Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is the overall term for several anxiety related reactions that occur after the patient is exposed to an event that caused psychological trauma. The condition is especially common among military personnel who have recently gone through active duty, and even people who experience accidents or violent attacks.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a complex condition that requires extensive medical evaluation and treatment. With an increasing number of studies being performed on marijuana and PTSD, there is a mounting body of evidence that suggests marijuana can provide effective relief for those suffering.
The traumatized soldiers arriving home from the battlefields of WWI were called shell-shocked. During and post WWII it was referred to as combat fatigue. But today, we know it as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Military personnel aren’t its only victims, though. PTSD can affect anyone, anywhere, and at any age. Approximately 3.5 percent of U.S. adults suffer from PTSD, with about one in 11 being diagnosed in their lifetime, and with women twice as likely to suffer from the disorder.
PTSD can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed traumatic events such as those in war, or a violent personal attack, natural disaster, the sudden death of a loved one, or even an emotionally abusive relationship.[2,3]
Chronic vs Acute
There are two types of PTSD: chronic and acute. Those who have PTSD for a short term are said to have the acute type. Those who experience the disorder for a much longer time are suffering from chronic PTSD.
However, it is important to note that just because someone witnessed or experienced a traumatic event, doesn’t mean they will necessarily develop PTSD. For those who do, some will have the acute type and recover in a few months while others will continue to experience the disorder for many months or even years.
Symptoms and Treatment
In most cases the symptoms will begin within three months of the traumatic event. However, there are also occurrences where the symptoms began to materialize years afterward.
Certain criteria must be met for an adult to be diagnosed with PTSD. They must have had all the following symptoms for a minimum of one month, and the symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with the person’s life, such as their work or personal relationships. The requirements are:
- At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms
- At least one avoidance symptom
- At least two cognition and mood symptoms
- At least one symptom of reliving the event
There are numerous symptoms of PTSD, but a few of them are listed here:
- Difficulty remembering key features of the event
- Feelings of guilt or self-blame
- Difficulty sleeping
- Angry outbursts
- Being easily startled
- Avoidance of reminders of the event
The main treatments for PTSD are talk therapy and antidepressants. Other drugs, such as hypnotics, are often given to treat specific symptoms of the condition, such as insomnia or nightmares.
One class of drugs that are commonly given are benzodiazepines. Some physicians insist that these drugs are helpful while others refute the claim, pointing to a review of 18 studies that included over 5,200 subjects who had suffered one or more traumas. The traumas included disasters, life-threatening diseases or other medical conditions, physical injuries, sexual trauma, and combat-related trauma. The review pointed to benzodiazepines as not improving things such as depression, aggression, substance use and the results of psychotherapy. In fact, it was determined that benzodiazepines made them even worse.
Marijuana and PTSD
There have been several studies on the effects of cannabis and PTSD. In 2009, a Canadian study was done with 47 patients who suffered from treatment-resistant PTSD. These patients had continued to have nightmares despite having been treated with antidepressants and hypnotics. The study was done using nabilone, a synthetic THC. At the conclusion of the study, 72 percent of the subjects had either no more nightmares, or what they had were of much lower intensity. Some even reported better quality sleep, more sleep, and a reduction in night sweats and daytime flashbacks.
Other trials on marijuana and PTSD have shown mixed results, as the effects were determined by dosage. Perhaps surprisingly to some, lower doses of THC resulted in better sleep, while higher doses caused the subjects more anxiety and negative long-term effects.
In a New Mexico study, 80 PTSD patients who used cannabis were evaluated using the Clinician Administered Posttraumatic Scale (CAPS). Researchers found that there was over 75 percent reduction in CAPS symptoms after the patients had been treated with cannabis.
CBD and THC
There have also been studies done using combinations of THC and CBD, and CBD alone. In a study done with rodents, it was found that both CBD and a combination of CBD and THC decreased the fear memories. CBD seemed to have strong anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects, while the THC reduced nightmares and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). THC and CBD together reduced insomnia.
Finally, the results of a study published in 2018 showed CBD to provide anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic effects, with the added benefit of having neuroprotective properties.
Using Marijuana for PTSD
There have been more studies done with cannabis and PTSD than with many other conditions, and more evidence of its efficacy for treating PTSD is emerging. A cannabis-literate physician can be an invaluable partner and advisor in your health journey should you decide you want to try marijuana to treat your PTSD. Many of the medical marijuana states allow PTSD as a qualifying condition; be sure to check your state’s laws. You can learn more here.
- What Is PTSD? American Psychiatric Association. Ranna Parekh, M.D., M.P.H.
- Does emotional abuse lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Healthline
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health
- Anxiety Drugs Not Recommended for PTSD. Rick Nauert PhD
- As Vets Demand Cannabis for PTSD, Science Races to Unlock Its Secrets. Scientific American.
- PTSD symptom reports of patients evaluated for the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program. The Journal of Psychoactive Drugs (2014)
- Cannabinoids as therapeutic for PTSD. Current Opinion in Psychology (2017)
- Translational Investigation of the Therapeutic Potential of Cannabidiol (CBD): Toward a New Age. Frontiers in Immunology (2018)