The Basics of PTSD
According to the National Center for PTSD, it is estimated that nearly 8 million people experience PTSD every year, with nearly 10 out of 100 women and 4 out of a 100 men developing the condition at some point during their lives. The effects and symptoms of PTSD can be devastating, to say the least.
Those diagnosed with the condition may experience flashbacks and nightmares, or be triggered by a sound, smell, or taste associated with the traumatic event. PTSD can vastly change someone’s personality and affect their way of life, making them avoid certain events, places, and people, changing the way they feel about a variety of topics, and placing them into a state of hypervigilance.
Medical Marijuana and PTSD Research
While research into medical marijuana and its effect on PTSD (and health conditions as a whole) is terribly underdeveloped, many clinical trials and PTSD sufferers have reported positive experiences using the substance to treat their symptoms. Most often, post-traumatic stress disorders are treated through behavioral therapy and there are few medications—and fewer that actually work—dedicated to relieving symptoms of the condition.
Given the prevalence of PTSD in the country, many researchers began looking for alternative ways to treat the disorder and were eventually led to marijuana through word-of-mouth reports from patients. One such researcher, Marcel Bonn-Miller, PhD, an adjunct assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, recognized the potential marijuana possessed for treating PTSD and began conducting studies on the substance’s benefits.
He is currently leading two of the largest and longest studies conducted on cannabinoids and PTSD. While his research is on-going, he and his colleagues have observed that medical marijuana can, in fact, help alleviate the symptoms of PTSD in patients, especially when paired with traditional therapies.
Why Medical Marijuana Can Help
Martin Lee, an affiliate of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and director of Project CBD, has discovered that many people suffering from PTSD have deficiencies within their endocannabinoid system (ECS). In short, their bodies have stopped creating enough of that specific neurotransmitter. Now, researchers believe that the cannabinoids contained in marijuana can help replenish the endocannabinoids, therefore increasing the patient’s opportunity for recovery and healing.
With both clinical studies and anecdotal evidence supporting the use of medical marijuana to help treat PTSD, you may be wondering how it could help you. Here are a few ways the effects of cannabinoids can alleviate the specific symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder:
Nightmares & Flashbacks
Cannabis has long been touted as a fantastic sleep aid and, as such, can be beneficial to those with PTSD who have trouble sleeping due to recurring nightmares. In a 2019 study on cannabis and PTSD, researchers found that participants given “5 mg of THC twice a day as an add-on treatment enhanced sleep quality and reduced the frequency of night-mares.”
Mental health professionals and PTSD experts cite that the condition often boils down to what they call “learned fear” which results in hypervigilance, which can lead to nightmares and flashbacks. Hypervigilance can also cause spikes in adrenaline which over time can severely impact an individual’s brain chemistry and their reaction to certain stimuli. Many studies have also linked memory loss to PTSD. Certain strains of marijuana, but especially indica, can produce a calming effect on the body, helping those suffering symptoms of PTSD to calm their mind and bodies.
All in all, medical marijuana can play an instrumental role in healing PTSD alongside behavioral therapy. However, we would be remiss to note that, while research regarding PTSD and marijuana looks promising, other studies conducted demonstrate the substance may exacerbate or worsen the symptoms of PTSD in certain individuals. As always, cannabis affects each person differently, so it is important to consult your physician prior to adopting the treatment.