According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects roughly seven percent of adults in the United States during their lifetime. The neurological disorder can arise in a patient who has experienced or witnessed “a shocking, scary, or dangerous event,” and is fairly common among military service men and women who have served their country in times of war.
The percentage of Veterans with PTSD by war:
- Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF): About 11-20 out of every 100 Veterans (or between 11-20 percent) who served in OIF or OEF have PTSD in a given year.
- Gulf War (Desert Storm): About 12 out of every 100 Gulf War Veterans (or 12 percent) have PTSD in a given year.
- Vietnam War: About 15 out of every 100 Vietnam Veterans (or 15 percent) were currently diagnosed with PTSD at the time of the most recent study in the late 1980s, the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (NVVRS). It is estimated that about 30 out of every 100 (or 30 percent) of Vietnam Veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime.
PTSD is a life-altering condition for some, as certain situations, sounds, light patterns, and other stimuli may trigger traumatic emotions for the patient, including terrifying flashbacks and nightmares. People suffering from PTSD tend to avoid personal trigger points, which can eventually lead to isolation and furthering feelings of depression and anxiety.
Although half of the states in this country will recognize PTSD as a qualifying condition for a medical marijuana doctor’s recommendation, some recent “findings” have tried to discredit the plant’s efficacy in PTSD therapy.
The most recent issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine journal published the results of two related studies, both of which call into question the effectiveness of cannabis in treating both chronic pain and symptoms of PTSD. Both of the studies were funded by the United States Department of Veteran Affairs, which provides crucial healthcare services for both veterans of the United States Armed Forces as well as their dependents.
One of the studies focused on whether medical marijuana would help or hurt a patient suffering from PTSD. While many headlines were quick to point out that the study found no real evidence of cannabis working to ease the symptoms of PTSD, the researchers actually admitted that it found little evidence of cannabis causing harm to the patient as well. In fact, the conclusion was that there wasn’t even enough evidence to draw a true conclusion, and any findings that did come from the study have a medium-to-high risk of bias.
The other study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine had a much broader scope and aimed to review 27 different completed trials of cannabis for chronic pain. This study found that “limited evidence suggests that cannabis may alleviate neuropathic pain in some patients.”
The Veteran Affairs (VA) has been notoriously slow to adopt medical marijuana as an alternative to more harmful pharmaceuticals, and just last month Republican lawmakers stood in the way of a bill that would have granted veterans “equal access” to medical marijuana in states where medical marijuana is already legal. Because cannabis is still prohibited under federal law, VA doctors are forbidden from recommending it to veterans or their dependents — even if it’s legal in the patient’s state and the doctor thinks it would be effective.
One major obstacle on the path to expanded medical marijuana access is the lack of scientific data available to declare cannabis as a suitable replacement for other more established pharmaceutical drugs. However, it is lawmakers and their band of lobbyists that stand in the way of that very research, as it is extremely difficult to conduct government-approved research on a substance listed as Schedule I on the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
But that doesn’t mean the government is opposed to exploring other experimental avenues of treatment regardless of the drug’s CSA status.
According to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted “Breakthrough Therapy Designation” to MDMA — the psychoactive drug commonly referred to as ecstasy — for the purpose of treating PTSD, moving the drug into Phase 3 trials. This special designation will speed up the trial process and ensure that Phase 3 is conducted swiftly. MAPS and the FDA have been working in conjunction to develop a Phase 3 trial of the Schedule I substance, including collaborating on the “design, primary endpoint, and statistical approach” of the research.
The trials will explore the effectiveness of MDMA in roughly 200-300 patients over the age of 18 suffering from what is considered “severe PTSD.” Participants will be placed in two random groups, one of which will undergo three day-long MDMA sessions to complement their psychotherapy, while the other group will be issued a placebo drug instead of MDMA.
In the previous Phase 2 trials, 61 percent of the over 100 participants in the study who underwent the three MDMA session reported an end to their PTSD symptoms at their two-month follow-up appointment. After one year, 68 percent of the study’s volunteer were PTSD-free. Participants in Phase 2 had been struggling with PTSD for an average of nearly 18 years prior to the trials.
Aside from MDMA, psilocybin (the psychedelic component of “magic” mushrooms) has also seen recent progress as an alternative treatment for mental illness.
Dr. Charles Grob, a UCLA psychiatrist and researcher, studies the effectiveness of substances like psilocybin in the treatment of mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and more — especially in patients suffering from life-threatening diseases like cancer. Approved by the FDA, Dr. Grob’s research has shown tremendous promise. The double-blind study involved 92 participants, all of whom were given either the psilocybin or a placebo on random days throughout the trial. Each of the 92 patients experienced “statistically significant improvements with enduring positive effects for months after the single psilocybin treatment sessions ended.” Phase 3 of the study is expected to begin before the end of the year.
The psychedelic mushrooms, also listed as Schedule I on the CSA, may see significant legal reform in the state of California if one mayoral candidate has his way.
Kevin Saunders, running for Mayor of Marina, California, has proposed a ballot measure that would decriminalize psilocybin for adults over 21-years-old. Saunders claimed the mushrooms helped him kick his heroin addiction 15 years ago. At least 365,880 verified signatures in support of the measure would need to be collected before it could appear on California’s 2018 ballot.
“I think we’re seeing something that could literally heal our brothers and sisters,” Saunders said. “We’re talking about real cutting-edge stuff.”
While it is extremely encouraging that the federal government would turn a blind eye to the Controlled Substances Act and decades of failed War on Drugs propaganda to expedite the healing of a massive population of suffering Americans, why stop with the psychedelics? What, besides contributions from industries like Big Alcohol, Tobacco, and Pharma, would be stopping the FDA from affording cannabis the same chance as psilocybin and MDMA to prove its efficacy in healing the sick?
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