As a Marine serving in Afghanistan, John had to be hyper-vigilant at every step. That hypervigilance followed him home, as did a constant haze preventing him from being present. Back on US soil, he lost more brothers to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) then he did fighting in Afghanistan. Veterans now account for 20% of all suicides in the US. But thanks to cannabis he didn’t add to this statistic. The medicine brought John out of the fog and back to the happier, engaged person he was before joining the Marines. CBD for brain fog is showing promise.
Today, marijuana allows this veteran to focus on positive things and show up for his wife, work, friends and, most importantly, himself. He can’t help but wonder how many fellow suffering ex-soldiers could get on the right path with marijuana’s help. His chalice: “I want to get a team of vets trained up so they can get paid and learn a skillset and then flush them out into this big old beautiful world.”
CBD for Brain Fog and Marijuana
Helping American soldiers deal with the aftermath of war has been a longstanding challenge. Somewhere between 13 and 30 percent of the military develop PTSD. 75% of this population develops a concurrent drug addiction. In fact, someone with PTSD is three times more likely to use marijuana regularly.
For the last decade, the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs doctors have prescribed veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder half a dozen to a dozen drugs known as the “combat cocktail.” Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and Prazosin create a core regimen that is then combined with other types of drugs depending on the patient’s symptoms. Their success rate hasn’t been very impressive–only 20-40% get better. Now that CBD has been legalized nationwide, many vets can explore CBD brain fog effects.
Cannabis to Treat PTSD
In 2015, The Steven and Alexandra Cohen Veterans Center for Post-Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury at NYU Langone Medical Center reviewed 36 randomized-control trials of treatments for veterans suffering from PTSD over a 35-year span. The research showed that while up to 70% of the men and women experienced symptom improvements, around two-thirds of people receiving the therapies still met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis after treatment. Furthermore, many of these people developed concurrent issues like illicit drug dependence.
This is where marijuana comes in. The two most likely controlled substances to cause dependency outside of the prescribed PTSD medications are cannabis and opioids. Cannabis is misleadingly reported to be the most abused as physicians often opt to give opiates to veterans for pain. When patients are addicted to prescribed doses of pharmacy-filled medication, it isn’t statistically considered a dependency.
Cannabis to Combat Addiction
Statistically, 75% of those with PTSD develop a drug addiction. At the same time, its pharmaceuticals, not something like yoga, that is typically part of the first line of treatment, which in essence means that the medical community believes that healing from PTSD requires a drug dependency. Only called a problem when the substances used aren’t the ones prescribed, it sounds like the prescription is addiction itself, and chemically this holds true since those with PTSD have brains that no longer function normally. Science is beginning to discover many so-called addicts are more effectively self-medicating their disorder than their expert doctors. Cannabis in particular may be profoundly rehabilitating the damaged brains of many suffering from PTSD.
Understanding the Endocannabinoid System
The human endocannabinoid system consists of cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), their endogenous lipid ligands (endocannabinoids) and related enzymes. Endocannabinoids control both emotional behavior and cognitive processes. This essential role in maintaining emotional health regulates mood, remembering, and forgetting. Researchers have demonstrated that cannabinoid compounds facilitate the ability to forget a memory in animals, while also making remembering other memories more difficult. PTSD changes cannabinoid activity in patients’ brains which in turn affects their processing of memories.
Cannabis Research and PTSD
Federal policy has largely blocked cannabis research on veterans and PTSD; however, this hasn’t stopped investigation completely. Viviana Trezza and Patrizia Campolongo published perhaps the most comprehensive review of PTSD’s relationship with cannabis in the August 2013 issue of Frontier Behavioral Neuroscience. PTSD consists of constant fixation and replaying of a traumatic event, combined with a lingering feeling of threat and anxiety symptoms. Trezza and Campolongo pointed out that while the feelings of threat and anxiety benefit from antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications, no pharmaceutical is available to control the constant fixation on the actual memories of the event. The authors argued that soldiers and veterans using cannabis were not doing it because they were drug addicts; instead, they were actually helping to regulate the damage to the brain after trauma exposure. They felt it was possible cannabinoid compounds helped sufferers let go of haunting memories and control the constant fixation on the triggering events.
Maybe it’s no coincidence that groups who have experienced trauma all have an inclination towards marijuana use. Data from the National Comorbidity Study demonstrated that adults suffering from PTSD were three times more likely to have cannabis dependency compared with those without PTSD and an even higher rate of cannabis abuse among military veterans with PTSD. A positive association between cannabis and teenagers with PTSD has also been reported.
Marijuana for PTSD
Marijuana use for PTSD is historically described in the literature as a dangerous complication that will cause long term problems; however, if PTSD patients really use cannabis for self-medication, they may be helping their brains long-term. For example, a report on Vietnam veterans showed that marijuana helped manage symptoms, with particular respect to their hyper-vigilant state. The New Mexico Medical Cannabis Plan was the first to list post-traumatic stress disorder as a condition for the use of medical cannabis. George Greer, MD led a study during 80 psychiatric evaluations of patients applying to the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program from 2009 to 2011. The clinician retrospectively administered the Posttraumatic Scale for DSM-IV (CAPS) to evaluate their PTSD and then collected and compared symptom scores. “Greater than 75% reduction in CAPS symptom scores were reported when patients were using cannabis compared to when they were not.”
THC and PTSD
In 2014 doctors Raphael Mechoulam, Rena Cooper-Kazaz, and Arieh Shalev added THC to the medication regimens of 10 veterans with chronic PTSD. They found that administering 5mg twice a day improved everyone. “There were mild adverse effects in three patients, none of which led to treatment discontinuation. The intervention caused a statistically significant improvement in global symptom severity, sleep quality, the frequency of nightmares, and PTSD hyperarousal symptoms.”
Veterans Use of Medical Cannabis
Because of the encouraging studies and the need for more research, nonprofits and advocacy groups have emerged to lobby for veteran’s cannabis access. HeroGrown points to the statistic that out of over 20 million military vets and tens of millions of first responders, more than 50 die every day from suicide and prescription drug overdose. HeroGrown supports efforts to make cannabis available to active military and veterans around the country. They also have supplied more than three million dollars in marijuana and CBD products to veterans in need in legal states since 2014. The Veterans Cannabis Project arranges candid, round-table conversations allowing veterans to share their stories with lawmakers, policy influencers and game changers in Washington, DC. Not to be confused, the Veterans Cannabis Group are “a safe educational and family support group for Veterans who use medical cannabis.”
Our freedom and safety are at the heart of the PTSD suffered by our veterans. These men and women live with the effects of hellish memories during their time fighting for us. A combination of therapy, medication, love, encouragement, patience, laughter, and pain is most likely going to give veterans their best lives post-combat. The ability of cannabis to help modulate the endocannabinoid system and more importantly its ability to just plain help people is a blessing. Hopefully, this piece can help readers have a greater understanding of not only the part played by marijuana in the healing of PTSD but also the experience of veterans like John. Vets deserve any intervention that will help them get out of their memories and into living their life in the present. If CBD for brain fog helps, then they should have access to the cannabinoid.
Alexander, Walter. “Pharmacotherapy for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder In Combat Veterans: Focus on Antidepressants and Atypical Antipsychotic Agents.” P & T : A Peer-reviewed Journal for Formulary Management. January 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3278188/.
“PTSD Symptom Reports of Patients Evaluated for the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program.” Taylor & Francis. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02791072.2013.873843.
“PsycNET.” American Psychological Association. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2016-51864-001.
Reisman, Miriam. “PTSD Treatment for Veterans: What’s Working, What’s New, and What’s Next.” P & T : A Peer-reviewed Journal for Formulary Management. October 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5047000/.
Roitman, Pablo, Raphael Mechoulam, Rena Cooper-Kazaz, and Arieh Shalev. “Preliminary, Open-Label, Pilot Study of Add-On Oral Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol in Chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” SpringerLink. June 17, 2014. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40261-014-0212-3.
Sifferlin, Alexandra. “How Effective Are PTSD Treatments for Veterans?” Time. August 04, 2015. http://time.com/3982440/ptsd-veterans/.
Trezza, Viviana, and Patrizia. “The Endocannabinoid System as a Possible Target to Treat Both the Cognitive and Emotional Features of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).” Frontiers. July 19, 2013. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnbeh.2013.00100/full#B27.