According to scientific research, medical marijuana might help those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In this article, we’ll explore the science behind PTSD, how cannabis could potentially help, and examine past studies on medical marijuana use for treating PTSD sufferers.
What Is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness that occurs after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. The following are some examples of PTSD causes:
- Car accidents
- Violent and sexual abuse
- War-related combat
Various symptoms characterize PTSD, and the key symptoms are as follows:
- Repeated recollection of the traumatic event through flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts
- Hyperarousal, meaning the nervous system is on constant alert for danger
- Lack of self-control
What Causes PTSD?
The sympathetic nervous system, which is more commonly known as the “fight-or-flight” response, begins when we are under stress. This happens because the amygdala sends signals to release chemical messengers, like adrenaline and norepinephrine. In turn, these act on different organs in our body to get it ready for action–such as increasing heart rate so that muscles can have a better oxygen supply via blood flow.
People who have been exposed to traumatic events in the past, such as combat or sexual assault, may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They may react to non-threatening objects and events in their environment as if they were really endangered.
Following a traumatic experience, the body becomes more sensitive to risk, and the amygdala is activated. The sympathetic nervous system is overactive as a result of this influence, which means individuals with PTSD may react to seemingly benign things in their environment as if they were in actual danger. This mechanism causes people who have been through a trauma to respond violently to reminders of the incident.
The brains of persons who suffer from PTSD have decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is a brain region involved with planning and executive functions.
The logical part of the brain is called the PFC, and it works by trying to figure out if activating fight or flight would be helpful. If not, it sends a message to stop the amygdala from firing messages. In PTSD, this mechanism doesn’t work as well as it should, so people can’t control their fight or flight response in situations where they don’t need it.
Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) is a type of post-traumatic stress disorder that is caused by many incidents occurring over a long period of time.
C-PTSD is a type of post-traumatic stress disorder that can develop after exposure to repeated trauma, especially during childhood. People with C-PTSD often have difficulty trusting others and maintaining relationships, and may also struggle with managing their emotions. They may also experience depersonalization, feeling disconnected from their bodies and thoughts.
How Can Medical Marijuana Help Treat PTSD?
Medical Cannabis Decreases the Stress Response
Cannabidiol (CBD), one of the primary components in medical marijuana , is recognized for having a relaxing influence on the nerve system. It lowers heart rate and encourages restorative functions, which are suppressed during fight or flight. As a result, CBD might help people with PTSD get some much-needed rest.
THC, the compound in medical marijuana that gets users high, could also be helpful for people with PTSD according to recent scientific evidence. For example, studies have shown that THC can decrease activity in the amygdala. This means it could potentially help reduce stress signaling for patients with PTSD.
However, some of the effects of THC may actually activate rather than suppress the stress response. THC, for example, increases heart rate and can induce panic and anxiety in some individuals. As a result, for certain people with PTSD, THC might exacerbate symptoms instead of treating them.
Cannabis Might Help Fear-Extinction
Pot’s ability to calm the nervous system and relieve stress may help with phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in particular.
When scientists pair a threatening stimulus with a non-threatening stimulus, the animals will continue to respond to the non-threatening stimulus alone as if it is dangerous. However, over time, animals learn that the non-threatening stimulus isn’t dangerous and no longer show a fear response. This process is called fear extinction.
Traumatic memories may be evoked by events in the environment that are similar to what happened at the time of the event. The inability to control these responses, known as fear extinction, is an important clinical feature of PTSD.
Cannabinoids have been shown in animal tests to aid decrease the time it takes for fear extinction. As a result, medical marijuana might be beneficial in assisting individuals living with PTSD overcome their emotional responses to anything connected with unpleasant memories.
Cannabis Can Help Decrease PTSD Symptoms
Medical marijuana has also been demonstrated to alleviate the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). CBD, for example, has been shown in several studies to help people with insomnia sleep better and feel less anxious.
What the Research Shows About Medical Marijuana and PTSD
In one study, researchers studied the response of adults to a series of images depicting both threatening and non-threatening faces. When researchers showed traumatized people frightening looks, their amygdala activity rose and their reaction times slowed down. However, these effects were not significant if the individuals had THC earlier in the day.
THC also caused an increase in activity in the ACC and mPFC of traumatized patients, which are involved in controlling emotional responses, focusing, and managing conflict.
According to research, THC may help people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) decrease their amygdala reactivity and anxiety.
A number of cannabis research showed that THC at low dosages, as well as other cannabinoids, improved fear extinction when used together. Their researchers also stated that while THC is better for aiding in the prevention of traumatic memories, CBD is superior for managing anxiety symptoms.
In a study of the effects of medical marijuana on PTSD symptoms, researchers analyzed data from patients who were part of the New Mexico Medical Cannabis program from 2009 to 2011. Patients using cannabis had a 75% reduction in symptom scores when compared to those who weren’t using it.
However, a study conducted on war veterans found the precise opposite result, revealing that cannabis use was associated with increased severity of PTSD symptoms, violent behavior and drug as well alcohol abuse. The explanation for the conflicting results may be due to one group of patients using medical marijuana in a medicinal capacity while those in the other group used it recreationally.
Using Medical Marijuana to Treat PTSD
While cannabis may have short-term benefits for those suffering from PTSD, long-term use can have harmful consequences on both mental and physical health. These effects could include:
- Impaired memory
- Increased damage to lung tissue and risk of lung cancer (from smoking cannabis with tobacco)
- Problems with fertility
Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHSS), a condition in which individuals experience recurring sickness and vomiting, is an uncommon but serious long-term cannabis side effect. People with CHS can become severely dehydrated as a result of the illness’s severity, which can lead to kidney failure and muscular spasms.
CBD oil is often known to have fewer side effects than THC, so it might be a safer option to considering using CBD instead of medical marijuana when managing PTSD symptoms.
CBD has shown to have fewer adverse effects than THC, suggesting that CBD may be a preferable treatment for PTSD symptoms. If you’re new to CBD, we’ve got you covered.
Self-medicating with medical marijuana has never been more popular, so we wanted to provide you some guidance. We don’t recommend it, however, because post-traumatic stress disorder is a serious illness. Rather than self-diagnosing, see your doctor first to find out what treatments are best for you. If you’re new to therapy, your doctor may want to start with non-drug therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
- Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Group psychotherapy
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
Some veterans who have experienced military combat and psychological trauma develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or cumulative PTSD (C-PTSD). Because what works for one person might not be helpful for another, thinking about therapies may be extremely difficult.
Cannabis may help reduce some of the symptoms of PTSD and might be beneficial in the treatment of fear extinction. However, further research is needed to evaluate the long-term consequences of cannabis use on people with PTSD.
We recommend only using cannabis if you’re in a place where medical cannabis is available on prescription, or alternatively, look into legal CBD products. Keep in mind that illegally-bought cannabis has increased dangers.