Medical Monday: PTSD and Cannabis

Our blog is now featuring Medical Mondays. With these posts, we explore a condition and how it can be treated with cannabis. We try to rely scientific evidence and first-hand accounts. This week’s blog focuses on PTSD. Let us know what condition you would like us to feature next! 

The symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are broad and far-reaching. After experiencing a trauma, individuals who have PTSD may experience any or a combination of the following: anxiety, anger/irritabilitly, paranoia, guilt, nightmares, depression, emotional detachment, disturbing thoughts or flashbacks. Those with PTSD are at a higher risk for suicide. Trauma can be any emotionally and/or physically shocking or dangerous event; traumatic events might include being in a combat zone, a sexual assault, or witnessing a severe accident. PTSD can affect anyone — 7 to 8 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with the psychological ailment at some point in their lives.

PTSD has come into the spotlight relatively recently; despite being first diagnosed in 1980, it wasn’t actually considered a trauma-related condition until 2013. Up until the 1980’s, the disorder was colloquially known as “shell-shock.” Part of the reason it began to receive attention today, is the immense numbers of veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. After experiencing trauma, many veterans are diagnosed with PTSD and may undergo treatment. PTSD is conventionally treated with counseling, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, and psychotherapy. Furthermore, those with PTSD might be prescribed a number of pharmaceuticals to combat some of the symptoms.

Cannabis might join this list of therapies. It is already a qualifying condition for patients seeking a medical card in Arizona and may offer relief for many more with PTSD across the country.

According to a 2015 published in Neurotherapeutics, cannabidiol (a non-psychoactive, medicinal cannabinoid) has shown promise in treating PTSD.

The study states: “Evidence from human studies strongly supports the potential for CBD as a treatment for anxiety disorders: at oral doses ranging from 300 to 600 mg, CBD reduces experimentally induced anxiety in healthy controls, without affecting baseline anxiety levels.”

Furthermore, the study explores how CBD interacts with the human brain, by precisely attaching to various cannabinoid receptors.

“Preclinical evidence conclusively demonstrates CBD’s efficacy in reducing anxiety behaviors relevant to multiple disorders, including PTSD …. with a notable lack of anxiogenic effects,” the study reads. “CBD’s anxiolytic actions appear to depend upon CB1Rs and 5-HT1ARs in several brain regions; however, investigation of additional receptor actions may reveal further mechanisms. Human experimental findings support preclinical findings, and also suggest a lack of anxiogenic effects, minimal sedative effects, and an excellent safety profile. Current preclinical and human findings mostly involve acute CBD dosing in healthy subjects, so further studies are required to establish whether chronic dosing of CBD has similar effects in relevant clinical populations.”

The Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access (VMCA) advocates for veterans’ safe and legal access to cannabis. This organization alone provides proof that veterans, who are oftentimes diagnosed with PTSD (among other ailments) have been helped by cannabis and would like to see it be more accessible for others across the nation.

The VMCA cites Raphael Mechoulam, Ph.D., the organic chemist who initially discovered THC as the “active” aspect of cannabis and the endocannabinoid system.

He has stated that cannabis, with more research, may represent the perfect medicine for those with PTSD. According to an article by Medicalmarijuana.eu, Mechoulam argues this is because the endocannabinoid system is inherently linked to memory:

“Dr. Mechoulam explained that an animal which has been administered an electric shock after a certain noise will eventually forget about the shock after the noise after a few days. Mice without cannabinoid systems simply never forget — they continue to cringe at the noise indefinitely. This has implications for patients with PTSD, who respond to stimuli that remind them of their initial trauma even when it is no longer appropriate. By aiding in memory extinction, marijuana could help patients reduce their association between stimuli (perhaps loud noises or stress) and the traumatic situations in their past. Working with Army psychiatrists, Dr. Mechoulam has obtained the necessary approvals for a study on PTSD in Israeli veterans, and hopes to begin the study soon.”

Preliminary studies in Europe were promising — participants with PTSD who were treated with cannabis had improved symptoms. The results included improved sleep and a lessened frequency of nightmares.

Veterans, while often a large affected group, aren’t the only people experiencing PTSD. People from all walks of life experience trauma, and this may result in long-lasting psychological impacts. It is important to take into consideration the medicines that work for individual bodies and make personal decisions as to what route to take medicinally. As cannabis becomes increasingly accessible, normalized and legalized, more individuals with PTSD may find relief through this route.

— Words by Taylor Haynes

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