Post-traumatic stress disorder – it is not just for veterans. This malady, also known as PTSD, may occur, according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, to any “person…exposed to: death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence.” The causes of PTSD vary widely, and may include auto accidents, assault, childhood abuse, witnessing violence or death, sexual violence, natural disasters, or experiencing a host of other trauma-inducing experiences. Interestingly, it turns out that cannabis may be one of the most effective methods of treating the affliction affecting individuals who have spent time in combat situations AND “regular” folks who have been exposed to difficult circumstances in their lives.
Post-traumatic stress disorder will make your life harder. I have lived a pretty average suburban life by most standards, but before the age of 25, I had seen a stabbing and a shooting. I got in a couple of car crashes (both happened when I was a passenger, watching, aware that the impact was about to happen). I was “kidnapped” by a drunk off-duty police officer (for cannabis possession), who left his cuff keys at home, and I had to be driven there by him and his buddies to find the key. Sprinkle in my involvement in a few other situations where guns were drawn, and it’s easy to see why I have spent years dealing with nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance, and the occasional gory hallucination while extremely fatigued. My “solution” to these travails? Self-medication, of course. Alcohol, being cheap and easily accessible, was often the first option, but sometimes it helped, and sometimes it made things infinitely worse. It was not until I began buying quarter pounds – and, soon enough, pounds – of old-school Mexican brick weed to sell, while keeping enough to stay high almost all the time, that there formed a bit of “space” around the incidents I had experienced and witnessed. It was just enough to allow me to drop the guard I had erected between myself and daily life to enjoy things without being jumpy, irritable, and overreactive to minor situations, like an irregular traffic merge or somebody moving quickly near me. All the result of feeling panicked by the fight-or-flight internal stimulation.
The scientific correlation between post-traumatic stress disorder and cannabis lies in the human endocannabanoid system, a network of receptors located in the brain and throughout the body, which cannabis connects to, and then the combo reacts with the various other systems of the human organism. The endocannabinoid system is essential in the body’s maintenance of homeostasis.
A 2013 New York University study showed that individuals with PTSD had lower levels of the neurotransmitter anandamide than those without the condition. This brain chemical, known as N-arachidonoylethanolamine, is an analogue, a chemical that shares the structure and pharmacological effects with another chemical, the THC that is naturally produced within the human body. There are also terpenes present in a wide variety of strains that are used on their own and as part of other plant-based chemical combinations to alleviate physical and psychological suffering.
The long and short of it is that chemicals present in cannabis may be able to bridge the gap between what is considered a normal response to stress and the insufficient response by an individual who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Some researchers (and we will look more deeply into this issue next week) believe that many negative health conditions we deal with in modern society are, in fact, cannabinoid deficiencies that reveal themselves as a result of an environment that is out of balance relative to the natural state, which our bodies and minds need to be in a state of optimal health.
Christopher Gallagher lives with his wife and their four dogs and two horses. Life is pretty darn good. Contact him at [email protected].