It's been estimated that 2.5 million adult Canadians have suffered from PTSD, of which approximately 8% are members of the military. Those grappling with post traumatic stress face significant challenges affecting relationships, education, careers and overall health.
According McMaster University's brief on cannabis research, cannabinoids are believed to help modulate the release of certain neurotransmitters involved in mood and memory. Although there's still a lack of conclusive research, animal studies have shown that cannabinoids may prevent stress from interfering with emotional functionality and memory. It's been hypothesized that the plant can facilitate the extinction of fear responses with its anti-anxiety properties.
In light of Remembrance Day, we wanted to share a personal account of bravery and healing. Meet Dawn Atkinson, wife of a Canadian veteran and manager at CannaConnect. The organization is best known for its specialized medical cannabis services for veterans, active military members and their families.
How is cannabis an effective treatment for PTSD?
Given the historic taboos surrounding mental health issues, people with unaddressed PTSD are festering like an unseen open wound. With cannabis, many people are - for the first time - able to address such issues by following a therapy routine. Cannabis therapy paired with psychotherapy and sports therapy contribute to a wellness regimen that's gentle, helping them get back on track towards a new normal.
As the spouse of a veteran, you've witnessed a 20-year progression of post traumatic stress. What have you learned throughout this experience?
It's a slow and silent illness that has no care of gender, colour or nationality. The things we loved doing slowly became impossible. The nightmares would happen more and more. The smallest thing would set my husband off. Finally, one night, it all came to a head. It was another suicide of a soldier, another reminder. But the worst night of our lives opened up a road to healing.
"It wasn't easy, but to see the light back in his eyes convinced me 100% that cannabis therapy is a viable treatment for PTSD."
What did this process entail?
We tried synthetic cannabis first (Nabalone). It just wasn't the same. Then, my husband received his medical license and I started to learn more about the plant. We found strains that worked for him, and for the first time in a while, he slept a solid night. From there came a natural transition from pharmaceutical drugs to different oils and dried flower. I found this purposeful passion because he started to become the person I always remembered and liked. It wasn't easy, but to see the light back in his eyes convinced me 100% that cannabis therapy is a viable treatment for PTSD.
How do you respond to naysayers who believe cannabis could be detrimental?
There will always be naysayers who push back. To them, I say research has come out of Israel for many years, combined with Canadian studies. There's also proof in the veterans who are able to leave their safe places to get back to life, and enjoy a concert or sporting event. That cannot be ignored. Of course, cannabis isn't for everyone. What works for one person's system, may not be right for another. But with more and more CBD options or different dosing methods, it opens so many doors to find the most personalized medicine routine. Overall, we need to ensure people are educated and have the proper support.
What resources would you recommend to veterans interested in exploring cannabis as an alternative treatment?
I always encourage people to open the dialogue with their doctors, even though many have pushed back since they don't fully understand the plant. It's also important to note that most veterans in Canada - if they have a pensionable condition - can qualify for Veterans Affairs coverage for their medical cannabis. Companies like CannaConnect have been supporting veterans since 2015. We ensure they can heal alongside their peers; veteran volunteers working through their own PTSD offer support from first-hand knowledge. Peer-to-peer social media groups, like Green Veterans Canada, also help take the confusion out of cannabis.
As a parting note, what cannabis philosophies can you pass on?
For myself and so many, it's about making sure people have support. We've found that with cannabis therapy and education, we can all learn to boost others to evolve and thrive. Remembrance Day always serves as a reminder to those who wore or still wear the uniform. It's also a day for connecting with veterans by listening to their stories. It's in those stories we learn how to make our system better and more accessible.
For more on CannaConnect, visit their website here, which includes compelling first-hand accounts from Canadian veterans.