Let me preface this by emphasizing that if you suffer from PTSD, or severe anxiety, go see your doctor.
That should be your first stop. I am by no means an expert but I just want to share how I have handled my bouts with Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
I am a normal guy. I grew up in a small town in New England where the biggest worry was if the snow plows would beat the school busses on the morning of a large blizzard. There was little to no violent crimes, great schools, hardworking farmers and a general sense of wellness almost everywhere you looked.
Actually, I went to my hometown University and played 2 years of D1 sports. Life was grand. I was a hard working student maintaining a part time waiting gig, while playing sports in college and still getting decent grades.
After college, I volunteered for the army. It’s here I made best friends, learned a tremendous amount about the real world, served proudly and also unfortunately developed what’s known as PTSD. During my service I was a heavy machine gun operator in an infantry brigade, I was deployed and fought in the Middle East. It was 2006.
We had many close calls. We participated in prolonged periods of dangerous and stressful activity and it affected us all in different ways. Personally, I hated the war and the intensity of everything surrounding it. But I didn’t surrender, or search for a way out, because I was loyal to the guy serving alongside me. It was more of a guilty conscious than anything. But I made it.
When I finally hung up the boots and was honorably discharged, I was ready for the real world outside the army. Little did I know that my “anxiety attacks”, or what I can now self-prescribe at PTSD, would start to kick in and take control of my life in small but debilitating manner.
The loud and constant humming noise of an airplane engine on an EL Al flight from Tel Aviv to Los Angeles kicked it off.
It reminded me of the drones that would cover our positions when we fought the insurgents. Flying high overhead, constantly buzzing, letting us (and the enemy) know that the air force was monitoring our sector at all times. When the buzzing would stop, the mortars would begin. Our enemy knew that they had a short window of time to fire hell down on us when and if the drone would switch courses. It was real fear. I didn’t matter if you were a super commando or innocent civilian in the wrong place at the wrong time, because when they rained down on your area, they were indiscriminate. And the noise of mortars is ten times as bad as they make it sound in the best of Hollywood.
As a civilian, I was now travelling regularly transatlantic since landing my first real high-tech job. I remember being very ‘spooked; the first time the stress took over my body and mind. It kept me awake for hours. My PTSD, or anxiety attacks were preventing me from sleep I would ware myself out with every possible bad memory running through my mind as I lie in bed awake. It would last two or three nights in a row, following the return from a business trip. After a year or so, I decided with my wife that I needed to get medical help.
My physician was sympathetic, and quick to agree with my self-diagnosis. Even quicker to give me Xanax to take “as needed” when I couldn’t sleep.
The first few times, it worked like a charm. I would take one on the flight outbound, and one returning home. I would sleep 9-10 hours effortlessly and not even recognize that I was a puddle of mush while inebriated. I could have lengthy conversations before passing out and eventually forgetting almost all I had heard and said. There were literally incidents when I would re-introduce myself to the guy sitting next to me on the plane as we would be beginning are descent following 16 hour flight. That was embarrassing. The Xanax would literally cause me to black out. Forget about how it would be make me feel the next few days; antsy, sweaty palmed, nervous, no appetite and oh wait, in withdrawal. The benzodiapans the doctor had given me were hardcore narcotics. It took me a while to conclude that they were actually doing me more harm than good. I was now also fighting the temptation of taking them for fun, or more regularly, because I knew how slippery of a slope that was.
I did a little research and realized that there were alternatives to taking the Xanax. Some veteran’s forums actually recommend low oral dosages of cannabis before bedtime when the blood levels in the body are as stable as possible. This was perfect for me. Especially since "sleep time" was the time when the PTSD was at its' was worst. My real goal was not to entirely mask the anxiety or PTSD attacks when they would occur, but rather ease the destruction of reaction to PTSD. Not a one-time event, but every night before sleep. It was actually "recommend" to use moderate portions of cannabis vapors prior to an inevitable exposure (right before bed). So a mellow hit or two after showering and before getting in to bed, was like the equivalent of eating ½ a pill. I was calm (not too stoned) and ready to sleep. The side effect in the morning was cotton mouth, and nothing more. No sweaty palms and uneasy feeling. I was already on the right path.
The funny thing, I remember as a college student sometimes going overboard with smoking and actually developing sense of paranoia. But now, I was actually using cannabis to help calm me down and prevent me from going to an anxiety riddled spot. If only I had the options to choose from when my first attacks first began. I should thank god, but in actually I should thank a few states legislatures for the progressive stance they had on medicinal and recreational use of cannabis. It literally saved me. I have since discarded entirely the bottle of pills and to be honest, I told my physician what worked and what didn’t. She wasn’t too quick to support decision (but off the record she told me this was just because of the state she lived in and she didn’t want any ramifications that could affect her livelihood and health insurance carrier.)
There is still a lot of research to be conducted on how to best maximize the usage of cannabis to treat PTSD. For me, I can say that it has worked successfully as my attacks are much less intense and also I am not taking any synthetic, addictive substances to combat them. I am so glad that I don’t need the Xanax in my travel kit any further. My only frustration is that my vapor pen is not allowed to be used on the plane, but there are oil capsules which work just as well.
Let me re-iterate to everyone reading this article. IF you, or someone you know is suffering from PTSD, help them recognize they have a problem and there are medical professionals who can help. Suggest the cannabis route if they live in a state where that option exists. To date it has worked for me, and if I can help at least one person by publishing my story then it will serve its point.
Finally, Congress and the Presdent are set to clear cannabis for PTSD veterans on a federal level. Both the house and senate have approved the use of cannabis for veterans and they are working through Veterans Administraion to get it cleared on all fronts for medical treatment and health coverages. You can read the story here.