An Australian-first trial using medicinal cannabis to treat returned servicemen and women suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been launched today that targets defence personnel who have not had a response to conventional treatments.
Lead researcher Dr Sharron Davis said traditional treatments did not really work for PTSD.
“It can present itself in lots of different ways, so it’s very difficult to find a treatment that is going to treat all of the symptoms of PTSD,” Dr Davis said.
Researchers are seeking 300 people to take part in the national trial, which has already attracted attention from the veteran community.
“We have to be able to show the Therapeutic Goods Administration that these people have tried everything conventional medicine has to offer,” Dr Davis said.
The study will see individuals prescribed a baseline dose of the oil that uses the non-psychoactive part of medicinal cannabis, referred to as CBD.
The project is being carried out in conjunction with BOD Australia, a global health and wellness business.
BOD Australia spokesperson Jo Patterson said participants might start with a dose of 5 millilitres.
“They might be on the product for up to five weeks — obviously it’s an observational trial, so they’ll assess the benefits that the product is offering the patient,” Ms Patterson said.
Ms Patterson said it was difficult to anticipate if the product would be available for mainstream purchase in future, but said it could be at least five years, depending on the results of the trial.
Dr Davis said she hoped the product would eventually become a freely available supplement like olive leaf oil.
“I would like to see CBD-only oil reclassified — it has no psychoactive effects whatsoever,” Dr Davis said.
How serious is PTSD in the military?
The Australian Defence Force (ADF) reports about 8.3 per cent of its members will have experienced PTSD in the past 12 months.
The rates among males in the ADF is almost double the general community.
Former soldier Michael Handley left the army in 1998 after he said he had lost his way.
The veteran did peacekeeping tours to Somalia and Bougainville in the 1990s. In 2001, Mr Handley was diagnosed with PTSD, 10 years after he first enlisted.
“You are in this big rut, this big hole, everything seems to be closing in and you just feel half the person you used to be,” Mr Handley said.
“I was continually getting aggressive at little things — I would tend to walk away and just isolate myself.”
Mr Handley said traditional therapies to treat the disorder simply had not worked for him.
“Some of the meds I’d take I would take at night time and I wouldn’t wake up until after lunchtime the next day,” Mr Handley said.
“I was becoming, in a sense, addicted to these opiates and abusing them.”
Since leaving the military, Mr Handley had made it his mission to help others adjust to civilian life through his organisation RedSix.
Through creating an online community, the concept is aimed at helping lower the growing suicide rate among veterans.
Mr Handley said considering his own struggles with PTSD, he had jumped at the opportunity to be part of the trial looking at the use of CBD oil.
“I think the veterans having another avenue to help with signs and symptoms and treatment of PTSD can only be beneficial for us,” Mr Handley said.