PTSD: Could Cannabis Be the Answer to a National Health Emergency?
Evidence suggests that between 6 and 10% of Americans will experience PTSD in their lifetime with the number jumping to 18% for service members who participated in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, America’s veterans are not the only victims. The American Psychiatric Association estimates over 11 million citizens are currently afflicted with posttraumatic stress that disrupts their lives.
Cannabis activists have known that the plant can be useful for patients with PTSD for years. Now, thanks to somewhat relaxed rules on cannabis research studies and the hard work of researchers, a new clinical study is working to determine the most beneficial treatments.
The protocol for the new study describes chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD among veterans as a “national emergency.”
Posttraumatic Stress Can Be Deadly
PTSD can be a debilitating and possibly lethal condition. Those afflicted by posttraumatic stress range from battlefield combatants to domestic violence survivors, from first-responders who make trauma their primary focus to people who never imagined they would experience a serious trauma in their lives.
Symptoms of PTSD include depression, anxiety, nightmares, insomnia and high stress levels. Cannabis is unique in being an effective treatment for all of these symptoms.
Bryan Krumm, a psychiatric nurse practitioner out of New Mexico, works with that state’s medical cannabis program to help patients cope with the symptoms of serious posttraumatic stress. He developed a class on the subject for Green Flower last December. In his view, cannabis is saving lives.
“Unmanaged PTSD symptoms are highly correlated with suicide,” Krumm told GFM. “We lose over 100 citizens every day to suicide – 22 of those are veterans.”
Krumm delivers his argument with a sobering message: “We’ve lost more active duty troops to suicide than we have to Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS combined.”
In 2004 alone, the U.S. Veterans Administration spent $4.3 billion on PTSD disability payments.
Cannabis is Already Used to Treat PTSD
Krumm takes a special interest in cannabis for posttraumatic stress, including helping to write New Mexico’s medical cannabis law and petitioning the federal government to remove cannabis from Schedule I so that more veterans can take advantage. He believes cannabis to be the only way to effectively treat the symptoms of PTSD.
Thirteen states, including New Mexico, list PTSD as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis use, with four additional adult-use cannabis states where patients can legally self-medicate. This puts over 35% of Americans in a state where they can legally manage the symptoms of posttraumatic stress with cannabinoid therapy.
Statistics are lacking on how many Americans with PTSD treat their symptoms with cannabis, but anecdotal evidence suggests it is widespread. However, perhaps not widespread enough if we want to save lives.
The First Federally Approved Study
On February 6, the first of 76 U.S. veterans diagnosed with chronic PTSD began smoking cannabis in the controlled environment of Scottsdale Research Institute in Phoenix, AZ. This trial, conducted by the non-profit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), is the first of its kind. It will continue to shape how medical professionals and individuals view medical cannabis use.
Marcel Bonn-Miller, the Coordinating Principal Investigator (PI) for the study said in a statement, “As this is the first placebo-controlled trial of cannabis for PTSD, we are breaking important ground needed to identify improved treatment options for veterans with PTSD."
Researchers will be testing four different potencies in a controlled environment to judge the actual effectiveness of smoked cannabis in managing the symptoms of posttraumatic stress. The results will assist doctors in determining the best course of cannabis treatment for their patients.
Funding for the trial came by way of a $2.156 million grant from Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), even though neither trial site is located in Colorado. Since it became the first of eight states to legalize both medical and adult-use cannabis, Colorado lawmakers have been pushing for more studies on the potential dangers and benefits of cannabinoid therapy.
A Long Time Coming
The study is the result of over seven years of lobbying on the part of MAPS. Dr. Sue Sisley and Rick Doblin first began discussing the subject of cannabis for PTSD in 2009. Approval for medical cannabis research is required from numerous federal agencies including the Food and Drug Administration, Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the Drug Enforcement Agency.
After the DEA finally approved Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and Scottsdale Research Institute as the trial sites, the National Institute for Drug Abuse provided federally approved cannabis in August, 2016.
The study will complete 17 visits for subjects over 12 weeks followed by a checkup after six months. We can’t wait to see what the results show.
If you'd like to learn more about cannabis and PTSD, Bryan Krumm has two different online classes streaming on Green Flower INSIDER.
Do you know anybody struggling with PTSD?