cannabis and post-traumatic stress disorder

Cannabis and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

6 mins read

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that can affect anyone at any time and can develop after a person is exposed to highly stressful and traumatic events.

In the majority of cases, the symptoms develop during the first month after a traumatic event. However, in a minority of cases, there may be a delay of months or even years before symptoms start to appear.

The length of time varies from case to case as to how long a person may have PTSD. In some cases, especially when not treated, PTSD can last a very long time, perhaps the remainder of one’s life.

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Treating PTSD

The tradition treatment model for PTSD has until recently been a regiment of Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s), (which are also traditionally used to help treat Depression and Anxiety disorders) In conjunction with Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

In recent years there have been some breakthroughs in the treatment of PTSD – but none of these treatments so far have directly involved Cannabinoids.

The studies that have been conducted tend to equate PTSD patients’ Cannabis consumption as a substance misuse disorder arising from their disorder, rather than the patients self-medicating to alleviate their symptoms and help in maintaining a daily routine.

One of these such treatments is known as Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) 

EDMR was created in 1987 by Francine Shapiro Ph.D. It works By bringing attention to specific information and memories that are maladaptively stored within the brain and by using bilateral stimulation. The brain is then able to tap into its natural ability to process information and it is then able to correctly process the disturbing information that is causing a patient’s symptoms and move the information to the correct part of the brain. This allows the patient to adequately process the trauma, resulting in a reduction in re-occurrence of their symptoms.

There is also MDMA-assisted therapy which is also being trialled by Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) in the US now that is showing great promise – Read more about that here.

However, Since the end of the Vietnam war in 1975, the amount of anecdotal evidence has been growing that the Cannabinoid THC in Cannabis can help to reduce the symptoms of PTSD and aide in treatment and help sufferers to manage their day to day lives.

Treating PTSD with cannabis

There has been little in the way of research studies authorised by the usual pharmaceutical companies as for decades now Cannabis has been and in most countries remains classified as Schedule 1, having no medicinal value or legitimate medical applications.

One study of the few studies published in 2016  involved an experiment that used rats to measure how well they associated a painful sensation with a particular odour. Administering CBD directly into the rats’ brains during the painful sensation prevented them from associating the pain with the smell. Other rats without CBD got afraid of a potential electric shock and froze when they smelled the odour, potentially indicating that Increased CBD in the brain helps to protect in the development of traumatic memories and associated fears.

In another first-of-its-kind effort to illuminate the biochemical impact of trauma, researchers at NYU Langone Medical Centre have discovered a connection between the quantity of Cannabinoid receptors in the human brain, known as CB1 receptors. This suggests that people suffering from PTSD may have lower levels of endocannabinoids in their body, and in turn have more Cannabinoid receptors to compensate. You can Read more about that here.

There is also this study from Brazil, which demonstrates that CBD and THC administered together could potentially provide relief for PTSD with minimal psychological side effects.

Even though there has not yet been any large scale studies or trials of medical Cannabis treatments for PTSD yet completed in the US, there is still extensive anecdotal evidence that exists to suggest cannabis effectively treats at least some of the worst symptoms of the disorder.

Where do we go from here?

It is now changing for some, particularly over in the US and in other countries with more patients having access to cannabis year after year.

Some states now allow medicinal cannabis for treatment of Veterans returning from wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places.

The same cannabis has been shown to reduce opioid addiction in states where patients are given access.

Read more: Is Medical Cannabis the Answer to Britain’s Growing Dependency on Prescription Medication?

How long before British patients will get the same level of access to a substance that is proving at least anecdotally far better at stabilising the lives of those who have PTSD?

So in summary, as is often the case when it comes to the medicinal applications of Cannabis, far more academic and laboratory research is needed.

However, the future looks bright.

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