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Alan Flashman

Health Ministry vs. Traumatized Population

On October 18, just 11 days after a massive collective trauma, the Health Ministry issued the following advisory: (my translation)

“The Israeli population today is faced with difficulty in coping. Part of the normal response to trauma in the first weeks includes a variety of symptoms that constitute a normal reaction to an abnormal situation,  and in most case these symptoms are temporary. The essential treatment for these situations involves enlisting emotional strengths and support from the immediates environment, such that the symptoms gradually decrease. Should the symptoms interfere with function, professional consultation may be sought.

“We wish to stress the following points out of concern lest various substances that may prove harmful be used:

  1. After a traumatic event a majority of the population will manage to cope by means of strengths and the majority of people will not suffer from PTSD.
  2. Cannabis is not an evidence based effective treatment for the acute phase following trauma, cold well be harmful  and is not recommended.
  3. Treatment with cannabis is appropriate only in chronic situations and only after the partial or complete failure of psychotherapies or pharmaceutical treatments that are based upon research.”

The document is suly signed by one Dr. Gilead Bodenheimer, identified as the Director of Mental Health in the Minstry and one Prof. Eyal Fruchter, identified as Director of the “Maale HaCarmel” Center and President of the National Council on Post-trauma.

Apart from the unedited state of the document, its content speaks for itself. But I will just sprinkle a few comments.

  1. Claiming that Israelis who suffered the enormous and complex trauma of October 7 will be (mostly) just fine, and claiming that  there is research or evidence for this statemennt is pretty peculiar. What “evidence” might there be for such a unique experience?
  2. What evidence is there that cannabis might be harmful? The fully discredited “reserach” vomited up by the now defunct and discredited War on Drugs about street cannabis (always laced)? Israel has treated hundreds of thousands of people with clean “medical” cannabis and could certainly know by now what the risk of harm could be? There just is no harm nor any attempt to document this.
  3. Israel approves cannabis only for chronic PTSD after some ridiculous and unique restrictions including that you have to be sick for 3 years, fail on two “proven” drugs (actually proven to be ineffective), fail in psychotherapy and have 30% disability. And you might be disqualified if a first degree relative is psychotic and other such nonsense. Saying cannabis is only appropriate where the arbitrary and outlying strictures of the IMCA say it is is a bit circular, no?
  4. Would one think that not sleeping for three weeks would qualify as abd interference with function? And just what professional consultation is available after a decade of decimating public mental health resources? The arrogant pretense that Israel has anything close to the capacity for “professional consultation” for the masses whose function is impaired is a bit like depending on a concrete wall to contain Hamas, no?
  5. On a personal note, I work in Beer Sheba and have some familiarity with the devastated terrotory West of Gaza. I tried a few years ago  to engage in a campaign to get medical cannabis licenses for the members of the kibutzim, many of whom had more than enough PTSD from a decade or two of shelling  and many of whom used cannbis on their own. The response of the director of IMCA was to restrict me from ever diagnosing PTSD in adults for the sake of such a license, on the (dreadfully flimsy) excuse that I am certified as an adult psychiatrist only in the banana republic USA and not in the World Center of Medical Expertise, Israel. A great deal of the newly traumatized people came to it with chronic PTSD and were denied access to a license mainly because they found the requiremnet of taking medication distateful. The Minstry seems hell bent on denying their need again.

I would suggest that this disgraceful (in my opinion) document should seal the absolute need that the Israeli population has to take cannabis out of the hands of a now self-proclaimed incompetent Minstry of Health – and just legalize already.

About the Author
Alan Flashman was born in Foxborough, MA, and gained his BA from Columbia, MD from NYU, Pediatrics, Adult and Child Psychiatry specialties at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, The Bronx, NY. He has practiced in Beer Sheba since 1983, and taught mental health at Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University and Ben Gurion University. Alan has edited readers on Therapeutic Communication with Children (2002) and Adolescents (2005) in Hebrew, translated Buber's I and Thou anew into Hebrew, and authored Losing It, an autobiography, and From Protection to Passover. He recently published two summary works of his clinical experience (both 2022) Family Therapies for the 21st Century and Mental Health in Pediatrics.
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