Picture this scenario…
Mark, a decorated United States Marine, returns from multiple tours defending our great nation only to be diagnosed with something that will haunt him for the rest of his life, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Mark comes to you looking for a solution or treatment, something to make his post-war life easier. But say you only have two options for him, weed or alcohol. Which would you prescribe him?
Weed. Duh. Pretty easy answer right? Then tell me why 60-80% of all Vietnam Veterans suffering from PTSD have some sort of alcohol use disorder. I’ll tell you why, because medical marijuana hasn’t been an option for them! Until now…
Arizona’s top health official has plans to allow the use of medical marijuana to treat people suffering from PTSD in 2015. Thank You Arizona! It’s about damn time. Only nine states allow PTSD patients to be treated with medical marijuana. But before I drop some knowledge on you that might blow your mind about this issue, let’s compare some of the side effects of the two.
Short-Term Effects of Alcohol
- Slurred speech
- Upset stomach
- Breathing difficulties
- Distorted vision and hearing
- Impaired judgment
- Decreased perception and coordination
- Anemia (loss of red blood cells)
- Blackouts (memory lapses, where the drinker cannot remember events that occurred while under the influence)
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol
- Unintentional injuries such as car crash, falls, burns, drowning
- Intentional injuries such as firearm injuries, sexual assault, domestic violence
- Increased on-the-job injuries and loss of productivity
- Increased family problems, broken relationships
- Alcohol poisoning
- High blood pressure, stroke, and other heart-related diseases
- Liver disease
- Nerve damage
- Sexual problems
- Permanent damage to the brain
- Vitamin B1 deficiency, which can lead to a disorder characterized by amnesia, apathy and disorientation
- Gastritis (inflammation of stomach walls)
- Cancer of the mouth and throat
Sound like wonderful side effects. Now let’s look at marijuana.
Short-Term Effects of Marijuana
- Sensory distortion
- Poor coordination of movement
- Lowered reaction time
- After an initial “up,” the user feels sleepy or depressed
- Increased heartbeat
Long-Term Effects of Marijuana
- Reduced resistance to common illnesses (colds, bronchitis, etc.)
- Suppression of the immune system
- Growth disorders
- Increase of abnormally structured cells in the body
- Reduction of male sex hormones
- Destruction of lung fibers (if smoked)
- Reduced sexual capacity
- Study difficulties: reduced ability to learn and retain information
- Apathy, drowsiness, lack of motivation
- Personality and mood changes
- Inability to understand things clearly
Hmmmm, let me get this straight. Soooo if I drink a lot of alcohol, I run the risk of mouth cancer, liver disease, and brain damage but if I use too much marijuana, I might catch a cold easier and be tired more. Am I missing something here???
How has every state not legalized medical marijuana yet? And for those that do allow it, how is PTSD not an accepted ailment for its use in all of them? How is there even a debate about this? Alcohol is 100% legal with brain damage, mouth cancer, and liver disease lurking in the future but something that might make you tired and catch a cold easier is still illegal in some states? I mean WTF guys?!
The reality of the situation is that alcohol abuse and PTSD are linked. There’s no denying it. There is currently no specialized, effective treatment for PTSD so many turn to alcohol to alleviate the symptoms and suffering. But medical marijuana is working for people! So why are we not giving these people more options?
The Science Speaks For Itself
Arizona State Department of Health Services Director, Will Humble, cited a recent study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs that provides evidence that marijuana may be helpful in the care of PTSD in some patients. Humble was originally against the use of medical marijuana for PTSD because he said there wasn’t enough data supporting it. But a lot has changed since then. New discoveries in our body’s therapeutic hotspot — the endocannabinoid system — is beginning to pave new avenues of understanding and treating PTSD with marijuana.
One investigator of PTSD and cannabis is the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). Martin Lee is a MAPS affiliate and director of Project CBD, and has studied PTSD and cannabinoids in depth.
“Researchers found that people with PTSD had lower levels of anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid compound, compared to those who did not show signs of PTSD,” Lee wrote, “Innate to all mammals, anandamide (our inner cannabis, so to speak) triggers the same receptors that are activated by THC and other components of the marijuana plant.”
In other words, one pillar of PTSD is an endocannabinoid deficiency: the body stops producing enough endocannabinoids to fill receptor sites, and this is where the cannabinoids found in marijuana play a therapeutic role. By replenishing these missing endocannabinoids with those found in cannabis, researchers think marijuana pharmaceuticals might bring PTSD patients relief from their memories.
But the magic doesn’t stop there. When a typical person encounters something scary, the brain’s fear system goes into overdrive, says Dr. Kerry Ressler of Emory University. The heart pounds, muscles tighten. Then, once the danger is past, everything goes back to normal, he says.
But Ressler says that’s not what happens in the brain of someone with PTSD. “One way of thinking about PTSD is an over activation of the fear system that can’t be inhibited, can’t be normally modulated.” Experiments in animals show that tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical that gives marijuana its feel-good qualities, acts on a system in the brain that is “critical for fear and anxiety modulation,” says Andrew Holmes, a researcher at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
I think it’s safe to say that we reallyyyyy need to give PTSD patients the option to use medical marijuana to treat their symptoms. It’s obvious that current treatment options just don’t work. And because marijuana isn’t an option for most, they are turning to alcohol for help. But this is the WORST thing they can do. Alcohol actually makes PTSD worse!
Alcohol is the Worst
Alcohol use and intoxication increases emotional numbing, social isolation, anger and irritability, depression, and the feeling of needing to be on guard. In addition:
- Alcohol use disorders reduce the effectiveness of PTSD treatments.
- War veterans diagnosed with PTSD and alcohol use tend to be binge drinkers. Binges may be the result of re-experiencing memories or reminders of trauma.
- Many individuals with PTSD experience sleep disturbances (trouble falling asleep or waking up after they fall asleep). When a person with PTSD experiences sleep disturbances, using alcohol as a way to “self-medicate” becomes a “two edged sword”: it may help with one sleep-related problem but exacerbate another.
- Alcohol use may decrease the severity and the number of frightening nightmares commonly experienced in PTSD, but may continue the cycle of avoidance found in PTSD. When a person withdraws from alcohol, nightmares often increase.
Wake the F@ck Up!
Thousands of veterans have been making a push for state officials to allow medical marijuana use to treat PTSD because they say the medications doctors have them on currently are ineffective and damaging their organs. And with the information listed in this article, who can argue with them? We are doing a huge injustice to our Veterans by denying them the option to use medical marijuana to treat PTSD. As a result, they are falling back on alcohol use which is not only making their PTSD worse, it’s destroying their bodies.
It’s important to also note that military veterans aren’t the only people suffering from PTSD. In fact, about 8% of all Americans will suffer from PTSD at some point in their life. Arizona, congratulations on your wakeup call along with the small handful of other states who have embraced medical marijuana for PTSD treatment. Now if we could just get the remaining 41 states to wake the f@ck up!
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