Kicking PTSD in the Bud

by Nov 30, 2020Education

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a psychiatric disorder that is typically caused by a violent, devastating, or life-altering event; such as military combat, sexual abuse or assault, accidents, the unexpected loss of a loved one, or similar circumstances. Symptoms associated with PTSD can manifest in a variety of different ways and usually fall into one of three categories:

  • Re-experiencing – Reliving the trauma via realistic flashbacks and nightmares.
  • Avoidance – Emotionally or physically avoiding things that are associated with the traumatic event.
  • Heightened arousal – Problems with sleeping and focusing along with being more susceptible to mood swings.

Each person’s experience is unique and there is no universal treatment for PTSD and its symptoms. Most physicians recommend a combination of therapy and prescription medications, along with other activities like regular exercise, meditation, or yoga. An increasing number of experts are recommending cannabis as an incredibly therapeutic treatment for PTSD symptoms.  Compared to the side effects associated with pharmaceutical drugs given to treat PTSD, many people consider the side effects of cannabis to be much more tolerable explaining one reason for the increasing number of patients using cannabis to treat PTSD and the associated symptoms.

Cannabis treats PTSD symptoms in several ways. Both CBD and THC work to reduce anxiety, which can be one of the most incapacitating symptoms of PTSD.  These cannabinoids have also been shown to enhance mood and fight depression. Cannabis helps treat insomnia and improves the quality of sleep in patients suffering from PTSD-related nightmares. In a 2015 study found in the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, results showed that cannabis consumption reduces time in REM sleep which is the stage of sleep where dreams are most vivid.  This allows patients to fall asleep and stay asleep without the fear and stress caused by nightmares.

In a recent study done by Washington State University, researchers found that many PTSD patients have an endocannabinoid deficiency – meaning that their systems are lacking the cannabinoids they need to function at a normal level. Cannabis treatments replace deficient compounds which help to restore the body’s ability to deal with stress and anxiety.  Researchers also believe that cannabis can work by removing associations to painful memories.  This is helpful in PTSD patients who have flashbacks when they smell, hear, or see something associated with the traumatic event that caused the PTSD.  By extinguishing memory associations, PTSD patients may experience symptom reduction and improvement.

Currently, 28 states plus the District of Columbia include PTSD as a qualifying condition in their medical marijuana programs.  Although more clinical studies are needed, because of expanding medical cannabis laws, many people living with PTSD can find relief in cannabis-based treatments and improve their quality of life.

Betthauser K, Pilz J, Vollmer LE. Use and effects of cannabinoids in military veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2015 Aug 1;72(15):1279-84.

Emily M. LaFrance, Nicholas C. Glodosky, Marcel Bonn-Miller, Carrie Cuttler. Short and Long-Term Effects of Cannabis on Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress DisorderJournal of Affective Disorders, 2020; 274: 298.



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