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Victims of Sexual Abuse Find Relief Through Medical Marijuana


Victims of Sexual Abuse Find Relief Through Medical Marijuana

While sexual abuse can happen to anyone, an estimated twenty percent of women in the United States have been victims of rape and fifty percent have experienced some type of unwanted sexual experience. Almost all victims experience some level of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that can last for years or even a lifetime. Left untreated, PTSD carries dire consequences for the body and mind, up to and including death. Many victims are turning to marijuana as an alternative to prescription drugs because evidence from medical research proves it is an effective, natural remedy for PTSD [1].

If you would like to know if a Florida medical marijuana recommendation is right for you, schedule an exam with one of our Florida Marijuana Doctors. You may complete our eligibility survey in just 5 minutes to find out if you pre-qualify for a recommendation.

Prescription Drugs and Their Side Effects

The symptoms of PTSD in survivors of sexual assault include lack of social interaction, trembling, flashbacks, anxiety, nightmares, insomnia, and many more. PTSD is unpredictable because it is a psychological disorder and not based on a chemical imbalance. There is no standard treatment for PTSD because each victim and their experiences are unique, so psychiatric medicines are not usually successful in treating these symptoms. In fact, many victims find traditional drugs make them feel worse [2].

There is a long list of drugs used to treat psychosis, depression, and PTSD: Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Flumazenil, Valium, Clonidine, and many more. Just one of these drugs can come with an even longer list of side effects, such as drowsiness, tremors, higher risk of cancer, and even organ failure. Despite this, many victims of PTSD from sexual assault are prescribed two or more medicines which, when combined, can cause adverse drug reactions [1].

How Medical Marijuana Relieves PTSD: The Experts Weigh In

Cosmic Sister is an advocacy group dedicated to the use of cannabis for victims of sexual trauma. It is run by Zoe Helene who has suffered from PTSD since she was 18 years old. She believes “the psychoactive properties of cannabis can help people to revisit the traumatic event and deal with it in an altered state where they can recreate or renegotiate the relationship with the problematic pathways of the neural network, which changes the way the memory is experienced” [3].

Dr. Dustin Sulak is a medical cannabis doctor in Maine. His practice, Integr8 Health, oversees more than 8,000 patients who use medical marijuana. He provides the following explanation about how it benefits those with PTSD: “If the fight-or-flight branch of the nervous system is too activated, cannabis can help bring this back to normal. If the neural pathways related to trauma are being overused, cannabis can turn them down or turn them off. And it does this best in areas of the brain related to memories and emotional responses, because those areas have very high levels of cannabinoid receptors” [4].

The human body is filled with cannabinoid receptors which are part of the endocannabinoid system. This system controls processes such as pain-sensation, mood, appetite, and memory. Our bodies already use cannabinoids to regulate some of the symptoms that plague victims of sexual assault, but when used correctly, medical marijuana reinforces the endocannabinoid system to improve mood, suppress nightmares, reduce anxiety, and encourage restorative sleep. Sulak says, “It’s truly a holistic treatment…In my nine years of treating thousands of patients with cannabis, I’ve seen the most consistent, satisfactory response for reducing or eliminating trauma-related nightmares, and restorative sleep is essential for healing” [4].

Dr. Carrie Cuttler, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Washington State University, runs a research lab on Health and Cognition studying the effects of cannabis use. Her work aims to examine the connection between cannabis use and stress, cognition, and mental & physical health. In one of the first studies to track the self-reported effects of cannabis, Dr. Cutler’s team found people were less stressed, depressed, and anxious. While Cuttler admits more clinical trials are needed for the study of cannabis and its impact on mental health, her team has discovered cannabis improves sleep and dreams and helps those dealing with PTSD to extinguish traumatic memories [4].

Melanie Nakashian survived sexual abuse and recently created an online forum called, “Survivors for Cannabis” to encourage discussion among people of all ages, genders, orientations, and ethnicities. Amna Hussein, participant in the forum, is also an activist working to make cannabis more accessible to those in need. She testifies of the forum: “My friends and I get together and talk about our trauma over a blunt. 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” [5]. Nakashian, when asked in an interview about whether she used cannabis prior to the abuse said, “Cannabis has been a part of my life for the last ten years, but it was only recently that my relationship with the plant evolved to the point where I realized that I had been unknowingly using it to help alleviate the many layers and types and instances of trauma I’ve been holding on to in my mind and body. So, I began doing research—into trauma, into cannabis, and into the intersection of the two. I found a real lack of awareness around cannabis as a treatment for PTSD among survivors of sexual assault or abuse…We need to talk about how this plant can heal trauma in the long-term, especially sexual trauma, which attacks the deepest part of our identity and core sense of self” [5].

Is medical marijuana right for me?

Whether medical marijuana will help your condition depends on many factors best evaluated by a licensed medical doctor. If you feel you may benefit from becoming a legal medical marijuana patient, the first step is to take our eligibility survey. In just 5 minutes, you could pre-qualify for a recommendation. A Florida Marijuana Doctor can then determine if you qualify during an in-person exam.