While many studies focus on the benefits of medical cannabis for terminally ill patients, there are others who also suffer spiritually and emotionally during and after the terminal illness of someone close to them. Mothers, fathers, brothers, friends and other loved ones who are facing the imminent loss of someone they love deeply. At the end of the patient's life, a new journey begins for those they leave behind; the path through grief. In many cases, the journey can be long and have a significant emotional and physical cost.
Grief is not a finite experience, but an ever-changing and continuous journey. It is mourning and processing, analysis and emotional digging. If you have ever experienced grief - whether it is the death of a loved one or a pet, the loss or perceived loss of any kind - you know how devastating it can be to your brain, body and spirit.
You may not have thought about using cannabis or CBD at any stage of the grieving period. When you understand how they interact with the human body and brain, it makes sense that both can be helpful in relieving some of your emotional - and even physical - pain caused or exacerbated by grief.
Recognize feelings of grief or depression
Depression is a very common response to loss. In some ways we all experience loss in our own way and it can present itself in different ways. Some symptoms to watch for include
- Difficulties in concentrating
- Increased irritability
- Digestive problems
- Feeling distant
- Finding little interest in life
- Increased fatigue and low energy in general
- Sleep more or less than usual
- Dealing with your feelings by drinking, eating or smoking more than usual, among other problems
Sadness is a different experience for everyone. It doesn't progress in a straight line. It has no set time frame. Sufferers can return to "previous" stages again and again as they negotiate the complicated emotional landscape of adjusting to a new life without their loved one in it. Loneliness and depression are common in all stages of grief, as are sleep and anxiety disorders, emotional outbursts, anger and fear.
When life after loss does not improve
It is said that the acute stage of grief ends when those who have lost a loved one are able to function and focus on new relationships, schemes, find hope and reach out to help others. Some people reach this point within six months of a loss; for others, it may take a year.
However, for other people, reaching this "new normal" may not happen quickly, smoothly, or easily. Complicated grief is different. For about 10 percent of people, instead of fading over time, grief symptoms either persist as strongly as they did at the time of the loved one's death, or even get worse.
People with complicated grief usually have four or more of the following symptoms:
- They continue to have an intense longing for the person they lost
- They're bitter about their loss
- They can't accept death
- They feel that their life has no purpose
- Focus more on the death of the loved one
- You may have sleep disorders
- Refer to traumatic and/or disturbing memories or thoughts about the illness and loss of the loved one.
- Feeling emotionally numb after the loss
- They have general difficulties in moving on after the death of their loved one.
If these symptoms persist for more than six months, a professional therapist may diagnose it as a complicated grief.
How can cannabis treat the symptoms of sadness in the grieving process?
It is clear that grief is complex and different for each person. And given the symptoms and effects produced by the grieving process, resorting to cannabis could be beneficial.
Many grief symptoms reflect those of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which are among the medical conditions that can be treated with medical cannabis.
Cannabis contains chemical compounds - that is, cannabinoids and terpenes - that interact with our bodies and brains in specific ways. By looking closely at the therapeutic effects of certain cannabinoids and terpenes, one can begin to understand how and why cannabis can be beneficial in addressing the effects of grief over the loss of a loved one.
Looking at cannabinoids, CBD has been found to reduce physical pain and inflammation, relieve anxiety, ease panic attacks and promote sleep. In addition, cannabinoid cannabinol (CBN) can act as a sedative. During times of stress and grief, getting a good night's sleep can be one of the most powerful and healing things we can do.
However, large scale clinical trials are needed to draw stronger conclusions. It is also vital to recognize that studies indicate that a grieving individual is more vulnerable or prone to substance abuse, dependence and addiction (a fairly low risk compared to alcohol). This is still something to consider, as pain can increase the risk of addiction to any substance. So anyone who decides to use cannabis during grief should do so with caution. Using cannabis should make your life better, not an escape from it.
So the key could be to combine cannabis with proper mental health care.
Conventional medical treatment for grief is usually psychological therapy, along with a prescription for antidepressants. But prescription drugs, of course, are not the only option to help deal with this constellation of symptoms, including the anxiety, sleep disturbances, depression, persistent memories, and inability to move forward that characterize the grieving process. Therefore, medical cannabis can be an integrative option, along with appropriate bereavement therapy.
- Alexandre R. de Mello Schier, Natalia P. de Oliveira Ribeiro. "Antidepressant-Like and Anxiolytic-Like Effects of Cannabidiol: A Chemical Compound of Cannabis Sativa." Https://Www.eurekaselect.com, 31 July 2014, doi.org/10.2174/1871527313666140612114838.
- Bahorik, A. L., Sterling, S. A., Campbell, C. I., Weisner, C., Ramo, D., & Satre, D. D. (2018). Medical and non-medical marijuana use in depression: Longitudinal associations with suicidal ideation, everyday functioning, and psychiatry service utilization. Journal of Affective Disorders, 241doi:10.1016/j.jad.2018.05.065
- Shannon, Scott, and J Opila-Lehman. 2016 "Effectiveness of Cannabidiol Oil for Pediatric Anxiety and Insomnia as Part of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Case Report. The Permanente Journal, doi:10.7812/tpp/16-005.