Post Trauma: Trying to Forget

By Mary Lou Smart © 2012

The sky was brilliant mineral blue on the hot July afternoon in
pain, and spent most of the following five weeks in the hospital before her son, Racer Clay,  was delivered  with no complications. At 7 pounds, 6 ounces, he was healthy.

2011 when Nicholette DeVilbiss decided to meet her husband for lunch at the Pizza Hut in Farmington, New Mexico. She had been home all morning, and wanted to get out and enjoy the fresh air.

It was a pleasant day. They talked about the upcoming birth of their second son, who was due to arrive in three weeks. They planned an early dinner, because Kash Michael, their 9-year-old, had baseball practice first thing in the morning. After lunch, while running errands, they drove across town on Auburn Street, a back road.

While she remembers almost everything about that day, there is one striking detail that she would rather forget. Sitting in the passenger seat of her husband’s ’98 Chevy pick-up, she watched in horror as a minivan drove across the two-lane road and crashed into them, head on. That memory plays over and over in her mind.

“I remember the moment I realized that he was going to hit us,” she said. “I knew that car was going to hit us. I remember being pulled out of the truck. None of the doors would open.”

When her seatbelt malfunctioned, DeVilbiss was thrown, head first, through the windshield. Other drivers that had witnessed the acci- dent stopped to help her hus- band pull her from the truck, which was totaled. When the police arrived, she was put in an ambulance and rushed to the hospital. The driver of the minivan was arrested. He had no vehicle registration or insurance, and he had been drinking.

One week after the accident, DeVilbiss began having seizures. Mild at first, they would increase in frequency and intensity in the months to come. Her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was immediate.

“I didn’t want to be in any vehicles whatsoever,” she said. “Even now, I am not able to ride, even as a passenger, without having the symptoms of my PTSD.”

Despite medical issues, she did not take any medications for six months while breast feeding her newborn. After weaning him, she began taking seizure medications. She also began trying various therapies to treat the post-trau- matic stress. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is one integrative psychotherapy approach that she is hoping will help her get beyond the disturbing memories.

Following advice given to her by one of her doctors, DeVilbiss also obtained a recommendation for medical cannabis. It had been a decade, prior to the birth of her first son, since she had smoked marijuana recreationally. This time around, she learned first-hand about cannabis as a medicine. It helped to control her seizures. It also calmed the PTSD symptoms better than any of the other treatments that she had tried.

Both epilepsy and PTSD are qualifying conditions in New Mexico’s medical cannabis program. Considerable research and patient testimony con- vinced New Mexico lawmakers to include PTSD as the only psychiatric indication qualifying for a recommendation in the state’s program. Other states are following suit.

Estimates put troops return- ing from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD, depression and traumatic brain injury at well over 300,000

Because of her injuries, which included lacerations to her face and legs, her doctors said she could not go through the trauma of childbirth right away. She was in severe

PTSD is something that many suffer from after experiencing or witnessing trauma. It is considered the fourth most common psychiatric disorder, affecting 10 percent of all men and 18 percent of all women, with rates much high- er in high-trauma locales such as war zones or extreme

poverty locations. The National Center for PTSD, oper- ating within the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, estimates that up to 8 percent of the country’s population will have PTSD at some point in their lives, and that approximately 5.2 million adults will experience it during any given year.

Combat injuries inflicted on military veterans make them much more likely to struggle with PTSD. According to statistics assembled by the Pew Research Center, one out of every 10 veterans alive today was seriously injured at some point while serving in the military; three-quarters of those injuries occurred in combat, and those with signifi- cant service-related injuries are more than three times as likely as other veterans to experience PTSD.  Estimates put troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD, depression and traumatic brain injury at well over 300,000.

The greatest number of patients qualifying for a medical cannabis recommendation in New Mexico have PTSD,  and many are veterans.

Quite often, traditional pharmaceuticals are not able to manage the anxiety, the nightmares, and the constant, recurring thoughts that people experience with the condi- tion. Animal studies point to hyperactivation of the amygdala, the part of the brain involved in emotional regulation. Shown in research to perform a primary role in the processing and memory of emotional reactions, the amygdalae have a large number of cannabinoid recep- tors, as do other areas of the brain feeding into them. Cannabis has been credited with helping to control the mood swings, irritability and anger  associated  with PTSD, and to decrease anxiety, allowing patients to func- tion better.

“I definitely take less medication now that I am on cannabis than I did before,” DeVilbiss said. “Cannabis is the only one of my medications that actually takes care of both of my conditions at once. I feel that it works  on many levels, and that is definitely a plus for me.”

DeVilbiss has a personal production license, which allows her to grow up to 16 plants. She admits that learning to grow the plant is a challenge, but enjoys the do-it-your- self route, and finds it more cost effective than buying from a state-controlled dispensary. She has heard that she will be in a better position to control the consistency of the medicine if she grows it herself. She finds vaporizing to be easier on her lungs than smoking, and uses an iolite2, a hand-held vaporizer.

Every cloud has a silver lining, and for DeVilbiss the acci- dent did present one opportunity by opening her eyes to the confusing realm of medical cannabis programs. Disappointed with the company hired to help her

through the application process to be registered with New Mexico’s Department of Health, she  realized  that she could do better. She opened EarthWorthy Compassionate Care.

“For me, getting started was diffi- cult, and what I’ve created with EarthWorthy is a company that can simplify the process,” she said. “There are so many people that need cannabis therapy, and there are so few who know how to obtain the state approval without getting ripped off.”

At EarthWorthy Compassionate Care, a patient’s medical records are reviewed. If a documented, qualifying condi- tion exists, a doctor’s appointment is scheduled. If New Mexico’s Department of Health accepts the  patient  into its medical cannabis program, additional help is provid- ed. The company also offers medicine counseling, and patient-only classes and support groups.

DeVilbiss, 31, recently graduated with honors from San Juan College, earning two associate degrees; one in liber- al arts, and the other in human services with an empha- sis on counseling and substance abuse counseling. She is taking classes at New Mexico Highlands University, working toward a bachelor’s degree in social work. She was halfway through coursework when the accident and birth of her son temporarily derailed her studies. She said it was cannabis that allowed her to cut back on pharma- ceutical medications so that she could focus. She deals with recovery while raising a family, working  and going to school. Passionate about her field of study, and a patient herself, she empathizes with those who find they might benefit from cannabis therapy.

“My degrees help tremendously with what I do,”  she  said. “With the medical cannabis field being so new, we are at the forefront of a human services need. I don’t just deal with one part of the population. This is not just eld- erly people learning about it; there is a whole wide range of people that benefit from cannabis.”

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