4 Benefits of Marijuana for Veterans with PTSD

by Scott Mollette

Military veterans from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The numbers are sketchy since PTSD is not always diagnosed until many years subsequent to a harrowing or life-threatening event. Nevertheless, the Veterans Administration estimates that PTSD affects up to 20% of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans, somewhere between 10-12% of Gulf War veterans, and close to 30% of Vietnam War veterans. With the prevalence continuing to rise as wars rage on and veterans seek treatment for the anxiety disorder, some professionals within the medical community have recognized the benefits of marijuana for treating those who suffer from PTSD. What follows are 4 essential benefits of marijuana for veterans living with PTSD.

•    One medication versus many. Psychiatrists treat vets with up to a half-dozen medications at a time dependent on their lingering symptoms. While antidepressants and various sleep aids cause some vets to feel like zombies, marijuana alone is able to treat the entire gamut of PTSD symptoms thus eliminating the need for multiple medications, especially opioids. The latter are responsible for twice the number of deaths among veterans as the national average. Marijuana is clearly an alternative to addictive opioids and other medications that induce a state of relative stupor.

•    Marijuana manages sleep disorders. Many veterans report sleep problems such as trouble falling asleep or remaining asleep throughout the night. Recurrent nightmares are also part and parcel of PTSD. Although research is lacking concerning the long-term effectiveness of treating sleep problems among PTSD sufferers, vets have a higher incidence of marijuana use which they claim helps them overcome their sleep difficulties. Many vets also claim that marijuana use before bedtime allowed them to kick a far more insidious and dangerous alcohol habit that formerly helped them sleep.

•    Improved coping ability. Research conducted in 2009 found up to a 75% reduction in symptoms among veterans with PTSD. Vets in the New Mexico observational study conducted by Dr. George Greer, along with psychiatry experts Dr. Charles Grob and Dr. Adam Halberstadt, showed promising results. Despite weaknesses in the study’s overall design, the researchers assert that previous research offers support to their findings. The specialists refer to a small study conducted in Israel that involved 29 combat veterans with PTSD. The researchers concluded there was a 50% reduction in PTSD scores after 4 to 11 months of medical marijuana treatment. In the New Mexico study, vets stated that marijuana usage helped them with their coping abilities, sleep and diminished their arousal symptoms. While scholars have cast a doubtful eye on the study since it was anecdotal based, it is nevertheless reasonable to trust veterans proffering their opinion as to how pot has diminished their anger and turned their lives around.

•    Rage reduction. Myriad anecdotal accounts by vets suggest that marijuana reduces their rage, a common symptom of PTSD. Clinical studies have yet to provide statistical proof but research, severely limited by politics, is ongoing. At this juncture, the only association with marijuana and violence stems from withdraw symptoms in heavy users.

During the summer of 2016, both the House and Senate overwhelmingly voted to offer an amendment to the 2017 Military Construction Appropriations Bill. President Obama is expected to sign the legislation before he leaves office. In the interim, veterans seeking to use marijuana medically to treat their symptoms of PTSD should consult with their physician at the VA and/or private doctors. Scant scientific evidence supports marijuana use for treating veterans with PTSD; however, anecdotal evidence remains overwhelming and awe-inspiring.