Tag Archives: trauma

After Natural Disasters, Many Years of Post-Traumatic Stress Can Occur

Satellite image of Hurricane Katrina

Susannah Breslin was a free lance journalist who moved from California to New Orleans in 2003. While living in a neighborhood two blocks west of the Mississippi and six blocks west of the Industrial Canal (which went on to flood the city’s 9th Ward), Hurricane Katrina grew into a Category 5 hurricane with winds clocking in at 125 miles per hour.

On the morning of August 29, the cyclone  made landfall near Buras, Louisiana, a small community located at the bottom of the toe of Louisiana’s boot-like shape.From there, the storm swept across east New Orleans. Continuing north, it slipped over the Louisiana-Mississippi border, and on August 30 it weakened to a tropical depression over the Tennessee Valley.

The storm surge produced massive destruction across multiple states, and New Orleans’ levees were breached catastrophically, flooding an estimated 80-percent of the Crescent City. The hurricane left 1,836 dead and hundreds missing.

Susannah fled to Louisiana the day before Katrina hit and watched the destruction on television with the dozens of people who also fled. She finally returned home to a deserted neighborhood now filled with asbestos and mold, and a celing in her bed. Six months later, Susannah was feeling numb and increasingly disconnected. She was unable to think well and felt enraged and anxious. Sleeping led to thrashing and night terrors about the floods.

She withdrew herself from the rest of the world, often wondering if she was dead; if reality was the real hallucination and she lived in an in-between world.  Four years after Katrina hit, she walked into her kitchen and felt frusterated from a work related issue. Susannah slammed her head into the cupboard with all her might and then hit her hand into a different cabinet.

Susannah had post traumatic stress disorder. She often wondered why she developed it, why her over other individuals who had lost more in the storm.

Katrina damage

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a clinical psychiatrist with specialization in PTSD, explained it as, “memories of particular events are remembered as stories that change and deteriorate over time and do not evoke intense emotions and sensations. In contrast, in PTSD the past is relived with immediate sensory and emotional intensity that makes victims feel as if the event were occuring all over again.”

One may experience a traumatic event but is unable to integrate it into a story of their life.

As for those who develop PTSD, it can depend on whether or not one dissociates from the traumatic event. If the event is never fully experienced, it fails to be integrated into a “past-tense” narrative, leaving an individual with an experience playing over and over again.

Certain individuals may not even remember the event while others will have no feelings about it. Some people may act disturbed without knowing why they are behaving that way. And others may use the event to unleash a new path or mindset in life.

Symptoms of PTSD include hyper-vigilance, flashbacks, emotional numbness, night terrors, anger, depression, anxiety, and an exaggerated fight-or-flight response.

Susannah said having PTSD was like looking at life through a pane of smoked glass, that it’s easy for one to become emotionally dead.

With the high number of hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and mudslides occurring throughout the world, it is possible and normal to develop anxiety stemming from the natural disasters.

If the anxiety becomes debilitating and you find yourself with symptoms similar to Susannah’s, it is time to find outside help. If you do not feel or act like yourself, find a good counselor to help diagnose you and start the proper treatment at Apex.

Marijuana potential help for PTSD patients

 Science Daily – Use of cannabinoids (marijuana) could assist in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder patients. This is exposed in a new study carried out at the Learning and Memory Lab in the University of Haifa’s Department of Psychology.

The study, carried out by research student Eti Ganon-Elazar under the supervision of Dr. Irit Akirav, was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

In most cases, the result of experiencing a traumatic event — a car accident or terror attack — is the appearance of medical and psychological symptoms that affect various functions, but which pass. However, some 10%-30% of people who experience a traumatic event develop post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition in which the patient continues to suffer stress symptoms for months and even years after the traumatic event. Symptoms include reawakened trauma, avoidance of anything that could recall the trauma, and psychological and physiological disturbances. One of the problems in the course of treating trauma patients is that a person is frequently exposed to additional stress, which hinders the patient’s overcoming the trauma.

The present study, carried out by Dr. Akirav and research student Eti Ganon-Elazar, aimed to examine the efficiency of cannabinoids as a medical treatment for coping with post-traumatic stress. The researchers used a synthetic form of marijuana, which has similar properties to the natural plant, and they chose to use a rat model, which presents similar physiological responses to stress to that of humans.

The first stage of the research examined how long it took for the rats to overcome a traumatic experience, without any intervention. A cell colored white on one side and black on the other was prepared. The rats were placed in the white area, and as soon as they moved over to the black area, which they prefer, they received a light electric shock. Each day they were brought to the cell and placed back in the white area. Immediately following exposure to the traumatic experience, the rats would not move to the black area voluntarily, but a few days later after not receiving further electric shocks in the black area, they learned that it is safe again and moved there without hesitation.

Next, the researchers introduced an element of stress. A second group of rats were placed on a small, elevated platform after receiving the electric shock, which added stress to the traumatic experience. These rats abstained from returning to the black area in the cell for much longer, which shows that the exposure to additional stress does indeed hinder the process of overcoming trauma.

The third stage of the research examined yet another group of rats. These were exposed to the traumatic and additional stress events, but just before being elevated on the platform received an injection of synthetic marijuana in the amygdala area of the brain — a specific area known to be connected to emotive memory. These rats agreed to enter the black area after the same amount of time as the first group — showing that the synthetic marijuana cancelled out the symptoms of stress. Refining the results of this study, the researchers then administered marijuana injections at different points in time on additional groups of rats, and found that regardless of when exactly the injection was administered, it prevented the surfacing of stress symptoms.

Dr. Akirav and Ganon-Elazar also examined hormonal changes in the course of the experiment and found that synthetic marijuana prevents increased release of the stress hormone that the body produces in response to stress.

According to Dr. Akirav, the results of this study show that cannabinoids can play an important role in stress-related disorders. “The results of our research should encourage psychiatric investigation into the use of cannabinoids in post-traumatic stress patients,” she concludes.