Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness that can develop after witnessing or experiencing a life-threatening event, for example combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.
It is normal to have distressing memories of the traumatic event, feel on the edge, or have trouble sleeping. Most people, however, will start to improve and experience fewer symptoms after a few weeks or months. They will then be able to progress with their daily lives.
If it has been longer than a few months, and you’re still having little-improved symptoms, you may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For some people with PTSD, symptoms may not develop until later, or they may come and go over a span of time. If your symptoms last longer than three months, cause you great distress or disrupt your work or home life, you should seek care from mental health professionals.
There are four general types of PTSD symptoms–though there is not one set way to experience PTSD–including reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms); avoiding situations that remind you of the event; negative changes in beliefs and feelings; hyper alert of surroundings (often called hyperarousal).
Reliving the Event: For sufferers of PTSD, memories from the traumatic event can return at any time. Some sufferers feel the same level of fear as they did at the time of the event. Some common manifestations are: Nightmares; flashbacks, where you feel like you are going physically through the event again; and triggers, when you see, smell or hear something that leads to you mentally reliving the event. Some example of triggers are news reports, seeing an accident, or hearing a car backfire.
Avoiding Situations That Remind You of the Event:Some sufferers of PTSD may attempt to avoid triggers–people, situations, places, etc.–altogether. They may even avoid talking or thinking about the event.
Negative Changes in Thoughts and Feelings: Your self-image and the way you see others changes as a result of the trauma. The sufferer may: lose positive or loving feelings towards other people; stay away from relationships; feel detached; forget about parts of the traumatic event or not able to talk about them; think the world is dangerous and no one can be trusted.
Hyper Alert of Surroundings: The sufferer may be jittery and always on the lookout for danger. For example, they may become angry or irritable suddenly. The sufferer may: struggle to sleep; struggle concentrating; be startled with loud noises or surprises; want to have their back to the wall in a restaurant or waiting room.
PTSD can happen to any type of person. However, there are a few factors that can increase the likelihood. People are more likely to have PTSD if the event is intense or long-lasting. If injured, it is more likely the person develops PTSD. PTSD is more common are specific types of trauma, including combat or sexual assault.
Personal factors can also impact whether or not someone will develop PTSD. These factors include age, gender, previous traumatic exposure, etc. Stress after the traumatic event can increase someone’s chances of developing PTSD, whereas healthy social support networks can make it less likely.
Conventional Treatments for PTSD
Perhaps the most common therapy is talk therapy or trauma-focused psychotherapies. Psychotherapies vary, but generally, you can explore prolonged exposure, cognitive processing therapy (CPT), Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Brief Eclectic Psychotherapy (BEP), Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET), Written Narrative Exposure, or Cognitive Behavior Therapy.
You also can consider Antidepressants, such as SSRIs, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SNRIs, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. Sertraline (Zoloft), Paroxetine (Paxil), Fluoxetine (Prozac), Venlafaxine (Effexor) are all recommended for PTSD.
Medical Marijuana and PTSD
Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, an Israeli scientist, identified THC as the psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant. Then, decades later, he discovered the endocannabinoid system and the neurotransmitter anandamide. He demonstrated the neuroprotective effects of the endocannabinoid system in mice that had traumatic injuries to the brain.
In specific relation to PTSD, the cannabinoid system has been proven to be integrally related to memory, specifically memory extinction. Memory extinction is a natural, healthy process of removing associations from stimuli.
Dr. Mechoulam explained that an animal which has been given cannabinoids and then administered an electric shock after a specific noise will eventually forget about the shock after the noise appears alone for a few days. On the other hand, mice without cannabinoid never forget; they continue to cringe at the noise indefinitely.
The stalwart veterans group has been making strides to reframe the marijuana debate as a not only a moral and economic concern but a patriotic concern. They argue access to medical marijuana could ease suffering and reduce suicide rate of soldiers when they return from the horrors of war.
In a more personal and specific case, Marine Corps Veteran Roberto Pickering‘s nightmares had taken over his life. In response, he was drinking himself to death. He returned from Iraq, in 2003, haunted by PTSD. He had watched his friends die. Since home, he had sought relief. He was prescribed 14 different drugs at one point. Pickering tells NBC, “I stopped all of the pills cold turkey, and I picked up cannabis…in my opinion, it was either find relief or suicide.”
If you or a family member match the symptoms of PTSD and don’t have a diagnosis, speak to a medical professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.