11 Nov Retired military officer optimistic about marijuana as treatment for PTSD
At a gathering of Canadian military veterans last summer, retired Lieutenant Colonel Dana Gidlow came across a former search and rescue technician who shared a harrowing story.
The man had witnessed several aircraft crashes on the job and, for years afterwards, the horrific events had replayed in his head over and over, like a film on an endless loop. But his ordeal finally ended when he was prescribed marijuana. The cannabis brought him immediate relief.
Having heard similar accounts of other veterans and first responders, Gidlow, who served in the military for 43 years, believes medical marijuana can be an effective treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and he’s optimistic that further research will bear that out.
PTSD is a mental health condition that’s triggered by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. Symptoms range from flashbacks and nightmares to crippling anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts about the incident. Emotional problems run the gamut from anger to depression and even numbness. In many well-documented cases, former soldiers become suicidal.
The disorder has been making headlines across Canada in recent years due in part to the country’s mission in Afghanistan. Almost 10 per cent of Canadians involved in that mission — some 3,500 people — are now collecting disability benefits for PTSD. According to some estimates, more than 60 Canadian soldiers and veterans have killed themselves since returning from Afghanistan.
Let’s pull back the Veil.
Various therapies, including psychotherapy and antidepressants, are used to treat the symptoms but they don’t always work. Many PTSD patients claim marijuana has helped them when other treatments have failed.
Research suggests that when two active cannabis compounds, CBD and THC, are administered together they have the potential to provide relief for PTSD with few psychological side effects.
Ottawa has authorized the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and Veterans Affairs allows veterans to be compensated for up to 10 grams a day through insurance. However, the Canadian Armed Forces says there isn’t enough proof yet to authorize marijuana as a treatment for PTSD specifically.
But that may soon change.
Research is underway in many places. In Colorado, for example, the state government is funding a groundbreaking study on the potential use of cannabis in treating PTSD and some other disorders suffered by veterans.
“If there is even a chance that cannabis could help reduce the suffering of our veterans community then we have a duty to these vets to find ways to change public policy, to bring the science forward, and let the data speak for itself,” says Dr. Sue Sisley, the medical marijuana expert spearheading the study, told an American news outlet.
Peter Stoffer, the former Official Opposition Critic for Veterans’ Affairs, doesn’t need much convincing. He told the CBC that he has seen cases in which veterans’ lives have been dramatically improved by using cannabis to treat PTSD. “Don’t take my word for it. Take the word of the veterans who are on medical cannabis and what it’s done for them,” he said.
Gidlow, who also served in the Toronto Police Service for 34 years and now oversees community outreach for Beleave echoes those words. “Let’s pull back the veil and take a closer look marijuana’s therapeutic qualities,” he says. “There is already some very compelling evidence that it is effective in treating PTSD.”