THE HOT BOX: Sexual Assault: Cannabis Can Help You Heal

Welcome to THE HOT BOX, the Emerald‘s monthly column where TEDx talker, Ariel Sobel, gets heated about sex, cannabis—and basically anything else that would make your grandma spit up her Ensure Nutrition shake at the table! The winner of the Bluecat Screenplay Competition, Sobel is a grassroots activist against sexual and gender-based violence whose work been highlighted in KTLA, CBS, Yahoo, Univision, and Los Angeles Times.

In the expanding conversation around sexual assault, there is a lot of discussion on how to prevent rape, and how to ensure survivors get justice. 

But One Crucial Facet of Sexual Violence Consistently Goes Under-Examined.

Surviving a sexual assault often involves overcoming Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

According to the Journal of Traumatic Stress, 94 percent of rape survivors exhibit PTSD symptoms in the two weeks following their attack. Additionally, the National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center reports that one-third of all rape survivors acquire PTSD in their lifetimes.

Furthermore, researchers at the University of Buffalo say that sexual assault is more likely to cause PTSD than active combat in a war zone.

In contrast, treatments for sexual assault survivors are seriously lacking.

According to a Study Published in the McGill Journal of Medicine, There is a “Strong Indication That the Current Therapies for Sexual-Assault-Related PTSD are in Need of Improvement.”

Survivors often experience repeated thoughts of the assault, night terrors, anxiety, and a number of chronic physical conditions. But medications normally prescribed to PTSD sufferers involve major risks. For example, Xanax, even when taken as prescribed, can lead to addiction. It is also linked to alcoholism.

Enter cannabis. Numerous medical professionals and sexual assault survivors believe that THC is a vital treatment for trauma. Plus cannabis is less addictive than alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, sugar, let alone opiates.

“Conventional pharmacologic treatments for PTSD and other trauma-related symptoms leave a lot to be desired,” Dr. Dustin Sulak, a licensed osteopathic physician and founder of a Medical clinic in Maine, told Leafly. “Cannabis, on the other hand, is one medicine that, when used correctly, can achieve all these goals: improve mood, reduce anxiety, promote restorative sleep, and suppress nightmares.”

Research Signifies That Cannabis Doesn’t Just Treat the Symptoms of PTSD, but can Help one Heal From the Psychological Damage of Sexual Assault. 

“Cannabis helps to improve sleep and reduce nightmares in people with PTSD, and it also seems to facilitate memory extinction—so helping survivors extinguish those traumatic memories,” said Dr. Carrie Cuttler, an assistant professor of psychology at Washington State University, to Leafly.

However, the most compelling evidence that cannabis can help people recover from rape comes from the people currently using it to survive theirs.

Sex and relationship coach Ashley Manta, says cannabis helped her cope with the physical and psychological havoc of sexual violence.

“When I found Foria, the THC-infused oil, that was the first time I was ever able to have penetrative sex without pain since my assault,” Manta says. She uses the oil to treat sexual violence-related vaginismus. When she named her attacker on social media, the treatment was just as effective.

That experience so horrifically triggered her PTSD that, “I was having panic attacks,” she says. “I couldn’t work. I couldn’t even think about sex. Cannabis was actually the thing that allowed me to get through the panic attacks, that let me sleep at night and helped me start to feel comfortable in my body again.”

For Some Sexual Assault Survivors, Cannabis is a Lifesaving Treatment.

Two strangers drugged and rapped Zoey Bullock when she was 12-years-old.

She developed PTSD. Her doctors prescribed her Abilify, Zoloft, and Prozac as a result.

“[The] medications didn’t work. I just wanted to bawl my eyes out,” Bullock told High Times. “I told my parents that I just wanted to die.” Unable to treat her trauma, she attempted suicide. 

When the hospital discharged her, Bullock started treating her PTSD with cannabis. She says it helps her manage her anxiety, panic attacks, and flashbacks to a degree other prescription drugs could not.

Bullock lives in Florida. Thankfully, the state grants medical cannabis to PTSD sufferers. However, in many states, the treatment is illegal.

Using Cannabis to Treat the Psychological Damage of Sexual Assault has even been Weaponized Against Survivors.

Annie King Garant was raped twice before she was a teenager. 

When she was 11, “a group of teen boys held me down while one of them raped me. I played soccer with one of them,” Garant told High Times.

She alleges that another man, David Eugene Dennis—her stepfather at the time—attacked her when she was 12. “After my mom divorced him, he was in another relationship and raped that woman’s adolescent daughter,” she explains. He went to prison for about 10 years [for that rape].”

Devastatingly, a fellow officer assaulted Garant when she was in the Marines. 

In the following years, Garant enlisted cannabis, among other medications, to treat her PTSD. But after a break up, the father of her child exploited her therapeutic cannabis use to try to win custody. 

Garant–whose psychiatrist now prescribes her medical cannabis–was subjected to unbearable agony, and endured a brutal custody battle, too.

If we Seriously Commit to the #MeToo Movement, We Cannot Just Root out Sexual Predators.

We Must Treat the Trauma of the Survivors on the Other End of this Brutality. 

Cannabis effectively treats trauma in sexual assault survivors. Destigmatization, legalization, and investing in research is meaningful solidarity.

We weren’t able to prevent these attackers from assaulting Garant, Bullock, or Manta. We might not be able to bring their attackers to justice, either. But we can do our part to make sure they heal. 

Emerald contributor since November 2019


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