Seventy percent of adults in the United States have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lives. Of those, 20 percent develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) says Sara Makin, founder of Makin Wellness, a therapy and coaching center in Pittsburgh, PA. Makin and her staff specialize in addiction, trauma, and depression.
What sets her practice apart are the methods of treatment, which include active support for medical cannabis, as well as holistic methods and natural approaches. While she does not directly certify patients for their medical marijuana card, she does the formal diagnosis necessary for patients to get their card from a certifying physician.
Since she opened her business in August 2017, her successes and her two #1 best-selling books have helped launch her to being the highest-rated therapy coaching center in the city. She is licensed in Pennsylvania to provide the PTSD diagnosis so she sees people in person in her offices and via telemedicine across the state.
Dispense Magazine sat down with Sara to discuss medical cannabis and trauma therapy. She explained, “Trauma is anything an individual considers to be a really negative event. It’s challenging because trauma is a subjective term and can have subjective meaning. For example, a person who is in a car accident can be completely fine, but another person can be extremely traumatized by it and is anxious about driving or makes major lifestyle changes in order to not drive.”
“Every person experiences trauma differently,” she continued. “Someone can even be traumatized by a horrifying experience of another person.”
The largest indicator of PTSD is being “triggered,” where a common everyday event causes an emotional reaction well out of proportion to the triggering event. “Stress actually stays stuck in the body and when that trigger occurs, the reaction can blow out of proportion.”
Many people who have PTSD don’t know that they have it. Makin said, “If you think you probably have it, the chances are very good that you do.”
Makin listed some of the symptoms of PTSD: “Intrusive memories, flashbacks, bad dreams, avoidance, negative thoughts, hopelessness, trouble with the memory of the event, trouble with relationships, feeling numb, changing in reactions like being startled or on guard, overwhelming feelings of guilt or shame, difficulty speaking or concentrating and being irritable or depressed,” she said. “Trauma can manifest in different ways. A lot of these symptoms come on weeks, sometimes months after the original trauma. The most common causes of trauma come from family, childhood, and relationships.”
Therapies Then and Now
Makin said that traditional talk therapy and pharmacology have demonstrated only limited success. “The clinician would just really encourage the person to talk about it, and unfortunately that would retraumatize people a lot of the time. It was not the most effective,” said Makin. “Today we have a lot more different methods that are more effective and are evidence-based, which means there’s more research behind them to support the efficacy of them.”
Three such approaches Makin utilizes in her practice are:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
- Thought Field Therapy (TFT) and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), both often know as “tapping.”
Makin says EMDR can be very helpful for treating trauma. “EMDR is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. So whenever you look in different positions, you’re accessing different parts of your brain. Initially, we’ll have you move your eyes: left, left, left and right. We’ll have you follow someone’s fingers from left to right or have a machine that will tell you where to look and you’re doing therapy while doing that. While you have your eyes in different positions and thinking about different things, it helps the healing process.”
“With tapping,” she explained, “the philosophy is that there are energy meridians within the body, and when you tap on specific parts of your body, it’ll access another part of your body and help release the trauma. Many times when you experience traumatic events, the energy of that is kind of stuck. Tapping helps to release it. You are tapping on acupuncture pressure points to help release energy essentially. You’re doing that while you’re thinking about the trauma and the clinician will tell you what to say, you’ll say it out loud, and that’ll help reduce the negative emotion you feel that’s associated with the trauma. That really helps accelerate the healing process.”
Makin understands that for someone who doesn’t understand quantum physics or Chinese medicine, “This sounds like total hokery.” She stresses that these techniques are evidence-based. Before she started her practice, she conducted research at Duquesne University. She has always been data focused and research oriented. “The biggest thing is to try it out for yourself and see how powerful it is.” There are no side effects to EMDR or tapping, and results happen rapidly. “Cognitive behavioral therapy helps the individual from thinking more negatively to thinking more positively. This will help restructure your brain and develop new more positive neural pathways in the brain.”
Makin also recommends cannabis for her patients that have experienced PTSD as a natural alternative to pharmacologic methods that are traditionally used. She said, “Some people that try pharmacology find it isn’t helpful for them. They have a much better response to medical cannabis than to pharmaceuticals.”
When appropriate, Makin finds her clients respond well to medical cannabis. “Using cannabis can be such a helpful tool for helping people who experienced a lot of trauma heal. We definitely recommend it to our clients that struggle with hypervigilance, flashbacks, nightmares, difficulty sleeping and ingrained negative beliefs. The other thing to mention too is because the treatment is so individualized at Makin Wellness, we don’t necessarily have it in everyone’s treatment plan. But for whoever can benefit from it we suggest it, and the results have been really great so far. Our clients love it. It’s a great natural tool to help relieve stress and to increase neural plasticity in the brain.”
Using all the Tools
With the array of new and groundbreaking techniques used in Makin’s practice, medical cannabis is a natural extension. Unlike a certifying doctor, who only provides access to medical cannabis, Makin’s practice is designed to provide ongoing care for those seeking help for PTSD. After the evaluation, either virtually or in person, she then can continue to work with the patient with the most effective tools available.
Sara Makin and the staff of Makin Wellness can be contacted at 412-532-1249 or MakinWellness.com, or through the Makin Wellness App, available on Android and iOS.