Despite mountains of anecdotal evidence pointing to serious therapeutic benefits, there’s little hard data on cannabis as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But after a decade-long battle between researchers and the DEA, the first-ever randomized controlled study of the efficacy of cannabis for military veterans with PTSD is currently underway, with cannabis supplied by the US government and an FDA-approved research protocol.
PTSD among US combat veterans has been at epidemic levels since the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, with shockingly high rates of chemical dependence and suicide as a result. The promise of cannabis as a potential treatment has spurred even the typically conservative Veterans of Foreign Wars to lobby for research, while groups like the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance in California have taken matters into their own hands, forming a collective where veterans grow and distribute medical cannabis among themselves.
But according to the National Center for PTSD, the condition affects about 8 million American adults at any given time, and the vast majority are not veterans. Women are actually more likely to suffer from PTSD than men due to the prevalence of sexual assault as a cause of trauma.
“The stigma people face as both survivors of sexual trauma and as cannabis consumers can leave them feeling isolated, marginalized, and shamed.”
“There’s been a good deal of attention paid to cannabis for combat vets with PTSD over the last five years, which is great, and has taught us a lot while spurring more research,” Melanie Nakashian says. “But there’s also been a big missing part of the conversation. And in the meantime, the stigma people face as both survivors of sexual trauma and as cannabis consumers can leave them feeling isolated, marginalized, and shamed.”
That’s why Nakashian—herself a survivor of sexual assault and abuse—created the online forum Survivors for Cannabis last year to spur discussion, including an Instagram page where people of all genders, orientations, ages, and ethnicities can share their stories.
“My friends and I get together and talk about our trauma over a blunt,” Amna Hussein’s personal account begins. “Cannabis makes me not hate talking about it… And the sisterhood, the bonding that’s built there, the love and empathy that people feel for each other in those moments is amazing. It’s why cannabis and surviving can work so well together.”
Hussein is a Washington DC-based activist working to making cannabis more accessible to marginalized people. In an interview posted to Survivors for Cannabis, Hussein described how as a non-binary, queer, and Muslim first-generation Sudanese-American and womanist, the cannabis community can sometimes feel intimidating and exclusionary.
“Survivors for Cannabis has expanded the discussions being had in the cannabis arena,” Hussein explains. “This community has given me peace of mind in knowing that there’s a place where I’m not an anomaly and who I am is valid.”
That sense of public validation is especially important for survivors who live in places without legal access to the plant. Including Nakashian—the driving force behind Survivors for Cannabis—who stresses she’s not an expert, and says that the community is just beginning to grapple with issues like how to get the optimal benefit from cannabis, how to minimize the risks, and how to speak out on this issue. Local chapters are also sprouting up as they seek to take this discussion beyond the internet.
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