“PTSD is like a virus. It infects you. It infects your kids, your friends, your family. It slowly eats away at your stability, your sleep, your ability to be happy.” –Jack Moran, The Veterans’ PTSD project1
This is the battle that people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) face every day. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates a lifetime prevalence of PTSD in 6.8% of Americans, with about half receiving treatment.2 There is not one prevailing treatment, but rather a range of options from medication to psychotherapy. Now the country is considering adding a more controversial treatment for PTSD: marijuana.
That’s right –cannabis. Just yesterday in my home state of Oregon, The Senate Health Committee approved a bill 4-1 that would add PTSD patients to the list of qualifiers for medical marijuana.
Proponents for the bill argue that controlled marijuana use can increase the quality of life for persons with PTSD. With little research on marijuana and PTSD specifically, those for the bill reference a birth of anecdotal evidence, specifically from New Mexico, where PTSD patients are eligible for the state’s medical marijuana program.3
Looking into New Mexico’s program, NPR interviewed some of its members who received subscriptions with a PTSD diagnosis. One such couple was veteran Paul Culkin and his wife Victoria, who credit marijuana with saving their marriage.
“‘He’s a different person. He’s a better person. He’s more open. He’s more communicative,’” wife Victoria explains. “‘At one point, we almost got a divorce, and I can honestly say that I think medical cannabis saved our marriage and our family.””4
Despite such testimony, medical experts explain the need for more research before allowing cannabis as a treatment. Current research is controversial. Some research, such as an Israeli study by Dr. Ganon-Elazar and Dr. Akirav founds that if given in a certain window of time, rats given cannabis had decreased symptoms to the rat equivalent of PTSD.5 Other research suggests that cannabis use causes temporary impairment and that prolonged use can result in dependency and psychosis.6
The U.S. government continues to quibble over what research to allow. Dr. Sisley from the University of Arizona developed a triple-blind placebo-controlled study but is stuck waiting for authorization. “I can’t help but think they simply don’t want to move forward,” she complains. As for the political motives in the field, she wants nothing to do with it. Dr. Sisley explains that she and fellow researchers “just want to do real research, or read real research, and not operate around all of these agendas.”7
The controversy and lack of progress puts legislators in a bind. Some advocate for moving forward unless evidence against treatment is presented. Others propose waiting for more research. The dissenting voice in Oregon’s Senate Committee doesn’t argue against marijuana, but rather that medical marijuana programs should change their approach. I tend to agree with him and Dr. Steiner Hayward: “If we’re treating it like medicine, we should treat it like a medicine and we should have ongoing medical care.”8