Veterans Are Choosing Medical Marijuana as an Effective Treatment for PTSD
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or syndrome, has fallen upon 6% of the population. That is 15 million adults in the United States who have reoccuring problems and need effective care each year. But the problem is much bigger, and even more serious, than we would like to think. PTSD can lead to serious depression and even suicide. This diagnosis isn’t new, especially among our veterans and soldiers.
Between 60% of men and 50% of women suffer from traumatic events at least once in their lifetime and each event has the possibility of causing PTSD. Our soldiers and military personnel suffer from PTSD indiscriminately. Almost 20% of soldiers who contributed their efforts in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and 12% of soldiers from the Gulf War have been diagnosed and treated for PTSD. 15% of our Vietnam Veterans have also been diagnosed with PTSD.. The problem is that for every person that has been diagnosed with PTSD, there are those among them that are afraid to speak out due to the stigma that surrounds it. While this isn’t true, it’s a pervasive belief that can easily prevent someone from living a boundless life.
Many soldiers come back from combat with serious physical or mental injuries. This also includes those who may have experienced physical or sexual assault during their service. These traumas create and exacerbate PTSD symptoms. While soldiers are still predominantly male, female soldiers and survivors of war are becoming more common, and unfortunely sexual assault can happen to anyone.
PTSD is a serious disorder and our veterans and soldiers deserve the best care. It is essential for everyone to be able to recognize the symptoms of this serious disorder and be aware of the risks if symptoms are left ignored.
PTSD Symptoms In Our Veterans
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can arise after a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, serious accident, terrorist attack, war/combat, or rape or who have been threated with death, sexual violence or serious injury.
Anyone can exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress after a serious or fearful situation, but it becomes a disorder, or a syndrome, when the symptoms remain long after the natural healing period, and they come up during times of relative calm. Reliving the trauma through intrusive thoughts, hallucinations, and nightmares doesn’t just hurt the patient, but also their friends and family who are unsure how to help.
The signs and symptoms, both psychological and physiological, can be very serious, and they include:
- Flashbacks of the traumatizing event.
- Reliving the trauma over and over during inappropriate times.
- A rising sense of fear that seems to come from nowhere.
- Racing heart rate
- Sweating profusely
- Bad dreams
- Intense anger and paranoia
- Using avoidance tactics, to hide from emotions or hard discussions related to the trauma.
- Sleeping problems (sleeping too much or not enough)
- Feeling tense and angry
- Memory problems
- Negative thoughts
- Distorted feelings and perceptions (helplessness, constant horror, etc.)
Depression, mania, anxiety, and social avoidance are all natural symptoms of PTSD, but they could also be documented and treated as separate diagnoses. It is extremely important to identify all the symptoms to garner a correct diagnosis. It is also pertinent for the patient to speak of any previous trauma they may have experienced prior to the trauma of combat, for example, as it can shed some light on how deep or how far back the PTSD goes.
Someone who shows signs of PTSD really needs support from their friends and family. It takes time to get used to being a civilian again, and they are rarely prepared for the change. They also need proactive and effective treatments based upon their specific needs. Veterans are specifically at risk for PTSD based solely on the duties of their job. PTSD and anxiety are at an all-time high among our soldiers.
Current PTSD Treatments
Medications and talk therapy, or cognitive behavioral therapy, are the current standards of care for people suffering from PTSD. The problem is that each individual has different needs that deserve to be met and what works for one person may not work for another. The medication that helps Bob lower his anxiety, a large contributing factor to his PTSD, may not help decrease the flashbacks and depression that Sue experiences. Sue needs a different approach.
Each person needs an independent, rather than universal, approach to their suffering. People may have to go through several medications and forms of therapy before they can find out what works for them, the right combination. Studies show, unfortunately, that while medication and therapy can work wonders for civilians with PTSD, they can be much less effective for veterans. This may be due to what they are taught, and what they see, compared to a trauma witnessed by a civilian.
Antidepressants can work well with PTSD symptoms, but certain antidepressants can increase anxiety, rather than calm it. Sometimes several medications may be prescribed to help with individual symptoms, such as a sleeping pill for someone who cannot sleep, another pill for depression, or another for anxiety.
Talk therapy helps get the story and some stress out of a person’s body, and it allows them to see their current situation from a different perspective. Sometimes, just sharing the trauma can be tremendously helpful. At the same time, someone who is extremely traumatized can get worse before they get better, as recounting the story can bring buried emotions to the surface.
Therapists can differentiate their approach to each patient based upon their individual needs and desired goals.
A therapist’s goal is to help their patient understand why their minds and bodies are reacting the way that they do, while teaching them self-soothing skills and emotional-control techniques. With compassionate care, anger and sadness can subside. Guilt and shame can be addressed and even eliminated while triggers can lessen in severity.
The problem with receiving help for PTSD is that a person usually needs to ask for it. They need to admit that they need help, and identify why they need help, before they can even begin searching for care. And they need to be ready to put in the work while making themselves vulnerable. That vulnerability can scare people away from treatment. The military strives on creating invulnerable soldiers who act without fear and apprehension. This means that many, many soldiers are not equipped with the language, and even the drive, to find help.
Why Don’t Some Soldiers Seek Treatment?
There are several reasons that people don’t seek treatment for their mental health, even when it’s as serious as PTSD. An estimated 45% of people who suffer from a mental health disorder don’t seek treatment, and it all comes back to vulnerability and our society’s fear of it.
Mental health problems carry a negative stigma in our society. Some people believe that a psychological problem makes a person weak and unable to deal with the world. They are seen as a problem, as a hindrance to progress. Even our veterans, who come back from combat after seeing the worst of the worst, can be made to feel as if they are weak for not being able to control what is happening to them mentally and physically. A soldier is taught that vulnerability is death. While this may be true on the battlefield, this doesn’t have to be true at home where they are sent to heal and reclaim their lives.
There has always been a distrust of the medical community in some social circles, meaning that there is a lack of confidence in the efficacy of medical care, especially when it pertains to mental health. Again, one must admit that they are vulnerable to receive adequate treatment and when a person believes that the medical community is out to get them and their money, they won’t seek care or allow themselves to absorb any advice or support.
It can be difficult sometimes for someone who can’t see their behavior and emotions objectively to tell if they are having a problem or are acting within their normal parameters. And sometimes, even if they can identify an issue, many people seem to think that they can handle it themselves. A soldier is taught extreme self-sufficiency and independence, as well as working within the group. They are taught to protect their fellow soldiers, to the detriment of themselves at times. While this creates heroes in combat, it’s essential to care for oneself first at home, or they won’t be able to care for others. A person can’t save someone else while they themselves are drowning.
Many people are unaware of where to find the help that they need. Many are afraid that they cannot afford the healthcare they seek. It’s no secret that many veterans have had trouble finding adequate jobs and access to healthcare after they come home. Many of them don’t know where to even begin searching for help, let alone finding the language to ask for it. PTSD can also prevent someone from finding, or keeping, a job. Therefore, PTSD can hinder their ability to pay for healthcare.
It can be hard to ask for help, especially when the help available also carries a negative stigma that can be considered almost universal.
Why Is It Hard For Veterans To Ask For, And Use, Medical Marijuana For PTSD?
Soldiers are prepared heavily for war, to be strong mentally and physically, and to follow all the laws set forth by the military and the federal government. After combat, they are sent home, and some return unprepared to deal with an environment much different than what they had been living for such a long time. And they can feel alone, even while surrounded by friends and family who love them. They depended on their brothers and sisters in the field for survival, and this support is no longer by their side. The soldier is exposed and for some soldiers, marijuana can help them with their feelings of vulnerability and exposure.
The military has a zero-tolerance policy towards the use of any illegal substances while enlisted which makes sense. So, this can cause confusion when it comes to medical marijuana.
At least half of our military believes that seeking any help for a mental disorder would negatively destroy their military career prospects, or even get them discharged from service. The threats of abandonment, prosecution, and the sheer intensity of the consequences if discovered to be secretly suffering from a mental health disorder only adds to the negative stigma already attached to mental health.
Once a person is released from the military, the rules and codes that they lived by for so long no longer exist. Marijuana is considered, by the federal government, as a serious controlled substance that has no medical value whatsoever. Most people have been taught of the evils of marijuana all of their lives and coming back home to such radical changes can be scary. But, research shows that marijuana can lessen pain and decrease feelings of fear and anxiety. The intensity of intruding memories and sudden flashbacks is heavily decreased.
The Department of Veterans Affairs And Medical Marijuana
Around 24% of our veterans admitted to using marijuana in 2019, which has significantly risen from 9% in 2014. Over the last few years, it has become much easier for veterans to get their marijuana licenses in their home state, which the military would not allow before. The Veterans Equal Access Act, or H.R. 1820, expands a veteran’s access to quality healthcare by allowing them to participate in their state’s medical marijuana program without serious repercussions from the VA, such as a denial of care or a loss of benefits.
The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, or H.R. 2588, allows veterans to possess, use, and travel with their marijuana and talk about the benefits of their marijuana use with their VA doctors, nurses, and representatives without fear of negative consequences. Now, the VA cannot reject a veterans benefits, nor can they deny them help, if they have a legal medical marijuana card from their state. But, the VA doctors can change their approach to treating the veteran based upon their use of marijuana. For example, a person who takes a controlled substance for pain or anxiety may find that the medications they are on are reduced as a response to the marijuana use.
Marijuana is not allowed on any VA or military property, even in states where its use is legal. VA doctors won’t prescribe marijuana, and it won’t be paid for by VA benefits. Employees of the federal government are usually subject to random drug testing. Many veterans go to work for the country in some form or another after their service, but since their job is under federal law, a positive drug test for marijuana could lead to a termination.
But now everything has changed. With legal medical marijuana care, veterans and other sufferers of PTSD can get relief from their damaging thoughts and apprehensive nature from THC. Many people find that they can even take less medication, such as a controlled substance for pain, with marijuana treatments. Help is here and it is always available.
Where Do I Find Medical Marijuana Doctors Near Me?
Contact us at MMJ Health in Florida to schedule a meeting with a marijuana doctor today. PTSD is a serious condition that only worsens if left untreated and unmaintained. Check out our blog for further advice and suggestions on the best ways to grow, cultivate, and ingest your marijuana in the state of Florida. Come visit us today!