Monday, November 11, 2013

"More and More US Veterans are Smoking Weed to Treat Their PTSD"

1VetsMJAccessThe title of this post is the headline of this lengthy recent commentary by journalist Thor Benson.   It struck me as a fitting piece to spotlight on Veterans Day, and here is how it gets started:

In America, the relationship between doctors and the hegemonic pharmaceutical industry is fraught with painful, mind-numbing contradiction.  There’s no better example of this than in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among US veterans and others around the country.  Drugs like Risperdal, an antipsychotic, are said to be no more effective in the treatment of PTSD than a placebo.  These drugs are widely distributed to treat the symptoms of PTSD, despite allegations that they’re ineffectual in treatment of the condition.

PTSD is a disorder, characterized by extreme emotional or mental anxiety, often the result of a physical or psychological injury.  When confronted with a potentially deadly situation, it’s natural for humans to feel afraid — we’ve developed pretty sophisticated fight-or-flight responses to deal with real or perceived danger.  PTSD arises when that response is damaged, and the patient feels stressed or frightened even when he or she is no longer in danger.  The disease disproportionately affects soldiers deployed in war zones.  Very often they are in situations so dangerous that they develop the condition, and return home as shell-shocked emotional cripples.  Veteran’s Affairs claims that today, almost 300,000 veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD, although the number is likely much higher due to lack of diagnosis.

According to Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, marijuana could be the answer.  Mechoulam is a respected Israeli neuroscientist who studies the use of medical cannabis and its role in “memory extinction.”  Memory extinction happens slowly to everyone, but it’s clear that in regular pot smokers, the process may be exacerbated, to say the least. According to Mechoulam, increased memory extinction could be helpful for sufferers of PTSD, reducing the mind’s associative link between external stimuli and traumatic events.  Instead of connecting a loud noise with a bomb going off, cannabis can help destroy that link completely.

Despite this research, many states still do not count PTSD as a disorder that warrants a medical marijuana card.  Because of this, veterans are seeking other legal and non-legal ways to procure weed.  I recently spoke with two young ex-marines who self-medicate their PTSD with copious amounts of marijuana.  Jeremiah Civil and Christian Slater are veterans of the Iraq War.  These men saw things that would make the average citizen cringe in horror, and they left the war with deep emotional scars. Both Jeremiah and Christian were diagnosed with PTSD shortly before returning home, thrown into the wild world of a society that doesn’t understand their condition.

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