In the medical community, there is a growing discussion as to whether or not marijuana can be used to help treat the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Although some studies have shown that marijuana is effective for things like pain relief, scientists are skeptical that it can be effective in treating trauma.
For example, a recent Yale University study found a correlation between marijuana use and higher levels of PTSD, alcohol abuse and violent behavior, which seems to contradict the bulk of anecdotal evidence as well as the few PTSD studies that have been conducted.
Researchers looked at data from 2,276 military veterans that had completed specialized Veterans Affairs treatment programs between the years 1992 and 2011. The date was collected at the time of admission and then four months after treatment.
They split the veterans into four groups: “never users,” who never used marijuana before or after treatment; “continuing users,” who used marijuana before and after treatment; “starters,” who began using marijuana after treatment; and “stoppers,” who used marijuana before treatment but stopped afterwards.
Each subject was judged based on four criteria: PTSD symptom severity, violence, alcohol abuse and drug abuse.
Researchers found that stoppers and never users had the most positive outcomes, with lower levels of all four measures. Continuing users had higher levels of PTSD, alcohol abuse and drug abuse. Starters had higher levels of all four measures, with violence being significantly higher than all other groups.
Speaking with Yale Daily News, lead study author Samuel Wilkinson was quick to point out that while they did not find a causal relationship between marijuana and PTSD, this study should make people think twice about marijuana and PTSD.
“What I hope this paper does is it gives psychiatrists and other providers pause before they go ahead and give the green light for folks suffering from PTSD to smoke as much marijuana as they want and consider that it might not help and might even be associated with a worsening of the disorder,” Wilkinson said.
While many will be quick to use this study as evidence of the danger of medical marijuana, the truth is that the study raises more questions than actual answers. It may be true that “starters” and “continuing users” had more negative outcomes, but the study does not examine the causes of those outcomes.
Without examining the underlying causes, researchers cannot be certain whether marijuana is the cause of negative health outcomes or if people with worse mental health issues naturally seek out marijuana as a coping mechanism.
That is an important distinction to make, not only for legislators forming policy, but also for those service members suffering from the traumas of war.