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and honoring Patriot’s Day, it’s important to understand Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Millions of people struggle with this very treatable mental health but only about half of them seeks care. Let’s take a closer look at PTSD and it’s treatment. Cannabis for PTSD is the newest of treatments some consider. Here’s what you need to know…
In recent years, PTSD has received increasing attention. It has become more commonly known that PTSD can affect not only people in high risk jobs (military, law enforcement, EMTs) but also anyone who experiences a traumatizing event. More recently researcher shave found that cannabis can help manage the symptoms of PTSD. Let’s take a closer look at the condition and consider what’s known about using cannabis for PTSD treatment.
What is PTSD?
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occurs following the experience, witnessing or hearing about of a life-threatening event. People who have experienced a shocking, scary, and/or dangerous traumatizing event struggle to manage their reactions. While it is common to to experience a range of reactions after experiencing trauma, those who have continue to feel stressed, frightened, and unsafe maybe experience it PTSD.
Events that commonly tigger PTSD include a natural disaster, car accident, witnesses death or injury, combat, traumatic birth, physical or sexual assault or abuse. PTSD is not limited to these events. Anytime a person perceives a event as life threatening, PTSD can be experienced.
What Causes PTSD?
Certainly lot of experiences and situations in life can be traumatizing. There is a great deal of stress associated with moving, losing a job, getting a divorce, failing a test,,,just to name a few. While all of those example may prove stress, they likely wouldn’t be cause for PTSD. The condition isn’t usually related to situations that are frustrating, upsetting, or disappointing.
Instead situations that are life threatening, terrifying, and/or dangerous. With PTSD, survivors and/or witnesses have had exposure to the trauma. They often perceive that their life or others’ lives are in danger. They either endured or viewed serious harm, injury and/or death. This typically causes feelings helplessness during a traumatic event.
PTSD has also been diagnosed in those who have had indirect experience of trauma. Vicarious trauma or listening to victims and hearing about life threatening situations is often experienced by those in helping professions.
Who Does PTSD Affect?
Anyone can develop PTSD. According to the US Department of Veteran Affairs, here are some statistic to consider:
-Approximately 8 of every 100 people will have PTSD at some point in their lives.
-At any given time in the US, 8% or 24.4 million people are struggling with PTSD (that’s equal to the population for the state of Texas.)
-Approximately 10 of every 100 women (10%), and 4 of every 100 men (4%) develop PTSD sometime in their lives.
There are approximate 15-20 reported symptoms of PTSD. We’re going to focus on the symptoms as they are used to diagnose the condition per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). This manual is published by the American Psychiatric Association and widely accepted as the tool used by mental health provider to determine mental health diagnoses.
According to the DSM-5, there are four major clusters of symptoms of PTSD.
Re-experiencing or reliving the traumatic event which includes:
-Having frequent upsetting thoughts or memories of the traumatic event
-Having recurrent nightmares
-Having flashback; acting or feeling as thought the traumatic event were happening again
-Having strong feelings of distress when reminded of the traumatic event
-Being physically responsive, such as experiencing a surge in your heart rate or sweating, when reminded of the traumatic event
Actively avoiding people, places or situations that remind you of the traumatic event which includes:
-Making as effects to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations about the traumatic event
-Making as effort to avoid places or people that remind you of the traumatic event
-Making sure you’re too busy to have time to think about the traumatic event
Feeling on edge or keyed up know as hyperarousal includes these symptoms:
-Having a difficult time falling or staying asleep
-Feeling more irritable or having outbursts of anger
-Having difficulty concentrating
-Feeling constantly on guard or like danger is lurking around every corner
-Being jumpy or easily startled
4. Negative thoughts and beliefs
Thoughts and feeling about yourself and other may become negative and can include these symptoms:
-Having a difficulty time remembering important parts of the traumatic event
-A loss of interest in important and previously thought as positive activities
-Feeling distant from others
-Experiencing difficulties having positive feelings such as love and happiness
-Feeling as though your life may be cut short
Treatment for PTSD
PTSD is very treatable. Whatever method you chose, go for it. You can work through what you are struggling with and feel like yourself again. I urge you to get help as less than half of those struggling with PTSD seek help. You don’t need to live in pain. I’ve worked with clients and seen people get better. It happen. It’s very, very possible. Don’t give up hope. Here are two methods to consider:
–Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy treatment designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. EMDR works manage stimuli to relieve stress, reformulate negative ideas, and reduce physical arousal. The process helps the brain’s processing system to naturally move toward mental health.
–Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a goal-oriented psychotherapy that take a practical approach to changing thought patterns and behaviors causing difficulty. CBT focuses on challenge in and changing unhelpful cognitive distortions, improving emotional regulation, and promotes the development of coping strategies.
Cannabis for PTSD
Although the use of medical cannabis for the treatment of both physical and psychological disorders remains controversial, many states have included PTSD as a qualifying condition for the medical use of cannabis. Despite limited research, many scientists and survivors have shifted the focus from more traditional, proven methods to the use of cannabis to treat PTSD.
In the past, PTSD survivors have been thought to be “self-medicating” with cannabis. Most of the existing research focusing on substance abuse. Given the federal illegal status of cannabis, the lack of research into the benefits of cannabis is not surprising.
New studies are showing that cannabis use is therapeutic for those suffering from PTSD. It has been shown that individuals response to distressing emotions related to trauma are more likely to self-soothe with cannabis. It has also been reported that PTSD survivors are more likely to use cannabis for coping with their symptomatology. Cannabis has been shown to be most helpful to those struggling with severe traumatic intrusions, experiencing flashbacks and/or managing hyperarousal. Tests have also shown that cannabis can provide short term assistance with sleep.
However there are some risks involved in using cannabis for PTSD. Arguments fo exist that PTSD survivors are at risk for anxiety, depression and cannabis us disorder.
As more information has become available, PTSD patients are finding cannabis to be the most effective treatment. If you are considering cannabis for PTSD treatment, always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Whether you try cannabis or not, it’s important that you find the right PTSD treatment for you.
More research is needed to fully understand the benefits and risks of cannabis for PTSD treatment. If you would like to explore this option, you should consider participating in a cannabis study. Read my blog post: 10 Reasons You should Participate in a Cannabis Study.
PTSD and Suicide
The risk of suicide is higher among those who struggle with PTSD. Survivors often find their symptoms to be unbearable, and feel like they will never be rid of their symptoms. This is true for all people struggling with PTSD. It is, however, worth pointing out that PTSD and suicide is prevalent given some survivors experiences and occupations.
Survivors of Sexual Abuse
According to the US Department of Veteran Affairs, sexual assault is more likely to cause PTSD than many other events. Women more than men are also more likely to blame themselves for their traumatic experiences. Self-blame often leads to suicidal ideation. A new study from the National Center for Health Statistics has shown that suicide rates are increasing faster for women vs. men by 30% since 1999.
The sad truth is that over 8,000 veterans take their own lives each year. According to the United States Department of Veteran Affairs, approximately 22 military veterans choose to end their lives every day. When compared to non-veterans adults, veterans risk for suicide is 22% higher- 19% higher for men and 2.5% higher for women.
You may think that more police officers deaths occur in the line of duty but you would be wrong. More officers deaths are at their own hands and often with the service firearm. PTSD is much more common in law enforcement than officers are willing to discuss. It’s estimated that 1/3 of all active-duty and retired officers suffer from post-traumatic stress. Suicide is the number one killer of police officers. Law enforcement suicide is 1.5 time more common when compared to the general public. Of the reported police death by suicide, 91.5% were by use of firearms.
If you or a loved one is considering committing suicide, please call the suicide hotline:
Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-8255
Veteran’s Crisis Hotline 800-273-8255
Safe Call Now 206-459-3020 – Crisis hotline for first responders
COPLINE 800-267-5463 – “There’s always a cop on the other end of the line.”
*Please also know that Welcoming Weed would you like to take into consideration that these studies do not include non-binary individuals. Welcoming Weed recognizes that gender is fluid and hopes that soon research will reflect all people.
**Additionally research can only reflect what is being reported. Welcoming Weed knows that many, many more people are using cannabis for every different reason. To ensure safe use, it’s important to step out of the cannabis closet and tell your story, share anecdotes, give testimonials. Please contact me if you would like to tell your story!
About Laura Geftman, LCSW
Laura Geftman, LCSW is the Founder of The Calm, Cool & Collected and a practicing therapist. Beyond all things cannabis and mental health, Laura is passionate about developing greater understanding for kindness and acceptance. In her free time, Laura can be found on her yoga mat, in a kayak or singing karaoke.
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