The Medical Cannabis Clinics (TMCC) treats veterans living with pain or psychiatric disorders such as PTSD, to help them where traditional treatments have failed. Here two patients share how medical cannabis changed their lives for the better.
There are an estimated five million veterans in the UK, with around 20,000 personnel leaving the forces each year. But the transition into civilian life can be difficult and loneliness and social isolation are prevalent.
On top of this, veterans may experience mental and physical health issues as a result of their time in combat. A complex mix of symptoms can make it difficult to identify the causes of conditions impacting veterans, which can lead to their needs being ignored or unmet by traditional medicine.
Paul* served with the British Infantry for around eight years as a Patrol Medic, completing tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland, as well as spending time in London and Germany.
“My Iraq tour finished in 2003 and I left the army in 2005. I had a break for a few years, but realised I missed army life. I wanted to get back into it, although realistically, I probably didn’t realise just how much stress and strain I was under back then,” he admits.
“I re-joined as a patrol medic in 2008 for another six years, serving in Afghanistan for a seven-month tour from 2009 to 2010. Iraq was very organised and felt more conventional, but it was my time spent in Afghanistan that really affected me – It was completely different.”
The line of duty
Paul’s says his mental health issues arose from his experiences in Afghanistan and what he saw in the line of duty.
“It was more traumatic than any other period spent in the army,” he says.
“I experienced anxiety and flashbacks – the worst were the dreams and nightmares and not wanting to go to sleep. I ended up turning to alcohol and drinking myself into a stupor to blank these things out.”
Paul is not alone. The most common mental health problems for ex-Service personnel are reported to be alcohol problems, depression and anxiety disorder, with levels of alcohol misuse overall found to be substantially higher than in the general population.
But while veterans may be more susceptible to mental health problems as a result of trauma experienced while in active service and difficulties during the transition to civilian life, recent statistics were lower than many might have expected.
A study of 10,000 ex-Service personnel conducted by the King’s Centre for Military Health Research, found that PTSD rates were low among British forces, with a prevalence rate of four per cent in deployed personnel. According to a Ministry of Defence report one in eight UK Armed Forces personnel were seen by military healthcare services for a mental health related reason.
It is hard to believe that these figures are not higher. Particularly as many veterans report a culture of stigma and shame around mental health conditions while in active service, and may be less inclined to seek help even when back in civilian life.
Paul only recently sought help and was diagnosed with PTSD last year.
“My GP wasn’t very helpful. Four years ago, I went to my doctor and he said he couldn’t diagnose PTSD and gave me a prescription for antidepressants,” he said.
“I then found the Military Veterans Service, an NHS initiative that offers support and assessment and that really changed things for me.”
Paul first heard about medical cannabis from a friend who is based in California.
“I went to see him and chatted to him, and lots of doctors out there, I even looked up case studies of people using medical cannabis treatment for PTSD,” he said.
“It was only last year that I really looked at it in depth. I spoke to my GP but found she was quite dismissive and unsupportive. But then I found TMCC.”
Paul says he has been alcohol free for over one hundred days now, since having a legal prescription for medical cannabis.
“I was previously using alcohol to blank things out but then you can’t sort yourself out as alcohol gets in the way and it becomes a barrier. Medical cannabis has really helped me stop drinking and the urges to drink have completely gone away.
“It helps me sleep at night and also relieves my anxiety. It’s also helped me concentrate on other important things in my life.”
He added: “I’m still taking antidepressants, as my TMCC doctor has advised I stay on those for now. I have been taking antidepressants on and off for seven years but if the treatment is effective, I’d like to come them off completely.”
Veterans and cannabis consumption
Research suggests that the consumption of medical cannabis among veterans is increasing. A 2019 study on veterans in the US found that the majority reported using cannabinoids as a substitute for either alcohol, tobacco, prescription medications, or illicit substances.
Another survey published this year on 500 veterans aged 60 and above, found that compared to non-veterans of similar ages, those in the study were more likely to report using cannabis for the treatment of mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and insomnia.
Veterans in the study typically reported “desirable health outcomes” as a result of their cannabis use and were also “less likely” to use opioids and benzodiazepines.
Alex*, who spent over five years as a combat patrol medic in Afghanistan, after leaving school at the age of 16, says medical cannabis has allowed him to cut back on the prescription painkillers he was taking.
“I was on morphine, fentanyl patches, oxycodone, diazepam, muscle relaxants, and other damaging medications usually prescribed for seizures but, to be honest, they just didn’t work,” he said.
“I didn’t want them but the doctors just prescribed more and more – they made me feel sick and worst of all, they didn’t take away the pain.”
Alex spent seven months in Afghanistan, living at different checkpoints with no WiFi or running water.
“I treated wounded soldiers, patched up the casualties, and got them back to the hospital,” he said.
“My worst casualty was a triple amputee who stepped on an explosive device. I was 10 feet away and managed to patch him up. He’s alive, back in the UK, and he’s a rock climber now raising money for charity.”
In 2011, Alex returned from a tour in Afghanistan and was involved in a car crash, where he was impacted by another vehicle travelling at 90mph. He damaged his shoulder joint, which led to him being diagnosed with a rare condition which means his shoulder continually dislocates.
It was at this point which he developed PTSD, which he expects arose from a combination of factors.
“I felt vulnerable when I came back to the UK. I lost my career due to the accident which led to things spiralling,” said Alex.
“I was medically discharged from the army and put on long-term sick leave for 13 months whilst awaiting medical discharge. I then registered on a pilot scheme with the Veterans First organisation in Colchester, an initiative in Essex, and have been seeing them for two years.”
Unhappy with the medicine he was being prescribed, Alex researched online and found a neurologist in London, who recommended he look into medical cannabis.
“He said it would help me to cut back on the amount of controlled drugs I was taking”, he says.
“When I first heard about medical cannabis I thought ‘you have to be kidding me’, but I’ve since discovered that there are so many benefits to it. I never used it recreationally before; in fact, I have always been very anti-drugs and there was always a zero-tolerance attitude in the military.”
“It has genuinely made a major difference to my life and has hit the mark where other medications simply didn’t,” he says.
“I can now concentrate, I can function, and I’m no longer slurring my words. Now I hardly require any hospitalisation whereas before I tried the treatment, I used to go to hospital every three weeks. Now I go every three to five months.”
He adds: “My friends and family have noticed a real difference. I was previously feeling like a burden on them. My kids have also noticed a difference, because the drowsy side effects of the painkillers I was on are gone.
“My family is very supportive and the response from other healthcare professionals has also been positive. One doctor was a bit disapproving but I think most see it now just like any other medication.”
But many veterans still struggle with the stigma attached to cannabis, after years of prohibition and negative portrayals in the media, particularly when it comes to mental health.
Paul admits that his family were unsupportive of his cannabis consumption before he had a legal prescription.
“Regrettably, I was using non-medical cannabis before this and my family and friends were very unsupportive, due to how it’s been portrayed in the last thirty years, growing up in Manchester,” he says.
“Now that it’s legally prescribed and I’m seeing a specialist, it’s been legitimised and accepted – and after taking it, they could see that I was able to go out again, stop drinking, and that everything had changed.”
Even Alex, whose quality of life has been transformed by the treatment, is reluctant to tell people about his prescription.
“I don’t openly disclose that I use medical cannabis, but it has been a lifesaver for me,” he adds.
“I genuinely feel like I have my life back.”
For more information and to book an appointment visit www.themedicalcannabisclinics.com
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the interviewees
How CBG has been a game changer for my ADHD
Stephan shares how CBG has helped him manage his symptoms of ADHD
Stephan Ryan shares how he has found cannabis, particularly CBG, helpful in managing symptoms of ADHD.
The number of people being diagnosed with ADHD has risen during the last two years of the pandemic, with three-quarters of newly diagnosed adults saying that the fallout from lockdown had encouraged them to seek an evaluation. Some of the reasons for this were listed as working from home, where there were more external factors for distraction, as well as the rise in ADHD-related social media channels.
Stephen Ryan, who is originally from Germany but now lives in Ireland, said: “Last year during Covid, I had a period where I was completely unable to focus. My partner at the time suggested I may have ADHD, and the symptoms completely fit, a lot of my behaviour started to make sense.
“I start a lot of projects that I never finish and go down a million rabbit holes. Work can present barriers that feel so insurmountable that I can’t focus or I can’t work on it for days before getting in trouble for not having done the work.”
Some of the other symptoms Stephen noticed were restless leg syndrome, which is associated with the dopamine deficit experienced by those with ADHD and periods of hyper focus. But as the pandemic progressed, he noticed that he was finding it increasingly difficult to focus.
Stephen has seen his GP and is now waiting on an official diagnosis of ADHD from a specialist. Covid has meant a long delays to services which has left a lot of patients in Ireland going private. Unfortunately, this can mean several hundred Euros to see a doctor before paying for any potential prescription.
Stephen has been told to expect at least three to six months waiting time or around €700 for an assessment. The cost of private diagnosis and prescriptions can be hugely daunting for patients.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurological condition. It can affect people’s behaviour in that they can seem restless, they may have trouble concentrating and seem impulsive. While a lot of people are diagnosed at a young age, increasing numbers of adults are being diagnosed with the disorder.
ADHD can often be missed in childhood, especially for women, which has led to a rise in adult diagnosis. It can also present differently which makes it even more difficult to diagnose.
ADHD is often divided into three different types:
Inattentive: An individual may struggle to organise or complete tasks, pay attention to details, follow instructions or conversations. It also causes a person to be easily distracted or to forget parts of their daily routine.
Hyperactive: A person with hyperactivity may fidget or move or talk a lot. They can struggle with sitting still for a long period of time due to feeling restless. They also struggle with impulsivity and may interrupt frequently, speak at inappropriate times or fail to wait for their turn. They may be more accident-prone.
Combination: They present symptoms of both hyperactivity and inattentiveness.
ADHD and CBG
Stephen began consuming cannabis before he realised it may help his ADHD symptoms. While he saw some success with THC or CBD, he believes that cannabigerol (CBG) was more helpful for him.
CBG is another cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant alongside THC and CBD. It is sometimes referred to as ‘the mother of all cannabinoids’ because it is the precursor to CBD and other cannabinoids.
There is very little CBG in plants, often as low as one per cent, making it more expensive than CBD products, as CBD is much more available. CBG tends to be made from younger plants, which contain a higher percentage. THC and CBD both begin life as CBGA before maturing.
It is thought to work the same as CBD in that it interacts with our endocannabinoid system via receptors that are found all over the body. In particular, it may bind to the CB1 receptors in our nervous system or CB2 receptors in our immune system. In recent studies, CBG has been shown to have the potential for preventing Covid-19 infections from entering the body and shows promise as an ingredient for skincare aimed at helping dry skin conditions.
There are no direct studies on CBG for ADHD, although there are some which focus on CBD and CBN.
“I was emotionally drained and completely without energy, cannabis helped me to get the rest I needed,” Stephen said.
“I found a store that sold CBD so I tried that before trying THC but it wasn’t beneficial for me. I didn’t feel an effect until I started using CBG.”
He continued: “It was an instant change in the way my body and mind reacted to the cannabis. I started to mix CBD in there too. I no longer felt exhausted or tired, instead I found I was motivated, always excited and got lots of work done.”
Stephen began to join Irish cannabis activism, which is calling for reform to the medical cannabis access programme (MCAP) and for the legalisation of recreational use.
Currently, ADHD is not a condition which can be legally prescribed for under the MCAP programme. While in Northern Ireland and the UK, this is not the case and patients can apply for a prescription, Southern Irish patients who live in these regions, cannot take their prescription into Ireland without risking arrest or seizure at customs.
This situation has resulted in a lot of Irish patients emigrating to countries such as the UK or Spain.
The MCAP was introduced in 2019, but can only be accessed for three conditions: cancer nausea, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.
CBG and stress
Unfortunately, during the first lockdown, Stephen experienced a break-up with his partner who he lived with at the time.
“It was incredibly stressful but for the first time with the cannabis and CBG, I was able to get some self-reflection during this chaotic time of my life. CBG has been an absolute game-changer for me. I felt this incredible motivation, positivity and creativity,” he said.
“One thing I noticed with my cannabis use before I knew about my ADHD , is that after a tolerance break, it had an amazing ability to put me in the zone.”
Stephen is conscious of the cannabinoids that he uses and how they make him feel, preferring to use a CBD flower, after finding that THC and CBD did not suit him. He is open to the idea of a prescription for medical cannabis but feels that it may be a while before ADHD is recognised by the MCAP.
“I would be happy to go on the system if it was available for me, I would be proud to have a prescription because it is a medicine and this is the first step of not being criminalised for it,” he said.
Stephen hopes that general awareness of ADHD Ireland will improve to help those who may need more support, especially in schools. He would also like to see less of a gap between the recreational and medicinal communities.
“I would love to see more awareness,” he said.
“When I was in school, the classes were too big for teachers to pay any attention to individual students, so there wasn’t much understanding of it.”
Stephen added: “Cannabis is medicine. The term recreational has been mixed up in that sense, as it means to recreate yourself mentally, physically and spiritually, but it’s become a negative storyline. People are getting the health benefits by consuming it. We need to change the narrative around this, that’s why we are becoming activists.”
How this US brand is helping veterans access free CBD
“U.S. military veterans are some of the most selfless individuals so we thought the project would be a perfect fit.”
US vaping supply brand, CCELL, has partnered with the Veteran’s Walk and Talk project to provide free access to CBD.
CCELL will be partnering with the Veterans Walk and Talk (VWAT) to gift its members with limited edition CBD vapes that highlight their military service.
Veterans Walk and Talk is a community project based in the US, offering support, psychedelic therapy and cannabis.
It was founded in 2016 by Colin Wells, who served in the US Army, as a way for veterans in Southern California, Sacramento and Oklahoma, to take control of their health journey.
The project now holds regular community outreach events that provide veterans with a one-on-one psychedelic or cannabis walk and talk therapy or group hikes. They also hold trail and beach clean-ups where the community come together to give back to nature along with book clubs and comedy nights.
To mark the firm’s fifth anniversary, the CCELL team decided to join forces with VWAT.
Speaking with Cannabis Health, Joe Strain, vice president of CCELL said: “VWAT started with veterans in mind. Founder Colin Wells, who served in the US Army and experienced withdrawal traumas, began posting on social media to see if anybody wanted to join him on his hikes as a means to relieve stress.
“On these hikes, he’d provide free cannabis, education and a safe space for people to talk. These hikes inspired him to start VWAT as a way to give back to his community, with the main goal of reducing the suicide epidemic among veterans. Now, VWAT has 12 chapters across the country, all carrying the same mission.”
Joe added: “US military veterans are some of the most selfless individuals, so we thought they would be a perfect fit. We heard about what VWAT is doing for veterans and decided to support the organisation on its mission to help improve the lives and health of veterans by providing them with CBD vaporisers. The alignment was undeniable, and we’re honoured to be a part of helping them further their mission.”
Mental health and veterans
Mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be common among veterans. The symptoms of PTSD can be debilitating causing flashbacks, nightmares or physical effects such as nausea or pain.
A study from 2017 highlighted the difference in PTSD between veterans and civilians. In the study of 5,826 veterans, researchers recorded a rate of 13 per cent with PTSD. This is almost double the seven per cent of the US population with a PTSD diagnosis.
Studies show CBD may help PTSD by interacting with the endocannabinoid receptors in the body.
Joe explained: “It’s known that many veterans deal with PTSD after they have served. Studies have shown that CBD can be effective in reducing PTSD symptoms. This can potentially afford members the opportunity to manage their symptoms without excessive pharmaceutical drugs, which often cause side effects.”
He added: “CCELL has produced limited edition CBD vapes which will signify that the users of the vapes are members of Veteran’s Walk and Talk. Not only is this great for the members, but it is also significant for this non-profit organisation as it helps to spread awareness about the great work that VWAT does and will help encourage more people in need to join.”
Can CBD help with feelings of sadness on blue Monday?
Blue Monday may or may not be a real thing, but feelings of sadness, anxiety and stress are.
The third Monday in January is often referred to as ‘blue Monday.’ But what is it and could taking CBD help with feelings of depression, stress or anxiety?
What is blue Monday?
Blue Monday is thought to be the most depressing day of the year.
It was created after psychologist Cliff Arnall was asked to create a formula for the holiday blues. It falls on the third Monday of January each year. While there is a lot of debate as to whether it is real or not, depression and anxiety can be difficult to cope with.
January can be a really hard time of year for those with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It may be due to the increase in cold weather, post-holiday sadness and credit card statements.
Real or not, it can be an opportunity to start talking about how depression or anxiety affect us all.
Could CBD help to lift our mood during this difficult month?
CBD for depression
Symptoms of depression can include a persistent low mood, unhappiness, low self-esteem or feeling tearful. It can cause a loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, withdrawal, tiredness or sleep issues. In severe forms, it may also cause suicidal thoughts.
CBD may have a positive interaction with the hormone, serotonin in our brains. Serotonin is involved with different functions in our bodies but it can impact a person’s happiness or emotional well-being. Low serotonin levels are associated with depression.
A study examined how CBD could make a difference to people who struggle with seasonal depression. Participants in the study were given 400mg of CBD or a placebo. Researchers reported those given the CBD reported less anxiety than those on the placebo.
CBD for anxiety
Anxiety is a reaction to stress creating an apprehensive feeling about what may happen. Some people struggle with strong feelings of anxiety every day. These feelings of anxiety can be a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) or social anxiety disorder.
A study on CBD and sleep quality also found it may reduce anxiety. It involved 72 participants with 47 experiencing anxiety and 25 with poor quality sleep. Each participant was given a daily dose of 25mg of CBD then asked to report how they felt afterwards. The researchers recorded that 79.2 per cent recorded reduced anxiety and 66.7 per cent said their sleep had improved after the first month.
CBD for stress
Our bodies naturally produce a hormone called cortisol which is responsible for our feelings of stress. When we encounter fear or a stressful situation, our brain signals our nerve and hormone systems. Adrenaline and cortisol rush into our body causing a spike in blood pressure and heart rate.
Cortisol increases the glucose in the bloodstream and increases the availability of substances that can repair tissue. It controls mood, motivation and fear.
In one study, male participants with Parkinson’s disease were given CBD then asked to undergo a simulated public speaking test. Researchers reported that an oral dose of 300 mg of CBD given 90 minutes before the test reduce the participant’s anxiety and stress.
The best way to take CBD
There is no right or wrong way to take CBD if you are feeling blue.
The most common ways to take CBD are oils or tinctures, edibles or vaping. Each person may have an individual preference for one method over another. Oils or tinctures can be great if you need a quick, easy way to take a dose but vaping helps the CBD to reach the system faster. This could be a great choice if you are struggling with panic attacks and need a faster dose.
Edibles are a discreet way to take CBD and they also taste nicer than some oils. The best way to decide what is right for you is to try different methods until you find the one you prefer.
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