In the United States, approximately one in five women have been raped and 50% have experienced some other form of sexually-related assault. In Canada, a woman is raped every minute. Sexual assault can happen to both men and women (although, in general, the vast majority of reported sexual assaults happen to females). In almost ALL cases, however, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is often the long-term consequence.
Sexual assault-related PTSD can last a lifetime, with dire consequences for both the mind and the body if left untreated. But are mind-numbing drugs and years of therapy the only answer for relief? Anecdotal evidence, as well as medical research, is pointing towards cannabis as being a powerfully effective modality for helping to heal sexual assault-related PTSD naturally.
Drugs often prescribed for PTSD come with a heavy toxic load and nasty side effects.
Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Valium, Flumazenil, Clonidine…the list of anti-psychotic and anti-depressive drugs typically prescribed to sufferers of PTSD of any kind goes on and on. Meanwhile, the short and long-term term-side effects of taking just one of them is enough to make a person think twice: everything from severe drowsiness to tremors to higher risks of certain cancers, such as leukemia and organ failure. Many PTSD sufferers, including those diagnosed with sexual assault related PTSD, are often prescribed more than one med at a time, creating a contra-indication nightmare.
Back in May, UPG interviewed Iraq-war veteran and cannabis advocate/researcher Matthew Kahl, who admitted to using over a dozen prescription medications at once for his war-induced PTSD symptoms. Kahl is currently working in support of Sue Sisley, MD and the first-ever DEA-approved clinical trial to test the effectiveness of smoked marijuana for veterans suffering from PTSD, set to begin in August 2016.
“After the war experience, I spent a lot of time on those medications and my life got worse and worse to the point where my liver and my kidney started failing,” said Kahl. “…From time to time, I have been prescribed everything on the face of the planet. Sometimes I didn’t even know why they were prescribing [them] but I was just trying to do what I was told.”
Cannabis and Sexual Assault-Related PTSD
On the other hand, if left untreated in any way, PTSD can not only damage a person’s quality of life, it can actually lead to physical disease. Here is where cannabis may be able to help. Cannabis helps to balance the endo-cannabinoid system and this rebalancing creates a cascade effect in which healing on a cellular level occurs in all other systems connected to it. Where sexual assault related PTSD is concerned, here is what research shows for sure:
In the vast majority of individuals who have been victims of sexual assault, studies have shown that there is a lasting “dysregulation” in what is called the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis as a result of the trauma.
The HPA axis is a vital part of the endocrine system that is responsible for the release of stress hormones, in particular the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is released by the HPA axis when it is stimulated by another hormone called CRH, or Corticotopin Releasing Hormone. Research indicates that as a result of intense psychological trauma such as sexual abuse or rape, the body responds by increasing levels of CRH (and, in turn, cortisol) overall.
The long-term overproduction of cortisol caused by PTSD can have devastating physical effects on all body systems. Being in constant “flight or fight” mode can affect a person’s quality of life mentally, emotionally and socially, leading to other conditions such as mild or major depressive disorders and even memory loss. PTSD-induced cortisol depletion can also cause hormone imbalances and infertility in woman as well as immune deficiencies and the development of chronic degenerative disease. Studies have linked PTSD to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, gastrointestinal disease, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and a host of other conditions.
Cannabis has been found to have an effect on the HPA axis.
In particular, studies with laboratory animals have found that cannabis use helps to balance the HPA axis in those suffering from fibromyalgia, a disease condition related to PTSD. According to a 2002 study conducted by John Hopkins University, while a high marijuana dose led to a ramping up of cortisol response, moderate and regular use led to adjustments in CRH release which resulted in the leveling out of cortisol levels. Other studies have shown marijuana’s effectiveness on digestive disorders such as IBS and insomnia, both also related to PTSD.
According to Kahl, the challenge of PTSD from a biological perspective is that not only does emotional trauma set the endocrine system out of whack in the form of too much cortisol, but there is also a regression in the endo-cannabinoid system as well.
“PTSD research has shown that there is actually a dysfunction within your amygdala, the structure in the brain that is responsible for fear and aggression,” says Kahl. “And the problem is that there is (also) a massive regression in the endo-cannabinoid system as well. So you have a situation where you have an endo-cannabinoid system in decline and the only way to stimulate it is to give it cannabinoids from outside the body, mainly from the cannabis plant.”
Perhaps the best evidence as to the effectiveness of cannabis for sexual assault-related PTSD are the personal stories of hundreds of women who have found relief from both mental and physiological pain through its use. As sexual assault victim “Rebecca” said in a recent interview for Merryjane.com:
“Without cannabis, I feel like a raw nerve on this subject. I can be thrown into a bad state easily. But when I use cannabis, I find that it allows me to slow down my thinking…and look at things more objectively….It is a massive relief to get out of that desperate mode where I feel that there is assault lurking around every corner. Cannabis is the only thing I have ever found to be effective in doing this. It offers me perspective that I don’t think I would ever achieve without it.”
What You Can Do If You Have Been Sexually Assaulted.
- Safety first. Right after an assault, be sure to get to a safe place and reach out to someone you trust. If no one is available, contact a national hotline like the U.S. Office for Victims of Crime or a sexual assault hotline in your local area. Also, know that it is okay to talk to a counselor BEFORE being physically examined. Physical examination after an assault can be a traumatizing experience in itself. One study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders found that 81% of assault victims who visited a counselor or watched a video describing what would happen during an impending forensic rape exam before the procedure felt considerably less stress after the exam was over. The researchers speculated that this alone could possibly reduce the development of PTSD symptoms in the future.
- Put together a long-term plan for healing. Get the support you need SOONER rather than later. Also, consider other options before you decide on prescription drugs for PTSD. More and more evidence exists for how cannabis can help but often healing naturally comes through the use of a variety of targeted approaches. Assault can affect you on all levels: emotionally, mentally, physically, even spiritually. Cannabis is a great tool for biological and mental support. Also consider other modalities, such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in conjunction with cannabis. Several studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of EFT for PTSD and one study found that fertility was restored in PTSD women through the use of CBT.
- Understand that it may be a long road to healing and any emotions you have along the way are okay. Guilt, shame, anger, frustration and loneliness are all natural along the path towards healing from sexual assault. Be gentle with yourself and your body and know that you CAN heal from sexual assault-related PTSD naturally!
Thinking About Trying Cannabis for Sexual Assault-Related PTSD? We Can Help.
If you are considering using cannabis for sexual assault-related PTSD, be sure to consult with a medical professional in the cannabis industry. Starting out slowly and monitor your side effects, including anxiety, which may indicate too much of a certain strain or dosage. Conservative doses in the morning to stabilize blood levels and in the evening to improve sleep may be effective, according to experts. If anxiety when using cannabis is a concern for you, consider using a strain with very low levels of THC or a strain that contains the THC-V or THC-A molecule instead of THC. You can also contact the staff at United Patients Group for additional help and advice.