How Cannabis Can Work Wonders in Treating PTSD
One of the diseases whose patients have repeatedly testified to have found their cure in some form of medical marijuana intake is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, better known as PTSD. This mental disorder is most commonly associated with combat life since it first got famous with the return of troops who served in the Vietnam War, around 15% were suffering some form of PTSD as a result of the traumatic experiences they lived during the war. Similar figures were reported for veterans who served in Desert Storm and the Iraqi War. However, PTSD is not exclusive to veterans and is actually more common among civilians than most people think. Around 70% of adults in the U.S. have lived through a traumatic event sometime in their lives, and almost 20% of those come to develop PTSD. That equates to almost 45 million people in the U.S. alone suffering some degree of PTSD.
There are three categories of symptoms associated with this disorder; Hyperarousal symptoms, avoidance symptoms, and re-experiencing symptoms. The first category, which is hyperarousal, is the one where the patient becomes so easily frightened, always on the edge, experiencing insomnia, and attention deficit disorders. The avoidance category is that in which the patient starts to diminish their life scope and social spheres, they stop to go out, and are finding reminders of their old trauma in many things surrounding them, which prompts them to withdraw into isolation. The last category is ‘re-experiencing’ and this one is where the patient relives their old trauma, getting constant flashbacks and nightmares and in some cases even feeling the physical pains they felt during the actual event. When these symptoms persist for a month or more, it is safe to say that the person is suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
There are many medications that are conventionally recommended by doctors for patients with PTSD, but as with many of the prescribed pharmaceutical treatments, there are sometimes extremely adverse side effects. These side effects vary from dependency, a risk of overdose, and sometimes even an increased risk of the patient committing suicide. As with many other forms of illness, cannabis extracts come to provide not just a safe alternative, but a much more effective one. Cannabis is now frequently recommended by doctors in states where medical marijuana is legal, and the testimonials by veterans and other sorts of patients whose struggle with PTSD was circumvented by the use of cannabis in one form or another are overwhelmingly many. “Cannabis has been shown to be effective for releasing the stored trauma from the body, which scientists call ‘fear extinction’," says Dr. Dustin Sulak, MD, who is an advocate of medical marijuana for treatment of PTSD among other medical conditions. According to Dr. Sulak, this process of “fear extinction" helps the patient heal at a deep level, unlike the commonly prescribed medications which, aside from having severe side effects, do not target the roots of the disorder.
So how does cannabis help cure PTSD?
To understand this, we need to go back to the year 1964, when Raphael Mechoulam, a scientist and a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, came to discover THC, which is the main psychoactive substance contained in marijuana (Rick Simpson oil is basically a THC concentrate.) This discovery opened the doors for the true discovery of this plant that has been used for millennia without a real understanding of its mechanism. In 1988, Allyn Howlett, a professor of Physiology and Pharmacology at Wake Forest University, building on Dr. Mechoulam’s discovery, she discovered that deep inside the brain THC molecules activate a network of specialized chemical receptors that were unknown until then. That was evidence of the existence of a receptor protein in the brain that combined perfectly with THC. These receptors were found in the Hippocampus where memories are formed, the Cerebellum which controls our movement, and the Frontal Cortex which is where we think. However, those receptors didn’t exist there just for the sake of us getting high when we smoked pot. A receptor’s function is to communicate with a chemical produced by the body itself, so scientists decided at that time to extract the compound in the brain that had the same mechanism as the THC in marijuana.
In 1992, Dr. Mechoulam, the discoverer of THC, was able to find that compound produced by our brains and which was very much similar to THC. He named it Anandamide. This compound was found to have almost the exact same properties that THC had on the cellular and receptor levels. When released in the brain, THC, and Anandamide alike, affect basic things like appetite, pain, and memory. Being able to control memory, THC and Anandamide were found to play a critical role in an important mental function, which is forgetting. Unlike what many people think, “forgetting" is a very healthy and adaptive mental function. A person’s brain is flooded every day with tons of sense input, and a large of amount of this data is worth forgetting, like the many faces you see every day on the subway, or the infinite number of voices that you pass by on the street. So, essentially, forgetting is about editing your data input. In some cases, forgetting becomes even more critical, such as in the case of PTSD. For example, a soldier coming back from a war zone with their mind load with hateful experiences would find in forgetting a cure to their problems.
Scientists started thinking if there was a way to help people unlearn things through Anandamide control or the use of some other substance, they might be able to heal patients suffering PTSD. That is when cannabis became viewed as an essential substance in the treatment of PTSD due to its ability to help the patient achieve “fear extinction". Today thousands of PTSD patients report depending on cannabis or one of its extracts to treat their disorder, and there is an abundance of testimonials to how much it helped them lose the need for the various medications they were being prescribed to no effect.