Can Cannabis Help With PTSD?
Scott Thompson‘s experience with cannabis highlights its potential as a therapeutic aid for individuals dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After being involved in a car accident that resulted in a severe concussion and traumatic brain injury, Thompson struggled with overwhelming emotions triggered by the simple act of opening a car door. He faced crippling anxiety, panic attacks, and flashbacks whenever he drove or even rode as a passenger in a car.
Diagnosed with PTSD, Thompson was initially prescribed Sertraline, an antidepressant, but experienced negative side effects like headaches and nightmares. Seeking an alternative solution, he turned to cannabis, which he had previously used in high school but not as an adult. Utilizing a vape pen and smoking cannabis flower, Thompson found that cannabis helped him relax and alleviated his PTSD symptoms significantly.
Consistent cannabis use over a year eventually led to a reduction in his PTSD symptoms, bringing him closer to a state of well-being. Thompson’s story is just one of many that illustrates the potential of cannabis as a tool for managing PTSD symptoms. In the United States, several states with medical marijuana programs recognize PTSD as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis use.
Research also supports the idea that cannabis can be beneficial in treating trauma-related conditions like PTSD. The healing properties of cannabis, particularly in managing symptoms related to anxiety and stress, have sparked interest and further investigation in this area. As more studies explore the potential therapeutic effects of cannabis on mental health conditions like PTSD, it has the potential to become a valuable addition to existing treatment options. However, it’s important to approach its use for medical purposes with caution and under the guidance of healthcare professionals.
What is PTSD?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Trauma can encompass various events, such as accidents, assaults, combat, disasters, or witnessing the injury or death of others. Additionally, traumatic experiences like sexual assault or abuse can also lead to PTSD. While many individuals experience short-term stress and anxiety after a traumatic event, for some, the effects persist, resulting in ongoing or chronic PTSD.
Around 6% of people experience PTSD at some point in their lives, and it can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, or background. Certain risk factors may increase the likelihood of developing PTSD, such as lacking social support after the traumatic event or facing additional stressors like the loss of a loved one, job, or home.
To be diagnosed with PTSD, specific symptoms must be present for at least a month and significantly interfere with daily life, relationships, or work. The symptoms of PTSD can vary but may include:
- Flashbacks: Reliving the traumatic event, often leading to physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating.
- Nightmares: Recurrent and distressing dreams related to the trauma.
- Avoidance: Avoiding places, events, or objects that remind the person of the traumatic experience.
- Negative Thoughts and Feelings: Persistent negative thoughts about oneself, others, or the world, and distorted feelings such as guilt or blame for the event.
- Hyperarousal: Feeling constantly on edge, being easily startled, and having difficulty sleeping.
- Emotional Changes: Experiencing frightening thoughts, angry outbursts, or loss of interest in once-enjoyable activities.
PTSD can be a challenging condition to manage, but with proper treatment and support, individuals can find ways to cope with their symptoms and work towards healing from the effects of trauma.
How Can Cannabis Help With PTSD?
Many people have had a lot of success using cannabis to manage symptoms of PTSD, offering potential benefits that traditional therapies like SSRIs may not provide. One significant effect of cannabis use is memory impairment, which can be beneficial for people with PTSD who struggle with intrusive and distressing memories of traumatic experiences.
Dr. Benjamin Caplan, Chief Medical Officer at CED Clinic and EO Care, believes that cannabis, when combined with a supportive environment and mindset (set and setting), can be more effective and better tolerated than some conventional PTSD treatments. Cannabis is thought to be uniquely suited to address the intrusive thoughts, negative emotions, and aversive memory aspects of PTSD.
For individuals battling PTSD-related nightmares and intrusive thoughts, the impact of THC-derived cannabinoids on short-term memory can provide a brief respite. By offering a temporary escape from the grip of traumatic memories and inducing lightly euphoric effects, cannabinoids in cannabis have the potential to calm even the most distressing symptoms of PTSD.
Jason Gann, creator and star of the stoner comedy series “Wilfred,” has lived with PTSD for over three decades due to childhood trauma. He found solace in cannabis as a teenager, using it to cope with feelings of shame, anger, and worthlessness associated with intrusive thoughts. Gann credits cannabis with helping him manage anxiety attacks, insomnia, and overwhelming thoughts related to PTSD.
While Gann had tried antidepressants in the past to address his PTSD symptoms, he found them unhelpful and even complicating his life further. He experienced diminishing effectiveness over time, leading to increased dosages with more problems as a result. While he acknowledges that antidepressants may have a role in extreme circumstances, he believes that cannabis has been a more suitable and beneficial option for managing his PTSD symptoms.
Overall, cannabis may offer a potential alternative or complementary approach for individuals struggling with PTSD, providing relief from intrusive thoughts and negative emotions associated with traumatic experiences. However, it’s essential to approach cannabis use for medical purposes with caution and under the guidance of healthcare professionals, as individual responses to cannabis can vary, and it may not be suitable for everyone.
What Does The Science Say About Cannabis And PTSD?
The observations made by Dr. Caplan and Jason Gann regarding the positive effects of cannabis on PTSD symptoms are supported by scientific studies. Research on veterans with PTSD indicates that cannabis use can lead to a reduction in the frequency of nightmares. Additionally, a study conducted in 2022 found that individuals with PTSD who used cannabis for a year were more likely to no longer meet the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis compared to those who did not use cannabis.
A recent study involving adult participants demonstrated that THC, a primary psychoactive compound in cannabis, can reduce the activity of the amygdala in individuals with PTSD. The amygdala is a part of the brain responsible for generating and processing fear, which contributes to hyperactivity and hypervigilance in those with PTSD. THC also increased activity in other brain regions, including the medial prefrontal cortex and rostral anterior cingulate cortex, which play crucial roles in processing emotions, monitoring conflict, and regulating attention control. This suggests that THC can have a positive impact on how individuals with PTSD respond to threats, emotional stress, and attentional control.
However, it is essential to be cautious about the use of THC-rich cannabis strains or high doses, as they can lead to dependence, cannabis use disorder, and unwanted cognitive effects such as increased anxiety. Approximately 22.7% of veterans using cannabis for PTSD may develop cannabis use disorder. High-quality research in this area emphasizes the need for further clinical investigations to establish conclusive evidence regarding the efficacy and safety of cannabis as a treatment for PTSD.
As with any medical treatment, it’s important for individuals to work with healthcare professionals and follow appropriate guidelines to ensure safe and effective use of cannabis for managing PTSD symptoms. More research is needed to fully understand the potential benefits and risks of cannabis as a therapeutic option for PTSD.
Are Certain Cannabinoids Or Delivery Methods More Beneficial For PTSD?
Both Thompson and Gann prefer whole-plant cannabis with a mix of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other compounds for managing their PTSD symptoms. They find flower or vaping to be their preferred delivery methods, as they offer rapid relief and discreet consumption.
However, cannabis offers a variety of delivery methods catering to different needs and preferences. Smoking and vaping provide quick-acting effects, while edibles offer a more extended-release option, taking 30-60 minutes to kick in.
When it comes to the effects of specific cannabinoids on PTSD, research has shown promising results. CBD, for instance, appears to be well-suited for managing anxiety, extinguishing fearful memories, and reducing avoidance behavior. THC, on the other hand, may play a role in softening aversive memories, easing nightmares, and supporting better sleep.
Dr. Caplan cautions against drawing oversimplified conclusions about specific cannabinoids or delivery methods for PTSD. Unlike the traditional pharmaceutical model of targeting specific nerve receptor pathways, cannabis works through a complex interaction of multiple compounds. The experience of euphoria associated with THC may provide temporary relief for some individuals coping with constant tension and stress, while others might prefer the non-psychoactive effects of CBD.
Individuals with PTSD considering cannabis as a treatment option should seek guidance from experienced cannabis clinicians. Personalized treatment plans that cater to individual symptoms and preferences are more likely to be effective. There are various safe and effective choices available in the cannabis medicine cabinet that can help manage the pain, anxiety, and recurring memories associated with PTSD.
MPORTANT: The information on this blog is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. Always consult a qualified healthcare professional for personalised medical advice. The authors of this blog are not medical professionals and disclaim any liability for the use of the information provide.