Research on the benefits of cannabis on PTSD has been somewhat inconclusive, yet many continue to report that cannabis can help.
With steady increases in science-backed proof of the medicinal properties of cannabis for a wide range of illnesses, users are pushing for even more studies to prove what they already believe: cannabis heals with fewer side effects than traditional pharmaceutical treatments.
The general population is beginning to understand the benefits of cannabis for conditions like anxiety and depression, yet its uses for PTSD—a difficult-to-treat mental health disorder—are considerably less acknowledged.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is classified as a set of reactions that occur after a traumatic event. It is commonly displayed as extreme anxiety and depressive episodes in relation to or triggered by memories of the event. Many sufferers of PTSD will relive the unwanted memory and experience distressing thoughts, nightmares, or flashbacks that can be debilitating to daily life.
It is normal to feel fearful or distressed after a particularly traumatic event and these occurrences will initiate a “fight or flight” response in all healthy people. PTSD sufferers, however, will be unable to naturally move past this event over time and can continue to feel like they are living in a perpetual state of anxiety—even when there is no real danger.
Combat veterans are a largely underserved group who chronically suffer from PTSD with little success in treatment. Statistics show that about 1 in 5 military personnel deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan will experience PTSD. It is a mental health diagnosis that has historically low treatment success.
Traditionally, veterans have been prescribed antidepressants or antipsychotics for PTSD—treatments that are often ineffective and unsustainable because of the many side effects. Cannabis prohibition has created an unfortunate doubling down of harm disproportionately affecting veterans, as many have been charged with drug possession as a result of trying to medicate themselves with cannabis to relieve symptoms of PTSD.
Research in cannabis treatment for PTSD has shown that there are biological functions behind the previously anecdotal evidence that cannabis can significantly reduce symptoms, both acutely and long term.
A recent study led by Carrie Cuttler, a Washington State University assistant professor of psychology, showed that “Cannabis reduced the severity of intrusions, returning thoughts of a traumatic event, by about 62%; flashbacks by 51%, irritability by 67%, and anxiety by 57%.”
Although this study found that the therapeutic effects may be only temporary, and research has been somewhat inconclusive, many patients maintain that cannabis helps immensely with symptom management.
One study out of Wayne State University suggested that cannabis affects the amygdala response in the brain. Through this study that recorded the subject’s responses, it was observed that when exposed to threatening stimuli, those who had been given THC had lowered threat-related amygdala reactivity—meaning that their response to deliberately-triggered fear was significantly less than those without THC in their systems. This, among a handful of other related studies, could give hope to those suffering from PTSD that have yet to find relief in traditional pharmaceutical avenues.
Many sufferers continue to tout the benefits of cannabis for the treatment of PTSD, sharing their experience with less severe side effects than those from traditional antidepressants.
Experiential reports have shared that cannabis use can help with symptoms like insomnia and studies like this one show that cannabis does have some scientific backing for the “blunting” of stress hormones in the body.
Future research, along with the continued global legalization of medicinal cannabis will grant access to those that have previously found relief, and further de-stigmatize the use of cannabis in the treatment of mental health issues.
The exact strain and strength should be a personal choice, many consumers choose to consider factors like growing conditions and/or organic status in the cannabis they sample. Certified growers will have detailed information on their cannabis strains and how they may aid in the treatment of different disorders. Please discuss with your doctor before starting any new medication.
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