Here at the Grove we offer expedited lines and discounts for military veterans and service people on active duty. We’ve worked with service members since our doors first opened, and 3 years later we still meet new service members daily.
They come from every branch of the military; Army, Air Force, and Navy members, walking through our doors because they’re looking for a solution. The condition they’re most often seeking a treatment for? PTSD.
We’re raising awareness of PTSD this month because while it might be a widely known condition, it still isn’t a well known condition. Misinformation around how PTSD affects individuals, who can experience it and why, and how you can support individuals during recovery are rampant. It can be difficult to know what information you can trust, so we’ve compiled our answers from leading educational and scientific resources.
What is post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD)?
The definition of PTSD has changed with every new release of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
The most recent edition, the DSM-5, was released in 2013. It added an entirely new category called Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders.
Full PTSD-diagnosis criteria can be read here. In its most distilled form, PTSD is a human response to direct or indirect exposure to a trauma. That response can take different forms including nightmares, flashbacks, or physical responses, but all of them are intrusive, and unwanted.
Sufferers of PTSD take steps to avoid triggering unwanted responses, suffering from negative alterations in their mood and cognition, as well as alteration to the way they react and respond to different stimuli.
For example, mood alterations may include feelings of isolation, intrusive negative thoughts about themselves or the world as a whole, and difficulty experiencing positive emotions like joy and happiness.
Reactivity and arousal symptoms include hypervigilance, where the sufferer is always alert to incoming threats, even when the situation doesn’t warrant it. Additional symptoms include difficulty concentrating and sleeping.
Who can get PTSD?
Anyone can get PTSD after a traumatic incident, and it doesn’t always happen immediately. It can take weeks, months, or years for symptoms to develop.
PTSD is a condition that affects how the body and mind respond to stimuli, and can change the behaviors, mood, and emotional responses of the person with it.
How does trauma cause PTSD?
It’s easy to forget, but the human body is made up of automatic responses. You don’t notice when you breath or blink. You don’t notice your heart beating 60 to 100 times a minute. You don’t notice any of your internal processes as your body digests food everyday.
When a person is in a traumatic situation, their body releases hormones that include adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine. Studies of patients with PTSD have actually shown increased cortisol and norepinephrine responses to stress.
The body is actually physically changing how it responds to stressful events, and that in turn, negatively affects the mental well being of people with PTSD. The heightened chemical responses a body goes through during a traumatic event also impact the memory of the event.
Areas of the brain affecting memory, movement, alertness, mood, and others are all impacted by the chemical response of the human body during trauma, and even though these changes are meant to be helpful and temporary in the moment, the human body is not good at distinguishing between real danger and perceived danger, or knowing when a threat is no longer active. Chronic stress also embeds these physical responses over time.
That level of heightened stress can cause the body to adjust a person’s automatic responses for an environment they may physically be removed from and mentally no longer wish to engage with.
Can cannabis treat PTSD?
Studies on the effects of cannabis on PTSD are incredibly limited because a federally illegal status as a Schedule 1 drug makes it very difficult for scientists to get approval for any studies concerning marijuana.
These laws create a catch-22 for scientists interested in studying them. A schedule 1 drug is found to have “no currently accepted medical use,” according to the law. This isn’t just flavor text, but actually determines how difficult it is for scientists to get funding and permission to study the drug in the first place.
That means that when a drug is declared to have “no currently accepted medical use,” then it becomes even more difficult for scientists to study its medicinal effects.
Has scientific research found a connection between PTSD relief and cannabis?
The one official study of the effects of cannabis on PTSD has been carried out by Dr. Sue Sisley. On the subject, Dr. Sisley says, “People think I’m an activist, but all we ever wanted to be were scientists. We didn’t want to be activists, but the government forced us into that role.”
Dr. Sisley has completed her study, and data should be available in the mid to late half of 2019. On completing the trial, she said, “We are thrilled to finally be at the finish line of this nearly 10-year saga trying to get this crucial clinical trial completed. We are immensely grateful to all of the study’s supporters. Especially the veteran service organizations who helped us with patient recruitment. We are proud to have persevered through these regulatory hurdles independently of hospitals, universities, nor any cooperation from the VA system.”
There is a lot of anecdotal research pointing towards a connection between cannabis and PTSD relief. One of the most promising connections is a brain-imaging study that found a link between deficiencies in the body’s natural endocannabinoid system among PTSD sufferers.
The body naturally produces a wide variety of cannabinoids that interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain and throughout the body. This study found that people with PTSD have much lower levels of the endocannabinoid neurotransmitter, anandamide, than people who do not have PTSD.
Anandamide has been referred to as the “bliss molecule” for its antidepressant effects. Because THC and other cannabinoids activate the same receptors that anandamide does, there is the possibility that the consumption of endocannabinoids by sufferers of PTSD makeup for a natural deficit after a traumatic incident.
Other studies are trickling in. The New Mexico Cannabinoids Program found a marked reduction in PTSD symptoms measured against the Clinical Administered Post traumatic scale when treating study participants with cannabis than without.
We’re grateful to our local community of Las Vegas veterans and currently active servicemen and servicewomen, and we feel that an important way to better serve this underrepresented group in our community is to help those who have not experienced military-service related trauma to build empathy and understanding with those who have.