Former Army Airborne Veteran Boone Cutler reinvigorated my interest in PTSD and workable cures at the Los Angeles Cannabis World Conference and Business Expo held at the LA Convention Center. His dynamic and articulate recounting of his wartime experiences, his subsequent injuries, and the road to recovery were both riveting and enlightening. Boone, now a Nevada radio station 99.1 FM Radio host, is an ardent supporter and advocate for Cannabis as a medicine for his fellow warfighters, curing a problem that results in 20 veteran suicides a day. Boone had seen through literature to a physical cause of PTSD rarely mentioned in similar presentations. Boone highlighted PTSD as a physical problem resulting in a psychological problem, not the other way around. Boone went on to say that the causes of PTSD produce a type of brain injury, not unlike physical damage resulting from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). However, PTSD is an unseen enemy lurking in the background of the consciousness like a cancer slowly killing it’s host.
In my last article, PTSD; the good news, it’s not your fault 1, (https://www.doctorscannabisconsulting.com/blog), I mentioned the effective treatment for PTSD is Cannabinoids (CBD’s) but I hadn’t really shared how PTSD develops, the effect it has on the brain, and most importantly, how Its effectively treated.
We all have a vague idea of how PTSD develops and how it presents itself; we’ve seen and witnessed it first hand from our grandfathers, our fathers and now their sons and daughters coming back from different parts of the world consumed in armed conflict. The existence of war-induced psychological trauma likely goes back as far as warfare itself, with one of its first mentions by the Greek historian Herodotus. In writing about the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C., Herodotus described an Athenian warrior who went permanently blind when the soldier standing next to him was killed, although the blinded soldier himself had not been wounded.2 Such accounts of psychological symptoms following military trauma are featured in the literature of many early cultures, and it is theorized that ancient soldiers experienced the stresses of war in much the same way as their modern-day counterparts.3
Everything we experience, everything we see, hear, and smell, is all recorded in the brain through the special senses of our bodies. These “memories” are filed and stored in a part of the brain called hippocampus where it can be accessed later. The hippocampus is the part of the brain wired to the Amygdala that is involved in forming, organizing, and storing memories. It is important in forming new memories, connecting emotions with the senses, such as smell and sound reconciling, understanding, and making peace with the event.
The hippocampus acts as a memory indexer by sending memories out to the appropriate part of the cerebral hemisphere for long-term storage and retrieving them when necessary if a similar experience is encountered. The hippocampus is important for converting short-term memories into long-term memories.
The hippocampus works in concert with the Amygdala to consolidate our emotions and long-term memories. This
process is critical for evaluating information in order to respond appropriately to stressful situations. These experiences help us to evolve and survive our environment as new problems arise. Your everyday experiences that develop into habits are kept so they can be accessed later to minimalize the amount of information you consciously require to navigate the world.
Neuroscientists, such as Michael Gazzaniga, estimate that as much as 98 percent or more of all brain activity is completely unconscious. This unconscious activity includes things like keeping your heart beating, digesting food, processing sensory input, controlling and coordinating muscle action, and much more. In addition to these sorts of “housekeeping” functions, which promote the homeostasis of the body (and much more), there are probably a lot of higher functions—things that we would associate with thought and reasoning, which remain unconscious. At the very highest level of brain activity, there finally emerge thoughts that you can be aware of, that is, conscious thoughts. As you can see, these conscious thoughts represent just the tiniest sliver of the great mass of brain function.
When “dangerous” events occur, a quick and rapid response is required to immediately prepare our bodies to stay and fight or to flee. The senses take all the information of the experience and redirect it immediately past the conscious parts of the brain to a small part of the brain called the Amygdala. The Amygdala is our biological centurion and based on the magnitude of trauma dictates how much fuel (Cortisol, Adrenaline and other hormones) are needed to run away from the threat or power our fight with the threat.
This loopback communication system in the brain happens to some degree with every stressful event until it learns and adapts, training a person’s response. As the threat subsides, all the feelings, smells, video, and audio of
the traumatic event is then supposed to be “sent” through neural pathways to the Hippocampus for sorting and later filing. The event is reconciled and remembered when that information is needed to respond to new dangerous events.
The path to PTSD starts when an individual is exposed to a traumatic event that is beyond the normal range of human experience. This bears repeating, the stress is beyond that of human experience.
Just like before, all the aspects of the event bypass the conscious higher functioning brain directly to the Amygdala initiating the fight or flight response.
However, in this case, the severity of the incident is so highly charged, a circuit breaker of sorts “blows” in the stem cells, inhibiting the neurocircuitry communication between the Amygdala and Hippocampus locking away all the sights, sounds, and smells of the traumatic event in the Amygdala. The adrenaline still fuels the response long after the danger is gone.
The Hippocampus cannot tell the Amygdala to shut down the fight or flight response and reconcile the event because they cannot communicate with each other. Every aspect of the trauma, a pain so terrible its severity actually flips a fuse in the brain locking them away in the Amygdala for eternity. Simply put, the brain puts the body’s emotions on simmer waiting to fight an enemy that is no longer there.
But the event isn’t locked away, it shows up in the dreams and consciousness of the person affected as if it were happening in real time. The sites sound, smells, even the emotions circle in the brain inside the Amygdala continuously, looking for the path to the Hippocampus so they can be filed away, and put to rest. The Amygdala continues to respond as if the event is still real, with hyper results. The Amygdala doesn’t know the threat is gone the Hippocampus hasn’t told it that all is ok, turn off the fuel. These pathways are damaged, and the medical response has been medications to try and control the symptoms by blocking the chemicals the body uses to fight the stress.
The Treatment for PTSD has included group therapy, Pain Killers, Anti-Anxiety medications and when that wasn’t effective, physicians chased the problem with more medications and the result is still an ever-increasing suicide rate among veterans. The medications rarely help, only suppressing the anger, hyper-vigilance and other symptoms related to PTSD, incarcerating them to a life locked in a catatonic emotionless state. The prescription medications that are provided actually inhibit the brain and soft tissue from healing, perpetuating the problem. The brain is in a constant state of stress and anxiety resulting in a systemic inflammatory response resulting in more pain and anxiety.
David Phillips actually wrote in Lethal Warriors “…PTSD – or shell shock, or whatever you want to call it – is not just a subjective bundle of feelings, it is a physical wound of war. Situations that remind the individual of the traumatic event can trigger an excessive release of stress hormones and over-activation of the Amygdala, which further augments stress hormone release. The result is severe emotional distress - racing thoughts, anger, and hyper-vigilance.
Dr. Phillip Blair, MD, a consultant to Elixonal, a CBD Manufacturer speaking at the conference as well, cited several studies indicating “severe trauma causes a breakdown in the pathways in the Cerebellum that allow us to reconcile traumatic events”. These “broken” pathways inhibit our ability to resolve the trauma, effectually stopping our ability to heal.
The barometer for the amount of stress and trauma one can tolerate is set in the brain before one's birth. Your lineage of ancestors going back to the beginning of time all have an expression on how you look and act in the present. Their memories, their fears, their joys, and their loves all swirl in a helix pattern writing the building blocks of the person you are today. Their experiences, as well as your own dictate how a person processes a traumatic event, in essence, listen to your gut its your ancestors speaking.
In degrees; this reaction to traumatic events and the changes in personality that accompanies stress are favorable; some of these traits are honed and exemplified through training. Our soldiers’, police officers, firefighters, and others need these traits to perform their job. They when confronted with shootings, fires, bombs, and other horrendous events take appropriate action as others freeze or run away.
Training, experience, stress, and injury actually cause the Amygdala to grow in size like a muscle. These training incidents cause the Amygdala to grow more neurons in direct reaction to the stress, better equipping us to handle different types of stress or danger. This process better equips us to handle different types of trauma and stress, making us stronger by the incident, which supports the training paradigm. As pointed out in the literature, if neurons grow to accommodate a training regime, then those same neurons can heal or grow new fibers reconnecting the Amygdala to the Hippocampus.
CBD’s in recent evidence supported in medical journals and confirmed by Dr. Blair act as a neural regenerator, and anti-inflammatory allowing those pathways to reform, (heal) bringing homeostasis back to the brain functions. CBD’s allow the brain to repair those pathways between the Hippocampus and Amygdala so the fight or flight response turns off, the memories are allowed to be filed and cataloged, allowing the person to rest. More importantly, restoring this communication reduces if not eliminates the need for prescription medications.
In conclusion, we can see the damage that PTSI has on the brain. IF we can see it, we can fix it! There is hope. Those with PTSD don't have to suffer, and there is a way out. It may take some time, but the alternative will be living in a catatonic state or worse suicide, and you the veteran deserve better and can have a better life. You won the war, you lived, what’s one more battle, one you can win.