On the Front: A Soldier’s Experience With PTSD
There are over seven million adults and children suffering from PTSD in the US.
My focus is on my personal experience in the military and that of my personal experience of PTSD. It is important to note that according to the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs PTSD affects approximately: 31% of Vietnam vets, 10% of Gulf War vets and 11% of Afghanistan vets. Too many. Too much suffering. These numbers are clearly just a beginning, not an ending.
Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Niger, are all countries where U.S. military personnel are serving in combat. Military medical treatment has progressed tremendously since previous wars and many more soldiers who have sustained grievous injuries are surviving to return home. It is not uncommon to see multiple amputees going about their daily tasks of work, play and family life after months of rehabilitation.
But physical injury is only part of the story of recovery. In addition to broken bodies, combat may also lead to broken minds. Repeated exposure to traumatic events whether sustained personally or observed in others can lead to a debilitating medical condition known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This is a condition that has only been recognized as a disease by the American Psychiatric Association since 1980
I served in an earlier war in Southeast Asia as a U.S. Army medical corpsman in Vietnam the early 1970’s. Over 2.7 million service members served in that war which lasted nearly ten years. After soldiers completed their tours of duty, they were discharged back into society. They were not equipped for this reintegration. Many veterans displayed the symptoms of the condition that was later named: PTSD. It’s a condition that includes symptoms such as: depression, anxiety, anger, avoidance, flashbacks, nightmares, and substance abuse.
I battled some of these symptoms myself. I avoided crowds. I sat in the back of my college classroom with my back to the wall. Loud noises unnerved me and almost every night, in my dreams, I was back in Vietnam. I knew that I was struggling with something, but didn’t know what to do about it. I[i] was one of the fortunate ones who struggled back through it and gradually my life returned to normal (although I still hate crowds and loud noises still rattle me).
Unfortunately, most soldiers in my experience weren’t as lucky. Today, with our unending national wars, there is a steady stream of soldiers returning home and suffering from PTSD.
Treatments? Traditional treatments for PTSD include various forms of cognitive behavioral therapies and psychotherapy combined with prescription medications, and these are largely opioids. These therapies have met with some success, but in recent years anecdotal reports have emerged showing that patients suffering from PTSD, who use cannabis, reported improvements in their symptoms. Researchers have just begun to study the chemical components in cannabis and how they affect the symptoms of PTSD.
Two of the main chemical cannabinoids present in cannabis are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). CBD is the non-psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis, which can ease anxiety and act as an anti-psychotic. THC can relax muscles and improve sleep. Today at least twenty-one states have approved the use of medical cannabis to treat PTSD and more states are joining their ranks with each year.
Controversial studies by the Veteran Affairs Administration and National Institute of Health as well as university and private studies will shed more light on the benefits of using the extracts of cannabis for the treatment of PTSD. These studies will continue to be blocked as long as cannabis is labelled a Schedule One, just like heroin.
But, by no means, is PTSD limited to those serving in military combat. Anyone who has experienced a traumatic event or witnessed a traumatic event is susceptible to PTSD.
It’s the ultimate battlefield: medical cannabis possibilities and the government blockade. And it is a war that we all must win.
[i] https://medlineplus .gov/magazine/issues/winter09/articles/winter09pg10-14.html
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