There are over 20 million veterans in the United States, representing just under 10% of the country’s total population. Many veterans live with chronic health issues, including PTSD, anxiety, and pain.
CBD oil is a promising new therapy that can provide relief to these veterans and make it easier for them to cope with their daily symptoms. Due to CBD’s high therapeutic potential, especially for veterans, many CBD brands offer financial assistance programs, in order to make their products more accessible and affordable to veterans.
What Is CBD Oil?
CBD is short for cannabidiol. It’s one of over one hundred natural chemical compounds found in the hemp plant. THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, is another one of these compounds. Unlike THC, CBD is completely non-psychoactive, so it does not produce a high.
However, like THC and the medical marijuana that contains it, CBD has been demonstrated to be helpful in relieving symptoms for a variety of conditions commonly afflicting veterans, including PTSD, anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain.
CBD is the chemical compound. CBD oil refers to the oily hemp extract you can actually purchase and consume. CBD is extracted from the hemp plant using carbon dioxide, ethanol, or another method to produce an oil containing a high concentration of CBD. Because CBD oil is extracted from hemp, a strain of cannabis which is naturally low in THC and high in CBD, CBD oil contains 0.3% THC or less, and is therefore legal to purchase and use nationwide.
How Do You Take CBD Oil?
CBD oil products come in many shapes and forms. You can inhale CBD oil through a vape pen. You can also consume CBD orally, by swallowing CBD capsules, drinking CBD water, or eating CBD gummies or other edibles. Most people take their CBD sublingually, by applying CBD oil drops beneath the tongue. You can also apply CBD to the skin using a CBD topical product, massaging the CBD oil to engage pain receptors in the skin.
Those taking CBD for therapeutic reasons typically find more effective relief when they inhale a CBD vape oil or apply the drops sublingually, as these methods offer fast-acting relief with high bioavailability. Veterans using CBD to cope with chronic pain may find CBD topicals effective, as they can apply these directly to the affected area.
How CBD Oil Can Help Veterans
The field of research into the benefits of CBD grows every day. Thus far, CBD appears to provide significant benefits for the following conditions commonly affecting veterans.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
PTSD is one of the most prevalent issues facing the veteran population. Between 10 to 20% of veterans experience PTSD. For reference, that’s about 3 to 6 times higher than the rates of PTSD among the civilian population.
PTSD is accompanied by persistent, distressing symptoms like nightmares, flashbacks, and an elevated baseline level of fear or stress, which cause the person to avoid certain people or places that remind of their trauma. They may also develop depression, anxiety, and sleep issues.
Typically, PTSD is treated through a combination of psychotherapy and medications like SSRIs or antidepressants. These medications may cause negative side effects of their own, such as nausea or a reduced sex drive, while potentially worsening other symptoms of PTSD like insomnia. Worse, they’re not effective for everyone. While 60% of patients do respond to SSRI treatment, only about 20% to 30% achieve full remission.
According to a review of eleven studies examining the effects of CBD on military veterans with PTSD, CBD can alter memory processing while minimizing the negative emotions associated with a memory. Specifically, CBD helps block the brain’s retrieval of traumatic memories, reducing the individual’s likelihood of experiencing a flashback. At the same time, CBD also creates an antidepressant-like effect, activating a pleasure response which minifies the negative emotions the person typically experiences during a flashback.
This feedback loop, when repeated with a consistent CBD regimen, may eventually cause the individual to remember the trauma less frequently, and to remember it with less emotional intensity. In this way, CBD targets both cognitive and emotional symptoms of PTSD.
Currently, the Veterans Administration is funding its first study focusing on CBD as a potential treatment for PTSD among veterans. The researchers are researching how CBD can help veterans “unlearn” the negative behaviors and thought patterns they’ve developed in response to their trauma, with the hypothesis that CBD could hasten recovery when used with prolonged exposure therapy.
For many veterans, PTSD and anxiety go hand in hand. According to a 2013 study, 40% of veterans with PTSD also had comorbid generalized anxiety disorder, which resulted in more severe symptoms.
People with PTSD often feel constantly “on edge.” Exposure to seemingly innocuous things can trigger a flashback, a feeling of anxiety or even panic. Many veterans develop PTSD due to a predatory threat they experienced during combat. One study looked into the effectiveness of CBD at treating this kind of trauma specifically, using a rat model. The rats were exposed to a cat, the predator, and then given a single or repeated dose of CBD one hour later. The rats who received multiple doses of CBD displayed fewer anxiety symptoms over the following week, indicating CBD’s potential to have a long-lasting impact on reducing anxiety.
Besides anxiety, insomnia is one of the most prevalent symptoms of PTSD. Among the veteran population, insomnia itself is one of the largest predictors of PTSD.
Even in veterans without PTSD, insomnia can be a pervasive, upsetting issue. Without adequate sleep, healthy individuals experience reductions in their overall quality of life and wellbeing, as their cognitive performance, immune function, and emotional outlook all suffer. If, like many veterans, the individual is also living with chronic pain, a lack of sufficient sleep on a regular basis can worsen their pain, making symptoms harder to manage.
Because insomnia often results from stress, CBD’s effectiveness as an anti-anxiety agent makes it equally effective at relieving sleep issues. CBD has been shown to stabilize sleep patterns, improve sleep while also reducing PTSD symptoms, and, for anxiety patients in one study, increase sleep quality in just a month.
Veterans are both more likely to experience more pain than nonveterans, as well as to experience more severe pain. Severe pain is more prevalent among young and middle-aged veterans.
Many veterans are prescribed opioids to cope with their symptoms, despite the high risk for addiction. Rates of opioid addiction are alarmingly high in America, with more than 130 Americans dying each day from an overdose.
And yet, research shows that CBD can be just as effective at managing chronic pain. In one study of cancer patients, a CBD spray actually proved to be more effective than opioids. CBD engages receptors located throughout the peripheral nervous system and immune system, allowing it to provide targeted, effective pain relief. Moreover, CBD is able to reduce pain and inflammation without producing negative side effects.
Part of what makes CBD such an effective treatment for pain is that it also changes the brain’s pain response, similar to its effect on the brain’s emotional response to traumatic memories. As a result, over time, as the CBD helps relieves the inflammation contributing to the pain, the individual also perceives the pain less intensely, making it easier for them to manage.
Substance abuse is a prevalent issue among Americans, including veterans. Nearly one-third of veteran suicides are preceded by alcohol or drug use. Around 11% of veterans receiving VA care are diagnosed with a substance use disorder (SUD). SUD is highly correlated with PTSD among veterans, with about one-third of veterans with a SUD also having PTSD.
Substance abuse can also develop from opioid addiction. Veterans are twice as likely as non-veterans to die from an opioid overdose. In addition to providing relief for the primary symptoms of PTSD or pain, CBD can also aid in addiction recovery accompanying these conditions.
Tobacco use is significantly higher among veterans than non-veterans, with over 20% of veterans smoking cigarettes. Research suggests that CBD can significantly reduce the urge to smoke. In one study, smokers were given a CBD inhaler and observed. After just one week, the smokers reduced the total cigarettes they smoked by as much as 40%. In another study, the reduction in cravings grew stronger over time, as long as the CBD treatment was sustained.
Does the VA Prescribe CBD Oil?
Unfortunately, because VA clinicians can only prescribe medications that have been approved by the FDA, they cannot currently prescribe CBD. CBD is currently unregulated by the FDA. Although, that may change soon, as the FDA just approved the first drug containing CBD in 2018. CBD is also not covered by Medicare or Social Security benefits.
Quality CBD products can be affordable, but they’re not exactly cheap. The cost of CBD can range from $0.04 to upwards of $3.00 per mg of CBD, with pricing dependent on quality, brand, concentration, and product type.
To use a popular example, 30ml bottles of CBD drops should provide about a month’s supply of CBD. Generally, veterans take CBD for more severe symptoms, so they would require a bottle with a higher strength of CBD. A moderate-strength 1500mg tincture may cost between $100 to $250, while a higher-strength tincture could cost upwards of $300.