What About the Children?

War, Weed and PTSD in Palestine


 

Playgrounds for Palestine.org is a non-profit organization whose sole mission is to provide areas for play in the devastated region, as the effects of its never-ending war have taken its toll on the children of Palestine.

British researcher, Lydia Dimitry, of Imperial College of London, reported in 2011 that 99 percent of Palestinian children and adolescents had their homes shelled; 61 percent had a close relative killed; 71 percent had a friend killed; 37 percent have seen a family member killed; and 99 percent watched mutilated bodies on television.

With these statistics, it’s no surprise that up to 70 percent of children in the Gaza Strip suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as reported in the “European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Journal.” The statistic is put into perspective when compared to the rate of PTSD in U.S. veterans; in 2009, 31 percent reported symptoms of PTSD upon their return home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Symptoms from wartime PTSD include ADHD, depression, anxiety, behavioral problems, emotional disorders, and various risk-taking behaviors.

Dr. Mike Hart of Ontario, Canada, has successfully treated PTSD with cannabis for three years now. He noted that many of his opioid patients treated the disorder with pills. After the group –Marijuana for Trauma — approached him, he began helping veterans.

He has learned that cannabidiol (CBD) can reduce the “learned fear” that triggers terrors at night, and that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) releases “anandamide,” the compound that causes the euphoric effect felt from cannabis. PTSD patients have been found to have up to 50 percent lower anandamide, causing depression.

Drugs and crime are apparent in neighborhoods around the world that are prone to poverty. War zones are no different, with residents suffering from chronic PTSD ripe for drug abuse. Pain, and the desire to mask it, is real. The burning question of the failed War on Drugs is, do the people need policing or will medical treatment suffice?

As reported in the “Independent” in January 2016, 250,000 units of Tramadol were confiscated in the Gaza Strip. This tells us the opioid epidemic is not just numbing America. As reported by “CBS News” in December 2016, more people die of prescription drug abuse than guns, heroin and cocaine combined.
Tramadol is manufactured in Egypt, and then smuggled into Gaza. It’s said to dull the pain of war, emotionally and physically. Psychiatrist, Fadel Abu Heen, told “Reuters,” “They think Tramadol will change the reality and will make them feel at peace. They want to lose awareness and any feeling of reality.”

Along with pills, 220 pounds of cannabis, manufactured into hash, were also confiscated. While this is considered a shame in the cannabis community, it’s also a sign of hope that the people are self-medicating with cannabis. Whether they understand that’s what’s helping them cope, is another story.

Within the cannabis community, the trend is to educate on self-medicating – with cannabis becoming more acceptable in drug treatment programs, and considered a better option than addictive and often damaging pharmaceuticals. Educating on how cannabis works, then understanding why someone self-medicates, and giving them the tools to medicate in a healthy way, is the perceived goal.

Israel remains the leader in cannabis research, yet cannabis is still listed as a “dangerous drug,” on the country’s schedule of controlled drugs. Its legislators are working to change the laws for possession.
As reported in “Haaretz,” Israeli police recently presented statistics to lawmakers, showing a sharp drop in arrests of cannabis users over the past five years. At a Knesset panel hearing, the head of Israel Police’s drug research unit, Karen Lerner, said that there had been a 30 percent drop in the number of cases for personal use of cannabis in 2015.

That said, it’s tough to track how much of the decrease is due to education on cannabis as medicine coming from its own institutions, or if the pills are winning out.

There are now over 20 countries around the world that have legalized cannabis as medicine or decriminalized it in some way. As Israel educates us all on cannabis as medicine, hopefully, its researchers will also be able to help those within its war-torn borders help themselves. Elevating the conversation on why we self-medicate and with what substance can only create a healthier country and world.

Emerald contributor since March 2012

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