Content warning: discussion of sexual violence, trauma, and PTSD. Please take care of yourself. I’ve compiled a list of resources for survivors of sexual trauma and you can find them on my personal blog. Please note: I’m not a doctor, this is just my own personal experience based on my training as a trauma professional and living with PTSD.
I’m a survivor of multiple rapes. The specific details aren’t what’s important here, but one piece that is useful to know is that each was a different person and they were all people I knew—people I trusted—at least somewhat. My first year of college, I went to a Take Back the Night rally and during the survivor speakout portion of the evening I unexpectedly found myself up at the podium sharing my story. It was powerfully healing to reclaim my narrative in that way.
That experience made me want to understand trauma and trauma survivors on a deeper level. I took classes in college on all facets of human sexuality from sexual health and anatomy to the sociology of sex. My senior year I was trained as a rape crisis counselor and sexual violence prevention educator. I wrote two papers on trauma in (one in undergrad and one in grad school) and presented each of them at academic conferences across the country. After grad school I worked as a mental health crisis worker and took a series of trainings on trauma. I worked as a victim advocate for juvenile victims of adult offenders in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. I made trauma my life for most of my twenties. I wanted to dissect trauma so I could figure out why my brain and body reacted the way they did, both at the time of the assaults and in the aftermath. I was officially diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in 2012.
This was all before I really started using cannabis. I didn’t smoke for the first time until I was 23, and didn’t have medical cannabis for the first time until I moved to California when I was 27. Back then I saw cannabis mostly as a recreational activity—it didn’t occur to me to use it medicinally. That changed in 2014 when I found out that there was a cannabis-infused coconut oil sex spray that was originally conceived for menopausal women who experienced dryness or pain with penetration. While not menopausal, I regularly experienced pain with penetration as a result of my trauma and found this THC-infused spray to be useful in counteracting that. This revelation led me to start experimenting with other ways that cannabis products might be useful for dealing with my PTSD symptoms which included restless sleep, anxiety and panic attacks.
I discovered that certain cannabis products would spike my anxiety while others would alleviate it, so I started keeping notes on what strains or products were useful for me. For instance, I keep a 5:2 CBD:THC vape pen from WVapes in my purse in case I get anxious when I’m driving or out and about in the world and want to avoid psychoactive effects. I keep a heavy, sleepy indica by my bed to help me sleep and I’ll take a puff if I wake up in the middle of the night. I’ve also started doing twice daily microdosing of a 17:1 CBD oil from Sana Sana Wellness. Sometimes my trauma reactions manifest as feeling disconnected from my body in sexual situations, which is part of what led me to create CannaSexual to begin with—it wasn’t just about elevating and enhancing sex and intimacy, it was also about finding ways to be more comfortable and empowered sexually as a trauma survivor.
Recently I had an experience that triggered a series of trauma reactions for me (crying, panic attacks, anxiety that caused me to lose my appetite, etc.) and I was grateful to have these tools at my fingertips. Choosing an appetite stimulating cannabis product was helpful when the thought of food was nauseating. Having a CBD pen in my purse helped when my heart started racing. I was also able to draw from my years of trauma training to use grounding techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness meditation and smelling essential oils to help get me back into my body.
So here are some quick tips when you find yourself in a trauma reaction:
- Breathe. Deep diaphragmatic breathing is an excellent way to kick your parasympathetic nervous system on and help get you out of the fight/flight/freeze reaction. Try breathing in for two seconds, holding for a second at the top, and then breathing out for four seconds.
- Choose a cannabis product you know (from experience) is helpful for managing stress and anxiety. This is not the time to test out new products only to find that they make things way worse. I would specifically suggest high CBD products for this.
- Get your senses involved. Squeeze a stress ball. Put some lavender oil in your hand, rub your palms together, and inhale deeply. Drink a glass of water. Listen to soothing music.
- Reach out for support. Trauma can feel incredibly isolating, so reach out to a friend or loved one and ask them to go for a walk or to come give you a hug, or whatever it is that you feel would be most beneficial to you. It’s okay to ask for help.
- Repeat this mantra: I am a survivor. I am resilient as fuck. I’ve got this.
Have you found cannabis to be helpful in managing trauma symptoms? I’d love to hear about your experiences!