PTSD Awareness Month
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, about 6% of the U.S. population will have PTSD at some point in their lifetime.
And that number jumps to 11-20% for U.S. veterans who have served in Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF), 12% for the Gulf War, and 30% for the Vietnam War.
So in the spirit of spreading awareness of PTSD and shedding light on this condition, we're going to cover:
Before proceeding, we want to state that this blog post will deal with many sensitive subjects.
And finally, we also need to tell you that the purpose of this blog post is to spread awareness. It is not meant to substitute medical advice on PTSD or other conditions. The best perspective and advice you can get on PTSD is from a licensed medical professional.
What is PTSD?
PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines PTSD as "an intense physical and emotional response to thoughts and reminders of the [traumatic] event that last for many weeks or months after the traumatic event."
There are many different symptoms of PTSD, and according to Mayo Clinic, some of them include:
- Intrusive, recurrent memories of flashbacks of the traumatic event
- Nightmares about the traumatic event
- Avoidant behavior towards reminders of the traumatic event
- Memory problems
- Negative thoughts about oneself
- Negative thoughts about the world
- Emotional numbness
- A loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Self-destructive behavior/substance abuse disorder
- Difficulty concentrating
- Extreme shame or guilt
- Trouble sleeping
- Being easily startled
- Suicidal feelings
Keep in mind that these aren't the complete set of symptoms of PTSD. Like other mental health problems, PTSD may "look" different from person to person.
And be aware that this is just a list of symptoms. This list is not meant to nor should it be used to diagnose PTSD. That can only be done by a medical professional.
What Causes PTSD?
When it comes to PTSD, there is much that we know, but also things that we do not currently understand.
So let's start with what is known.
PTSD is spurred by a traumatic event, which the CDC defines as an event "marked by a sense of horror, helplessness, serious injury, or the threat of serious injury, or death."
PTSD is most commonly associated with exposure to combat and warzones, but it can also be caused by:
- Serious accidents
- Physical or sexual assault
- Natural disasters
- Witnessing traumatic events, even remotely
- Health problems
- Death of a loved one
Keep in mind that these are just examples. The events that can cause PTSD can go beyond this list.
However, this is only one piece of the puzzle that is PTSD.
So what exactly is going with the brain of someone who has this disorder?
To understand this, we have to discuss the amygdala and prefrontal cortex.
Dr. Matt Hill of the University of Calgary has a great explanation that can be found here, but we'll also touch upon it later when we talk about PTSD and cannabis. But below, we'll provide you with a summary.
When you experience stimuli, that information gets sent to the amygdala.
The amygdala's job is to determine if something is safe or dangerous.
But the amygdala can't do this on its own.
Helping the amygdala do its job is the prefrontal cortex.
This part of the brain is highly developed in humans and handles many complex processes, such as decision-making.
When we encounter stimuli, the amygdala will "ask" the prefrontal cortex, "Hey, see this thing? Have we seen it before? Is it dangerous?"
If the prefrontal cortex "responds' 'with a "Yes, we've seen this before, and it is dangerous," the amygdala activates stress response (like fight or flight, for example) to help you deal with the threat.
In cases of PTSD, the amygdala has difficulty communicating with the prefrontal cortex.
It's essentially left on its own.
And to "play it safe," it has to be overly vigilant, firing off stress responses even when there is no threat of danger.
Remember that this is a basic summary (we are not physicians) of how PTSD works in the brain.
However, not everyone who experiences a traumatic event gets PTSD.
And one of the biggest mysteries is why some people get PTSD and others don't.
PTSD and Veterans
The term "post-traumatic stress disorder" began in the 1970s to diagnose Vietnam veterans.
However, in the past, PTSD was referred to as "shellshock," "combat neurosis," and "war nerves."
A person in a warzone doesn't even have to be directly involved with combat to get PTSD. For example, they may have witnessed something traumatic or heard about something traumatic happening to someone else.
What should also be known is that combat/war is not the only cause of PTSD among veterans.
Military sexual trauma (MST) is another leading cause of PTSD among veterans. It results from sexual harassment and sexual assault while serving in the military. This type of trauma can happen to both men and women.
Among veterans who use VA healthcare, about 23 in 100 women reported sexual assault in the military, and 55 out of 100 women and 38 out of 100 men have reported experiencing sexual harassment in the military.
Other non-combat-related causes of PTSD among veterans can include training accidents, survivor's guilt, or the death of another service member.
PTSD and Cannabis
To preface this section, we need to state that our products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition.
We are just presenting information about cannabis concerning PTSD.
So what is known about PTSD and cannabis?
According to a study referenced in an article by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a 150-person study conducted in December 2020 revealed that participants diagnosed with PTSD who consumed cannabis were 2.5 times more likely to no longer the diagnostic criteria for PTSD after one year than those who did not consume cannabis.
Remember that this is a limited study of 150 participants and only considered those who consumed cannabis vs. those who didn't. But keep into account that the article does not mention if the participants were receiving treatment for PTSD, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), for example.
Another interesting set of findings on cannabis and PTSD is how cannabinoids can affect the amygdala. You can watch the video below to learn more about this topic, but we'll give a quick summary too.
A research group in Chicago did various studies, putting people into a brain scanner and exposing them to images that can promote a threat response for the amygdala.
Some images were of weapons, people with scared expressions on their faces, car accidents, and blood.
Before exposing them to these images, the study gave people tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
So what happened?
As mentioned earlier, when someone has PTSD, their amygdala is constantly going into "stress mode" because the communication with the prefrontal cortex is damaged.
The study showed that the amygdala's response was reduced when participants consumed THC.
And to state it again, these are merely interesting findings found and presented by outside parties. We are in no way, shape, or form stating that our products are intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition.
Nonprofits Helping Veterans in PTSD
Much like other psychiatric disorders, there is no definitive cure for PTSD.
However, with treatment, someone can experience significant improvements, and it is possible for a complete resolution of symptoms.
But still, according to a study by the RAND Center of Military Health Policy Research, less than 50% of returning veterans who need mental health services receive any treatment.
Veterans who need mental health treatment for conditions such as PTSD face many barriers, which can include:
- Awareness of eligibility for services
- Understanding how the VA is organized
- Setting appointments/transportation
- Stigmas and misconceptions around mental health treatment
But fortunately, many amazing organizations help veterans who otherwise couldn't get the treatment they need for PTSD.
Nonprofits That Help Veterans With PTSD
Over the years, we've been fortunate enough to work with organizations that do a wide variety of amazing things for veterans in need, including those with PTSD.
The Disabled American Veterans, for example, provides one-on-one assistance for veterans to help them obtain the benefits they rightfully deserve. They also offer free-of-charge transportation services for veterans needing rides to medical appointments.
And more recently, we had the honor of sponsoring a retreat facilitated by Sacred Warrior Community.
Sacred Warrior Community is an organization that specializes in helping veterans and their family members who have faced mental health problems and trauma. The nonprofit takes a community-based approach to promote full-lifestyle changes while creating support networks among veterans.
These are just some examples of organizations we've worked with and how they help veterans with PTSD. But fortunately, there are organizations like Disabled American Veterans, Sacred Warrior Community, and others taking the initiative to help U.S. veterans.
PTSD is a serious medical condition affecting our veterans, our hometown heroes. It can lead to other complications such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts and actions.
But despite that, there is hope as treatment can significantly improve the lives of people affected by PTSD, and there are organizations helping veterans get past those barriers keeping them from getting the help they need.
There's much more to PTSD than we could ever cover in a blog post. But we hope you were able to learn something new and help shed the stigma of talking about this condition that affects many, from those with PTSD to their friends and family.