PTSD and Medical Cannabis
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur in the wake of an extremely stressful or frightening event, an assault, or a serious injury. It is a form of anxiety disorder in which the patient tries to block out memories of the event that caused the disorder and goes out of their way to avoid “triggers” that might remind them of it, but may also experience intrusive thoughts or flashbacks related to the event that are beyond their control.
Many different types of stressful events can cause PTSD, but it is most commonly seen in military personnel who have been in combat and in survivors of violent attacks. While there is a greater chance of developing PTSD after being physically assaulted or injured, it is also possible to develop it by witnessing a violent event or by being in an extremely stressful situation such as a hostage situation or a natural disaster. There is also a growing body of evidence that indicates that chronic bullying during the adolescent and teen years can cause PTSD.
PTSD is thought to have a connection to the cannabinoid system of the brain. The cannabinoid system is key to memory, and is particularly important in controlling associations created by responses to stimuli. PTSD may be an indication of an inability of the cannabinoid system to remove the damaging association created by the traumatic event.
The use of medical marijuana to treat PTSD has not yet been studied in randomized controlled medical trials, but many of those who suffer from it anecdotally report improvements in their symptoms with use. Oral doses of CBD have been studied in the treatment of other types of anxiety disorder and have shown to be beneficial in decreasing anxiety, and it is thought that this may have a similar effect on individuals with PTSD in keeping them out of the hyperaroused “fight or flight” state.
Studies of the brain have shown that patients with PTSD have greater availability of cannabinoid type 1 (CB1) receptors. In theory this would indicate that medical marijuana would be helpful for short-term symptom reduction, but it is also possible to build a tolerance with chronic use that would negate the helpful effects.
In cases where patients have reported success in treating their symptoms with medical marijuana, doses were usually low to moderate and the cannabis was usually taken orally. Strains that are high in CBD may also be more useful in treating PTSD symptoms. Exposure to a trigger shortly after taking the medical marijuana may also aid in disassociating the cannabinoid system from that trigger.
Ten states have currently approved medical marijuana as a treatment for PTSD, including Illinois. It’s important to speak to a medical doctor before treating, and treatment should be discontinued if feelings of fear or anxiety intensify.
For more information visit the PTSD Foundation of America.