managing-ptsd-with-marijuana-and-ptsd-and-cannabis

How Cannabis Can Help Treat PTSD - A Step by Step Guide

January 13, 2019 2 Comments

By Ren Anderson

PTSD: THE EXPERIENCE

managing-ptsd-with-marijuana

The difficulty of writing or reading an article on PTSD is the significant chance of triggering an episode or making an already present episode more challenging for those of us who live with this condition daily.

Fortunately, spending the past three days crawling my way out of the maelstrom of difficulty created by intrusive memories and disassociation known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), I will explain to you how I used hemp and cannabis derivatives in combination with other healthy coping mechanisms;  we can all pull through this condition together, the best we are able, one step at a time with a combination of self care and pharmacology.

My hope is this article helps you feel less alone in your experiences with this condition.

PTSD: THE DEFINITION OF THE CONDITION

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First, let's look at the short definition of the clinical diagnosis according to the Mayo clinic:

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

So, traumatic experiences create a surge of adrenaline to the human brain that activate our startle response to react quickly to dangerous and painful situations and stimuli. When this reaction occurs without advantage to our surroundings, it creates a disassociation between past traumas and a (hopefully safer) present.

However, we are far from alone.

According to Sidran.org;

An estimated 70 percent of adults in the United States have experienced a traumatic event at least once in their lives and up to 20 percent of these people go on to develop posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Fortunately, most people will never experience PTSD symptoms after a traumatic event, however, for those of us that do, there is hope for significant improvements in managing your symptoms and improving your quality of life.

  • Remember PTSD is not a personal failing, it is an injury of the psyche. With time and self care you will see improvement.

  • PTSD can start from a variety of sources: military service, abusive childhood, illness, breakups, deaths of loved ones, psychological stress, just about any instance where you felt powerless, harmed, or without control in unfortunate circumstances. It is a sign of survival through trauma.

How to Recognize the Symptoms of Flashback Episodes

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  • First you need to develop awareness that often when an episode is immanent, like migraine headaches and seizure disorders, a PTSD event may begin with a sensation of aura, a sense of uneasiness, unsteadiness, and agitation. If you see these symptoms begin in yourself, slow down.
  • In recognizing your triggers, you can better care for yourself; learn to recognize both physical pain and psychological stress can be the primary psychological triggers that can set off a domino effect of feeling like an incapacitated time traveler doomed to relive emotionally and through visual memory, every traumatic experience of your past. It's going to be okay, I feel like that during my episodes as well.
  • In recognizing the symptoms you experience with the disorder; you should extraordinarily carefully minimize all unnecessary stressors in your life. If that means limiting your contact with certain people or limiting your time in crowded places, that is perfectly natural and healthy.
  • Remember, there are good days as well. You had good days in your past, your future holds unlimited and beautiful possibilities.

You are an amazing human being who has survived trauma.  Simply making the effort to find resources is the drive that will improve your life.

Immediate Coping Strategies

This is a description of how you can use coping skills with cannabis to refocus and ground yourself from mentally paralyzed to productive again.

  • There is nothing in your life that cannot wait for you to take attention to your breath and center yourself.
  • Focus on five benign objects in your environment, describe them to yourself internally. Describing to yourself the. current light source, material the ground is composed of, locate a place to sit, take notice of any pleasant scents, and choose a single sound to identify helps focus and orientate your awareness to the present moment.
  • If you have an as-needed pharmaceutical prescribed to you for flashbacks or panic attacks, now is the time to take your medication.
  • At this point, locate where you keep your cannabis oil, flower, waxes, creams or other effective solutions. For some episodes, a combination of flower and CBD may be effective, or you might find the slow build of edibles to be a more calming experience. It may take time to find the right combination for you.
  • A good hemp based cream rubbed into your neck and shoulders can help relax your physical body enough to release tension in both mind and body.
  • Ingested Cannabis may be helpful solution to nausea associated with prescription rescue medications. When side effects are minimized, it is easier for you to feel better, faster.
  • Take it slow. Resist the urge to over-medicate. Drink a large mug of water or coffee. Focus on your breathing.  Concentrate on the sensation of how the cannabis positively affects your mind and body. 
  • The correct feeling of a beneficial cannabis treatment should be more relaxed, more calm, more patient, and your focus should become increasingly comfortable instead of more panicked.
  • If you feel more anxious after medicating, remember to slow down and keep refocusing on the present.
  • Do not be afraid to experiment with many different methods and types of therapy and cannabis treatments! There are always new strains developed specifically for your condition as well as countless methods of delivery to the system.
  • Further, good advice for good self care, PTSD or not, is you should not hesitant to seek treatment with a skilled therapist quickly after any major potential trauma such a car accident, death of a loved one, or other traumatic experience.
  • Being aware that certain times of year my symptoms are more omnipresent than others based on anniversaries of particularly memorable past traumas can also help you better prepare in advance for rough periods of time.
  • Also remember, life is change, no situation is forever, and practice gratefulness and make a list of the current positives in your life. Focusing on the good and beautiful in your life can help tremendously!
  • Adding pure german chamomile and/or a drop of 100% vanilla extract to your pipe. This can help mitigate some of the typically “skunky” attributes of some strains. This can help calm you.
  • Sometimes, just getting a really pretty piece of glassware can really help. For the larger, more beautiful borosilicate water pipes, you can also keep a bouquet of roses in them when not in use. I learned that this can give a slightly ‘rosier’ experience. Staring at the patterns in glass to light is also calming.
  • For added aromatherapy, you can add rose water (as used for cooking) to your water pipe. Just make certain the only ingredients are simply roses and water! I really love doing this, and you may as well.
  • Find an exercise you enjoy. Swimming, lifting weights, hiking, jogging, dancing or any other physical activity can greatly improve your physical and psychological health
  • Stay organized. Have a list prepared in advance of strategies that have worked.

After taking a vested interest in improving your cannabis medications, and really paying attention in talk therapy you can recover considerably.

PTSD VS. CPTSD

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My particular variety of the condition is known as C-PTSD:

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C–PTSD; also known as complex trauma disorder) is a psychological disorder that can develop in response to prolonged, repeated experience of interpersonal trauma in a context in which the individual has little or no chance of escape.

In short, without discovering the effectiveness of cannabinoids I would remain locked in my own mind in an endless loop of intrusive memories of the worst, most terrifying periods of my life on endless repeat like “50 first dates” but with Jigsaw the puppet instead of Adam Sandler. Prior to cannabis, I had tried every available treatment from medical studies to EMDR.

In 2012, I was given the opportunity to share my medical records, along with thousands of otherwise intractable cases with similar diagnosis’, to test the potential of medical cannabis legalization and safe regulation in our state.

HOW I USE PERSONALLY USE CANNABIS PRODUCTS TO MANAGE MY CONDITION

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This how I get through a flashback using a combination of self care and cannabis, keep in mind that everyone has a unique physiology and psychological composition, so it may take some experimentation with different methods with temperance and a mindset of gentleness towards nursing the (slowly) healing the internal wounds that are flashbacks.

  • Practice self awareness: recognizing I have been operating in a dissociated state, inaccurately superimposing past stress reactions onto my present reality, I medicate.

  • I have several prescribed avenues of effective coping mechanisms, stress reduction techniques, and medication I must choose in combination to allow my startle reflex to calm and to regain productivity.

  • Knowing pain is a trigger, assessing if I am in pain. If so, what cause? Utilizing medical cannabis reduces the severe side effects of migraine medication and leads to a lower rate of use of prescription painkillers.

  • If my issue is a panic attack brought on by an unexpected reminder of a traumatic event, I am prescribed sedatives, however, ideally when paired with a sturdy hybrid or sativa strain for function and indica for sleep greatly reduces the duration of my episodes.

  • At the start of my PTSD symptoms, I did not have any flower on hand so I utilized Charlotte’s web oil under the tongue until dissolved at the recommended dosage which immediately reduced, but did not eliminate my symptoms alone this time.

  • Otherwise, I utilized my other coping strategies of talk therapy, swimming at my local gym, practicing the viola, and taking many careful breaks as necessary that I did not exacerbate my anxiety to the point of prolonging the psychological storm.

I drink a ton of water.  Cool water is a huge calming agent for me.  I have known other people feel the same comfort from a healthy herbal tea or even coffee. (Careful, though...stimulants like caffeine can exacerbate your anxiety!)

WOULD CBD HELPS PTSD PATIENTS?

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Yesterday, I realized the CBD oil was not quite reducing my all psychological symptoms, most specifically, my nightmares that occur during flashbacks episodes.  In this case, using hybrid flower with a good medicinal content in conjunction with CBD may help you significantly as this helped me.

Further, the United States has several national and local 24 hour helplines open for trauma survivors, some even maintain a detailed history on repeat callers and can communicate with your permission with your therapist, doctors, and serve as a liaison to your loved ones if you are in crisis or even find you social worker as needed in many situations.

Even if you are not quite comfortable with using a call as your personal resource, forums on reddit and discord servers abound for peer support.

Since many symptoms are psychological, a combination of a prescribed rescue low dose sedative is increased in effectiveness when combined with a indica or hybrid strain of cannabis.

It may be wise for you to intentionally keep emergency supplies of your rescue prescriptions squirreled away in the places of your home where you keep other grounding mechanisms- such as books, a musical instrument, your journal, or other hobby just in case you accidentally run short of your medication during PTSD episode at a particularly inopportune moment such as overnight or holidays.

(For example, today I found a stored partially full prescription bottle of an indica heavy hybrid, the strain ‘Blue Dream‘ stored on my bookshelf in front of my favorite book.)

PTSD PATENTS; TIPS FOR SURVIVING THE STORMS

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  • A preferred method of cannabis utilization is either through vaporization or via a water pipe to create a stronger, less abusive pull of the vapor into the lungs. Edibles are also effective for many patients, but may take longer to act, and may be stronger than anticipated.

  • The strain that has provided the greatest benefits of functionality and sense of well being for me is Incredible Hulk, a strain I have not actually encountered in at least four years. Here are other strains that are very helpful for PTSD patients that may help you:

  • Listening to random playlists of music artists you have never explored prior also helped a great deal since there is no preexisting negative associations with music you hear for the very first time.  As you pull yourself through your flashback episodes, the memory of both the trauma as well as your experiences while in a state of hyper negative psychological arousal may be mostly forgotten after the episode has passed.

  • Self care is paramount, spending time exercising to divert your focus away from memories of the trauma, eating your favorite, healthy foods, and distracting yourself with good music and/or taking time to talk with your favorite people also may help considerably.

  • The dosages of each medication were purposely omitted since each person has different physiology, tolerances, and medical history. If you suspect you may have PTSD, please see a healthcare professional for treatment.

The good news is PTSD is a qualifying condition protected by medical cannabis legislation in the majority of the United States at this time.

If you are currently in psychological crisis, please reach out to your healthcare team, caring friends and family, 1-800-SUICIDE or any of the links on this page.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ren Anderson lives in Reading, Pennsylvania. She holds two BA degrees from Moravian college. She both serves as a member of the board of directors and violist for the Reading Philharmonic Orchestra; she has also served for over ten years as a crisis and grief chaplain for the international Heathen and pagan communities while recovering from clinical agoraphobia and PTSD from long term trauma. She was both a study patient and strain tester for medical cannabis for use in PTSD and CPTSD treatments. Her etsy shop for her tie dye may be found on Ren's Instagram and/or Etsy.  She lives with her husband, Edward, and her myriad of rescue animals. Email: twomountaincreek@gmail.com.



2 Responses

Dr. Robert J Ritter
Dr. Robert J Ritter

January 17, 2019

Holy shit do I have a lot that I could write about that and give me a little bit of time because I well yesterday when you send it to me we were in the middle of having a birthday party for my nine-year-old and 16-year-old nephews so when I Ranett I didn’t get to absorb it but I have a really cool app on my phone that turns any text on a webpage into a spoken word audiophile and so I decided to listen to it while I was taking apart a computer and there is just so much information that I either found personal useful or self affirming even though before this moment I didn’t really ever consider myself as having PTSD in anyway even though I had gone through the house explosion at the age of five but the way that you lay out the different types and the varying symptomatic triggers led me to understand it that’s why I have a very exaggerated startle reflex that’s why even if I’m in a dead sleep if I hear Anything out of place in the middle of the night I jump up like a shot I still do the one thing that I do carry over from my years of therapy when I was so young to this day is that I have to sleep facing a window because the window is how we got out of the house so when I lay in bed I have to face the window or else I I turn into a real bastard and can’t sleepI love that you went through the different types of strains and that you actually gave specific brands to try on with different combinations and suggestions for typed I am let me get organized and in such a way that is not in a rambling and I I’ll definitely write this up for you because this gave me a sort of an epiphany and especially like I said hearing it I process information audibly a lot more thoroughly

I like your suggestion about breathing exercises it reminded me of the fact that one of the ways I was able to cope when I was so young outside of our family therapist you I didn’t quite careful with the fact that my aunt taught me yoga breathing and so when you had mentioned breath control as a method for preempting that sparked that memory in my head and I thank you a lot for that Truly a fantastic article!

Marcin Kantorski
Marcin Kantorski

January 17, 2019

Interesting read, hats off for having the courage to tackle such a difficult topic

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