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By Ren Anderson
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.
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.
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.
This is a description of how you can use coping skills with cannabis to refocus and ground yourself from mentally paralyzed to productive again.
After taking a vested interest in improving your cannabis medications, and really paying attention in talk therapy you can recover considerably.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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