Medical Marijuana Can Help Veterans Battle PTSD

A container of medical marijuana displayed in Los Angeles, California.

A container of medical marijuana displayed in Los Angeles, California.

Imagine waking up in a cold sweat, ears still ringing from an all-too-familiar nightmare. It’s been years — or perhaps decades — since you’ve seen combat, yet the unsettling memories continue to haunt your dreams nearly every single night.

This is what life is like for countless American veterans who are living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and, unfortunately, night terrors are just one of the many unpleasant symptoms they experience. You can add depression, anxiety, emotional numbness, insomnia, and flashbacks to the list.

It’s safe (and sad) to say that PTSD has become an epidemic in our country. One study estimates that more than 20 percent of the soldiers who saw combat in Afghanistan and Iraq currently suffer from the disorder — and, according to another, more than 200,000veterans from the Vietnam War do as well.

With the rate of service-related PTSD diagnoses growing rapidly, it’s in our country’s best interest to ensure these servicemen and servicewomen — ones who swore to protect our flag at all costs — have access to the best possible medical treatment.

Examining Today’s Treatment Options

Doctors typically deploy a combination of pharmaceuticals and clinical therapy to quell the many symptoms of PTSD, and for the most part, these options offer at least some level of relief.

But they’re certainly not perfect.

Antidepressants such as Zoloft and Paxil, benzodiazepines such as Xanax, and sleep aids such as Prazosin come with long lists of well-documented risks and side effects. Benzodiazepines, for example, have a high potential for abuse and cause unpleasantwithdrawal symptoms if the patient elects to stop taking them, while Prazosin is known to cause headaches, drowsiness, and nausea.

Ultimately, these medications may help dull the pains of PTSD, but they also cause a series of other issues that require additional medication to address. And, to top it off, even when these pills are paired with talk therapy, more than 60 percent of patients continue to maintain a PTSD diagnosis.

Our country’s veterans deserve better.

What Does Tomorrow Hold?

As veterans continue to search for something better, many of them are beginning to turn to medical marijuana (MMJ). This natural plant offers them just as much relief as the many pills they’ve been taking — without the debilitating side effects.

Thanks to a recent decision by the Drug Enforcement Administration, medical trials are underway to prove the validity of MMJ as a treatment for PTSD. Currently, just six states allow citizens suffering from the disorder to obtain an MMJ card, so there’s still much room to grow.

But the few lucky veterans who do have access to MMJ are reaping the following perks:

  1. MMJ is versatile and fast-acting. MMJ patients have amazing flexibility in both the type of medicine they take and how they take it. There are hundreds upon hundreds of different cannabis strains to choose from, each possessing unique medical benefits. Further, users are in complete control of their dosage — they can opt to smoke, ingest, or topically apply as much or as little as they want.In addition, MMJ has no on-ramp or off-ramp. Antidepressants take several weeks to kick in, cause tons of side effects, and require a long period of tapering if the patient decides to stop taking them or switch medications. MMJ patients, on the other hand, can start and stop as they please without any noteworthy repercussions.
  2. With MMJ, there’s less addiction and withdrawal. As noted above, many of the traditional medications used to treat PTSD pose a serious addiction risk and cause unbearable withdrawal symptoms when users stop taking them. It’s somewhat of a lose-lose situation: You’re addicted to a medication that causes a long list of side effects, or you’re subjecting yourself to several weeks (or months) of withdrawals to get off of it.Conversely, with MMJ, there’s far less risk for physical addiction and withdrawal, leading to a much safer — and more enjoyable — user experience. In fact, medical cannabis is actually being prescribed by some doctors to help patients overcomeaddiction — seeing a 75 percent success rate when doing so.
  3. MMJ is an affordable trauma treatment. Pharmaceutical drugs are flat-out expensive. After diagnosing a soldier with PTSD, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs spends an average of $8,300 on the first year of his or her treatment. MMJ, on the other hand, is significantly more affordable.One gram of MMJ flower — which could last more than a week for a before-bedtime user — costs as little as $5 to purchase. Imagine how much money the federal government — and our veterans — could save by replacing its reliance on dangerous pharmaceuticals with MMJ.

The medical and financial benefits are clear, and the momentum is building. Now, there’s only one thing left to do: Give each and every one of our beloved veterans the green light to make MMJ their primary PTSD treatment.

Providing every possible path to PTSD relief is the least our country can do to thank its servicemen and servicewomen for their sacrifice.

Faisal Ansari is the co-founder of MMJRecs, a telemedicine platform in the medical marijuana industry. As a former cancer patient who has reaped the medicinal benefits of marijuana, Faisal co-founded MMJRecs to help others connect to doctors with convenience and ease. He’s a University of Miami graduate with a degree in finance. Faisal owns College Hunks Hauling Junk franchises in Orlando and Tampa, Florida. He is trilingual and speaks English, Portuguese, and Spanish.