Medical Cannabis and PTSD: The Only Genuine Alternative?

Medical Cannabis and PTSD: The Only Genuine Alternative?

The Colorado Springs Gazette published this article in 2014:

Free Cannabis Giveaway[ref]Article in THE COLORADO SPRINGS GAZETTE Sept. 28, 2014 by Stephen Hobbs[/ref]

About 1,000 show up in Colorado Springs for veterans’ marijuana giveaway.

A free cannabis giveaway at a Colorado Springs hotel Saturday attracted about a thousand people looking for an alternative medication for their physical and mental pain.

Roger Martin, the executive director and co-founder of Operation Grow4Vets, which put on the event, said the group’s goal is to bring cannabis to veterans with service-related conditions as an alternative to pain medications.

“It isn’t going to hurt them as much as the prescription drugs,” he said.

Martin, an Army veteran, said he struggled with prescription drug use to help with what he called 
”24-hour” pain and an inability to sleep. “I just need something to take the pain away during the day,” he said.

Martin said he discovered edible marijuana as a way to reduce pain and help him sleep more, and he wants other veterans to have the same chance to address ailments.

Matt Kahl, a former Army specialist who works for Operation Grow4Vets as a director of horticulture, said using marijuana saved his life and reduced his dependency on pain medication.

Kahl said he was injured when serving in Afghanistan when he was thrown from a vehicle, causing a traumatic brain injury and hurting his spine and back. As part of his recovery, Kahl started taking more than a dozen pain medications per month. After a suggestion from a friend, Kahl started using marijuana to help with the pain. Now, he said, he is off all but two of his medications. “It doesn’t make sense that our first line of defense is toxic medication,” Kahl said.

He said marijuana use lessened his symptoms of hyper vigilance and pain, and he moved to Colorado, “I would not be alive without this,” Kahl said.

People who came to the hotel Saturday were given a bag of items that included cannabis oil, an edible chocolate bar and seeds to grow plants…

Our Psych Practice

Our psychology, psychiatry and addiction practice brings us face to face every day with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Adults that were repeatedly traumatized as children or as adults too, often are suffering with undiagnosed PTSD. They are re-traumatized every time they go to another clinician who doesn’t understand PTSD. They are misdiagnosed and labeled with depression, bi-polar disorder, anxiety disorders, or many of the other labels in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatry).

The only difference between symptoms for depression and PTSD is “suicidal ideation.” To diagnose PTSD we don’t have to be suicidal. Clinicians who don’t understand this will label the patient ‘depressed’ and write a prescription for an anti-depressant and send the patient on their way with no real help. Anti-depressant drugs don’t work well and are often toxic. Patient complaints are many and include:

“They don’t work.”

“They worked for a short time and have stopped.”

“I put on 20 pounds.”  We’ve heard 80 pounds!

“I can’t get off these pills.”

“When I complained to my doctor he gave me another prescription to add to what I was already taking. Now I’m on two.”

“I feel numb all the time”[ref]Personal communication, Douglas Bremner, MD: Whitfield, C 2003. The Truth about Depression. Health Communications, Inc. Deerfield Beach, FL[/ref]

If prescribing physicians understood the difference between major depression and PTSD perhaps there wouldn’t be millions of anti-depressants prescribed every year in this country. PTSD responds best with group and individual  psychotherapy, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), and MM as suggested in the article above. The only prescription drug we use in our practice is Buspirone, a mild anti-anxiety drug that is easy to stop. There is essentially no withdrawal. We may add phenytoin (Dilantin) for some with more advanced PTSD.

I refer to PTSD as the “Clenching Disease.” My patients with PTSD agree with this and can feel it. They clench to such a degree that blood supply can be cut to the most vulnerable area of their body. The clenching can appear as headaches because the scalp and even the muscles around the eyes and jaw are tense. Clenching affects the digestive system resulting in reflux and other painful manifestations. Breathing is also disturbed. The diaphragm barely moves and results in shallow breathing and the inability to sigh. And because of this clenched breathing, not enough oxygen gets to the lungs to then be transferred throughout our body. Deep slow breathing and sighing are an important way to blow off stress. When the patient has gotten used to using MM, it is then important to get in touch with how they are breathing. Meditating on the breath every day is important. It is easier to let the chatter in our heads go or at least quiet down when we focus on our breath and our belly. If breathing appropriately, we should feel our belly going up and down as it fills and empties.

Prescription Drugs

When anti-depressants don’t work, unaware physicians will try anti-psychotic drugs that are more powerfully mind numbing and now referred to by some as “a chemical lobotomy.” The family thinks the patient is much better because they aren’t acting out as much. But inside they may feel locked in with nowhere to hide.

It is others and our observations that many of our Vets who come back from war and develop PTSD, were also abused or repeatedly traumatized as children. This primes or conditions them to develop it.

PTSD Case History

A 64-year –old woman who presented with repeated childhood physical and emotional abuse and neglect has been in one of our psychotherapy groups for 3 years. She also had private sessions with me for EFT. She receives massages regularly, meditates daily and exercises most days of the week. She tells us often that she is grateful for the relief she is experiencing through these above 3 years and sometimes sadly mentions that she knows she will never be “normal” like someone who was never abused. The therapy group and she often express an almost constant “fight or flight” sense in their body and inner life. Our groups almost “mantra” on this is “when PTSD raises its ugly head – wake up and name it.” [3]

Someone told her about a new discovery that is a derivative of marijuana called cannabidiol (CBD). It lacks THC (or the amount of THC is minimal), so the component of the plant that produces the “high” (strong psychoactive effects) is not active or not there. CBDs are increasingly being given to treat children that have multiple seizures, commonly with excellent results. It comes in an oily substance that is dropped on or under the tongue once or twice a day. (And can be used more if needed. There is no “over-dosing.)

This patient started taking CBD drops and recently reported at group that she now feels the “normal” that she once thought was unreachable. She no longer feels like she is “walking on egg shells.” She calls it “A missing link” to her recovery.

Our government has conveniently and wisely labeled these CBDs as being a “dietary supplement.” It is far more than that: it is a natural bioactive treatment that works. The bottle says to start out with half a dropper or 15 drops on the tongue. She is taking 5 drops (a quarter of an eye dropper) in the morning and 5 drops in the evening. The least amount that positively affects the patient is usually the best amount. It can be ordered on line.


When I lecture at conferences on spiritual experiences and how integration happens within them, I am often told by therapists and lay people that they themselves or their patients with PTSD are able to transcend their damaged belief systems.

They say they do that by transferring all the energy that they had previously devoted to their suffering, to doing repeated and usually long term safe inner work plus other aids that help them to physically reduce the tension in their bodies, into what eventually becomes a breakthrough into a higher level of consciousness. That inner work can be accomplished by any of several time-proven healing methods (see Chapter Six). We have long seen this in our private practice. By moving into their inner life instead of running away from it, their continuous state of hyper-arousal, anxiety (fear), and isolation becomes an expanded level of consciousness where their memories no longer contain the emotional charge. The can still tell their story, but without the emotional content they once had.

Many people with PTSD who suffer with the defense mechanism of “dissociation” (separation of our attention from the reality of our inner and outer life) learn to have compassion for themselves even though they have been labeled in the old paradigm as “dissociative”.” This trait of dissociating generates shame because they had considered it to be their fault. When they look back or are helped to look back on their traumas they realize that “leaving” the painful scene was a survival oriented gift helping them to temporarily detach from the seemingly life threatening experience. And somewhere in that realization is a new found spirituality that first manifests as compassion for themselves and what happened to them.

It appears as though there is something in the MM that helps them to remember the sense of spirit in them when they left each painful scene. CBD drops (without the “high” of the THC) appear to take away the repeated fear and anxiety underlying dissociation. In this realization, their painful stuck emotional energy transcends to a new felt sense of compassion.

Our patients that come in to see us who are in withdrawal from opiate painkillers or benzodiazepines sometimes report a 7 or 8 on the stress scale. When they take their CBD drops they often report the number dropping to a 1 to 3. And with these excellent result, there are no side or toxic effects then or later.

Barbars Harris’ book The secrets of medicinal marijuana: A guide for patients and those who care for them is available to buy from Amazon now.

Neuropathic Pain

Understanding your Body and its Relationship with Cannabis

Understanding your Body and its Relationship with Cannabis

My first position in health care was in a hospital Emergency room and Intensive Care Unit and then went on to do home care for the dying.

During this time I was published in nursing and respiratory care journals on a subject I coined as “The Emotional Needs of Critical Care Patients.” I was asked to teach on this subject for nursing conferences and hospitals.

Finally, I became a full time psychiatric researcher in the medical school at the University of Connecticut, a position I held for six years. I got to witness and know how this system works.

This past medical model as I have understood and observed it, tends to elevate the opinion of the physician (the expert) automatically putting the patient in a passive role. The patient is forced into “behaving” so they can fulfill expectations.

I sadly observed psychiatry stop teaching psychotherapy and instead suppressing symptoms with drugs and sometimes ECT (electroconvulsive [shock] treatment).

In concert with the pharmaceutical industry there has been a profitable alliance between physicians and drug companies that has blurred boundaries. “Big Pharma” has infiltrated scholarly medical journals, medical conventions, and medical schools. The results continue to suppress any investigation of both 1) what symptoms mean and 2) how to help the patient find a new balance of what “Holistic Health” calls for in body, mind and spirit.

Unfortunately, I have also observed many physicians accept this paradigm of suppressing symptoms with drugs as their norm and not trying to go deeper. They find a suitable name (a “diagnosis”) for people’s problems, try to suppress their symptoms with drugs and believe their job is finished (until the patient comes back with side effects from the drug and is given more drugs to address the side effects of the first one. These “side effects” are nearly always bothersome, sometimes disabling, and may be more accurately termed “Toxic effects.”)

Taking Back Our Power

By contrast, from working in both the recovery movement and holistic health for 23 years, and now watching the introduction of Medicinal Marijuana (MM) – I have seen that within these healing approaches the patient takes responsibility and becomes much more active in their own healing.

By using MM the patients have more choices for how to best work with it, a major choice being to take charge of using it selectively and carefully for their healing.

You may also notice that other prescription drugs for chronic pain are not always as necessary with MM available. At other times the opiate drugs’ dose can be tapered, if you so choose, or used with CBD’s alone. And it helps for tapering other drugs too, like muscle relaxants.

Another positive choice is that we do not deny, repress, drug or ignore our symptoms. Others and I have come to understand that our symptoms are trying to tell us something, as I discovered in my long experience when I was trapped in the body cast. I listened to the various parts of my life. While I was trying to make sense of my predicament I learned that underneath my spinal fractures, magnifying my pain, and not being the only source of it, was my experience of not having lived authentically from and as my Real Self for so long.

Listening to Our Symptoms

Psycho-neuro-endocrinology (PNE) is a field that studies how emotions and behavior interact with hormones and the nervous system. A related discipline adds immunology as psycho-neuro-immunology (PNI) to address the interaction among psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems.

When we combine these with what we have learned from some 120 years of experience in psychodynamic and trauma psychology we can begin to understand how recognizing and addressing unresolved issues can help us to a deeper healing. This understanding shows that underneath common chronic illnesses, there are unconscious trauma effects or wounding that may not be causing the disease or disorder directly, but have weakened our body systems so that wherever we are most vulnerable becomes “out of balance” or “diseased” and makes us potentially “sick.”

In other words, when we are often stressed and some of this is coming from unresolved issues with buried emotions, this wears down our immune and other bodily functions. The weakest link in our organs then starts to break down. By treating this weak organ or system, we may be able to resolve or at least medicate the chronic problem (the drug for every symptom paradigm).

However, if we don’t do some deeper exploration, there might continue to be one health problem after another. We may benefit from going deeper to find the underlying stressors that weaken our body so we can allow these stressors to become conscious and come into a natural balance where our body, mind and spirit can thrive. (the holistic paradigm).

Each one of us is more than a human being. We are each a focal point of consciousness that is becoming conscious of itself. MM helps us if we sit and allow it to show us a more expanded way of seeing.

Points to Take Home

What I am writing about here has to do with the wounding that underlies our too often clouded consciousness that thereby keeps our body, mind and spirit out of balance. For some, using Medicinal Marijuana can help us unlock and balance. This may seem agitating, fearful or scary at first. But in the long run it becomes an attitude of “I want to find out more about what happened and what’s inside me.” This is because there is a substantial emotional, physical and psychological release each time we have a realization that some call an “insight” and when one is in the extreme an “epiphany.”

There are countless clinical scientific reports now that show that most of us have experienced several to many hurts, losses and traumas that have affected our ability to navigate our life as smoothly as we would like.

Doing the kind of work that I am suggesting here with others, I am told, “On the other side of my fear, I found my Authentic Self!”

Used carefully and with appropriate focus, medicinal marijuana can act as a kind of interpreter to help us understand what in our life may benefit from being examined, moved into balance and then healed. Healing comes from accurately naming and working through our unfinished business. We can consider starting by using MM to explore our inner life.

What could my symptoms be about? And how might I heal around them? Can I accept what has happened over my lifetime and consider letting any of it talk to me and then let it go?

Using MM, to start, I imagine what might have caused this symptom or these symptoms. Then I imagine what nurturing changes I may be able to make in my life to facilitate my healing.

Some long-term MM users may already know some of this information. The war on drugs hid the information about using this gift of expanding our consciousness to include 1) helping balance our health and, 2) expanding our awareness by possibly, 3) stimulating openings of our unconscious mind.

If you may have a lingering image of two eggs in a fry pan and a voice saying “This is your brain on drugs!” don’t let it confuse you.

Your brain will not come out ‘sunny side up’ from using MM but your disposition on life may.

With any chronic illness, MM if used in the mindset I am explaining, will help you recognize what is helping you and what is not. It will help you go deep inside if you so choose and from a holistic health standpoint show you what is out of balance and can be changed. Or you also have the choice of just letting MM help you laugh, munch lightly and see the funny side of life that may have been hard for you to experience until now. It can take you out of the misery of your problems and lift your spirits. At the very least, it can help you to be distracted from your misery by lifting your state of consciousness out of your drama.

Santa Maria

MM has had many names over the millennia: pot, grass, weed, Mary Jane, ganja and the name botany and biological science gave it – cannabis. Modern shamans have called it “Santa Maria” because of the spiritual properties that emerge from it when we use it in our prayers and healing intention. I am not referring to Santa Maria as a particular strain, but all strains of MM when prayed over become the essence of her.

Praying over the seed as it is planted, as it grows, when it is harvested and of course when it is inhaled or ingested creates an opening of possibilities.

MM may have more healing applications than any other plant on Earth. But it is not in itself a cure. It is another tool to work with. Responsible use of it by engaging a mind-body relationship, we can open the door to a new and powerful healing that can take our journey to new depths and not just try to simply lessen our symptoms.

We can find a new understanding, a new freedom, a release of guilt or shame (how or why might I have acquired this illness?). During this process we may even find a tender intimacy that wraps us in a blanket of compassion for ourselves and where we are now. In this new relationship, the old stressors melt and we can use all of our energy for even more understanding of what our life may be about and how we can balance our body, mind and spirit.

Barbara Harris’ book The secrets of medicinal marijuana: A guide for patients and those who care for them
is available to buy from Amazon now.

Medical Cannabis

The Secrets of Medical Marijuana: Switching from Pills to Cannabis

The Secrets of Medical Marijuana: Switching from Pills to Cannabis

I personally have experienced Medicinal Cannabis first as a patient and then later as a caregiver, as a respiratory therapist. I suggested it for my patients who were wasting away from the aftereffects of chemotherapy and radiation. I did this even though I knew it was risky for me professionally because I had used it while in a full body cast (armpits to groin and then down one leg).

I weighed 83 pounds and the cast was 30 pounds. My weight loss had come from two years of pain pills and muscle relaxants to treat my pain from a fracture in my spine. The doctors finally realized that these medications were doing nothing to help cure my back pain and then performed a 5 plus hour spinal fusion. Through all of this, I was anorexic. I was in the body cast for almost seven months.

After the surgery and a month in a circle bed in the hospital, my life consisted of waving to my children as they stood in my bedroom doorway and spending my time in bed trying to read. The medications made reading almost impossible and finally about three months into the body cast I disposed of all my pills and started smoking cannabis. Looking back on that moment, it was the beginning of a new life.

Here, at this junction of my recovery is the pivotal truth of why I see the medical benefits of using cannabis selectively and carefully. Opiates took away my appetite. Benzodiazepines as muscle relaxants (Valium, etc) made me so relaxed that I had no need to try and do anything for myself. And the “benzos” require higher and higher doses as my body became tolerant and used to them. I was almost “skin and bones”.

Another interesting fact when I came off the drugs, I realized that I actually didn’t need pain pills. What I needed was a way to cope with my situation. But I was so drugged and psychologically and spiritually numb, I couldn’t reason that out. What I had wanted when I took opiates and benzos was a way to alter my state of consciousness so I could bear the emotional pain and frustration. By using marijuana in a medicinal way, I had that altered state and none of the anorexic side effects of the drugs.

What cannabis does is increases our sensory experiences and it helps us stay in the present moment, often called “The Now.” It touches multiple senses. It can be used with certain music and when used medicinally, can be stronger than anything else to help critically ill people. If guided by someone that understands this, or perhaps the patient knows this naturally – marijuana holds our consciousness, our inner attitudes in a way that we can lift out of our prior drugged state and give us some new choices. It “holds” us this way if we ask it to, if we state this as our intention. Intention, in my experience with myself and countless patients is the key. They may not believe this. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that we have the intention, that we are open to letting it help us.

I immediately started transitioning from a drugged out “turtle” of sorts to a new level of “hyper timelessness” where things were interesting. I wasn’t smoking the super strong buds that are being grown today, but the leaves that gently contained a new peace for me. And I only needed one inhalation that lasted me all day. I had the “set and setting” for one dose which I will go into later in this three part series.

This timeless state that Medical Cannabis kept taking me back to being somewhat confused so I saw a psychiatrist who told me I was depressed and gave me anti-depressants which I knew I didn’t need. I was overwhelmed. I was not depressed. And without all those drugs I had been taking, my mind was clearing and I was realizing that the Medical Cannabis could act as a muscle relaxant. After a few hours of it keeping me in the Now and at the same time, lifting me out of my drama, I then fell back totally relaxed. Some people that are doing this for recreation complain that it drains them but if this is for medicinal purposes, that draining is a gift. So I thought of the marijuana as my muscle relaxant and maybe not at first, but soon it’s relaxation came over me.

After six sessions with the psychiatrist I gave up on him and continued my exploration of my secret inner life. Without the opiates and tranquilizers I now started connecting with the beauty, the sacred and the secrets of this plant and what is deep inside of me.

Somehow with Medical Cannabis, some wisdom took over me so that I stopped the drugs. And my friends who loved me continued to bring me this illegal plant already rolled in paper so all I needed to do was light it and inhale it deeply. I never over did it. One inhale around 2 in the afternoon held me until I drifted off to sleep late in the evening. I could now watch movies (and follow the plot – sometimes), I could read and even started to know I had a future, that this would be over and I could survive and possibly even thrive. I watched everything that was funny, Monte Python, Laurel and Hardy, anything with physical humor and the laughter feed me.

John Craven, MD wrote in his book The Power In Pot: How to Harness the Medicinal Properties of Marijuana in the Management of Clinical and Stress Related Conditions.

“I have read that marijuana is only indicated for those who have ‘not responded well to other forms of treatment’ This in my opinion is complete nonsense – driven entirely by misperceptions and prejudices resulting from its status as an illegal substance used outside the mainstream of medical practice – and denial as to the true risks of many other drugs commonly prescribed today. I believe that time will tell the medicinal marijuana will result in far less risk than many of the psychoactive drugs commonly prescribed today. If anyone can benefit from judicious use of the naturally occurring substance – without resorting to many of the more powerful psychoactive drugs on the market today – both they and their brain will be better for it.”

Dr. Craven then wrote of questioning an emergency room physician who reported that it is common to see people seeking drugs for opiate dependency – or clinical complications secondary to their use of alcohol. On further questioning he reported ‘Never’ seeing complications from cannabis use.

Being trapped in a body cast for 7 months and using Medical Cannabis, I have made my life a search for that unseen level that I found to be my soul. It is the core of who we are and who we will continue to be after our body dies. This part of us that I feel comfortable calling my “Soul,” knows and communicates to my heart that there is a Spirit operating in the Universe which gives meaning and purpose to our life. That Spirit in It’s wisdom gave us the plant kingdom to enjoy, commune with, and help us.

Doesn’t it make sense that our plants have Souls too? And when we take them into our body, our Soul takes in their Soul. How we take them in, our attitudes, our deep held beliefs, and most important, our emotional condition at the time of taking them in, has a great deal to do with giving them every chance to help us. We may not believe any of this that I wrote above, all we need do is have the intention that we are willing and open to what ever will help us.

Barbars Harris’ book The secrets of medicinal marijuana: A guide for patients and those who care for them
is available to buy from Amazon now.