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What Does Research Say About Cannabis for PTSD?

Posted on June 08 2019

Since nearly the beginning of history, cannabis has been revered for its powerful health benefits. As technology has advanced, we've been able to identify some pretty specific ways, via the Endocannabinoid System, that cannabinoids interact with the body. With new medical cannabis legislation popping up all over, the number of qualifying conditions is constantly expanding, too. Many people have heard that cannabis can help anxiety, but fewer people have heard about the benefits of using cannabis for a related condition, post-traumatic stress disorder.

PTSD, which can be severe and cause symptoms ranging from depressive thoughts to sleep disruptions and even nonepileptic seizures, is commonly treated with a combination of therapy and prescription medications, like SSRI’s. Recently, however, experts have become more and more interested in the use of cannabis for PTSD and some of the first human-controlled trials for cannabis as a treatment for PTSD are underway. Cannabis has been thought to help manage some of the side effects of the condition, like anxiety and poor sleep quality. Plus, the side effects related to cannabis may be much milder than that of common prescriptions used to treat the condition. Even more recent advancements show that CBD, a cannabis derivative that lacks the psychoactive properties of THC, might also help manage symptoms related to trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder.

If you are part of the 8% of Americans who suffer from PTSD, cannabis-based therapy may sound appealing. Luckily, research exists to back up the use of cannabis (and possibly CBD) for symptoms related to your condition, and many states consider PTSD a “qualifying condition” for a medical marijuana card.


Cannabis for PTSD According to Research

Research has suggested that the Endocannabinoid System, or the mechanism through which cannabinoids interact with the body’s processes, plays a key role in the regulation of responses to anxiety, fear, and stress. However, there aren’t many more studies available to explain the therapeutic value of cannabis as a treatment for PTSD. In fact, most studies concerning the two simply link the prevalence of PTSD to an increased chance or cannabis use, often identified as “Cannabis Use Disorder” in patients with anxiety disorders or other conditions considered high-risk for a co-occurring substance abuse disorder.

Still, with as many as 65% of people who experience PTSD reporting that they use cannabis, anecdotal evidence suggests that there are strong ties between the condition and the plant. Researchers are just beginning to flip the coin, though, to take a look at whether cannabis is providing a therapeutic avenue for these people.

One study does help explain this connection to a point and shows that patients with PTSD may have lower levels of anandamide, a naturally occurring endocannabinoid, than patients without the condition. That means that patients with PTSD have increased CB-1 receptor availability or more opportunity for cannabinoids to bind with receptors in the brain. In other words, one characteristic of PTSD in an imbalanced endocannabinoid system, which shed light on how cannabis may be able to regulate symptoms of the condition.

Further evidence suggests that cannabis may be suitable for one common, and often concerning symptoms for many PTSD sufferers—poor sleep. Although some people suggest that the use of cannabis (particularly sativas) may help calm nightmares associated with PTSD, research still hasn’t caught up to the anecdotes. One study does show that cannabis may reduce the amount of REM sleep you get, which means reducing dreams, and possibly nightmares for PTSD sufferers. In general, cannabis may be a suitable option for helping increase sleep quality and quantity. Studies show that THC may be effective for inducing sleep.

Plus, studies have shown that cannabis may reduce symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety overall. In fact, cannabis seemed to reduce symptoms of anxiety in over 95% of subjects. For these reasons and more, evidence regarding the effects of cannabis for PTSD is in high demand, and more and more people are asking their doctor about using cannabis to manage their symptoms.


Best Strains for PTSD and Anxiety

Experience cannabis users know that cannabis is complicated. There are hundreds of different strains, each with their own unique cannabinoid and terpene profile, and therefore widely differing psychoactive and therapeutic effects. This may leave you wondering, “What’re the best strains for PTSD and anxiety?” The answer, however, isn’t so simple and must be derived from the bulk of anecdotal evidence and experience available.

Although cannabis may be useful for treating anxiety for many people, other’s report that THC increased paranoia and anxious thoughts. For this reason, it’s often suggested that new users, especially those suffering from one or more anxiety disorder, start with a low-THC strain of cannabis. However, strains with more THC may be more useful for inducing sleep.

As far as particularly strains go, it’s hard to say, especially since each person seems to have a unique experience with cannabis. Many people who use cannabis for PTSD report that Sativa strains help with nightmares, while indica strains are less likely to incite paranoia. In general, the idea of using medical marijuana is comparatively accepted, especially since cannabis seems to have a low-risk safety profile and many of the side effects are reportedly mild, especially when compared to the side effects of common pharmaceuticals prescribed for the same reason.

In general, it’s suggested that any person hoping to use cannabis for PTSD consult their doctor first. Then, he or she may be able to help you sort through your options until you find the best strain for you.


What About CBD for PTSD?

Although medical cannabis seems to be a pretty popular and solid option for the treatment of many health conditions, many people are becoming curious about the advantages of using CBD for PTSD, both on its own and in combination with medical cannabis treatments. Several studies have linked CBD to anxiolytic effects, and many people are already using CBD for insomnia and improving sleep. However, research has looked a bit further into the use of CBD for PTSD symptoms. One study shows that CBD reduces fear memory behaviors, which may make it useful in therapy-based efforts of fear extinction. Another study shows that CBD has a direct impact on the regulation of emotions and emotional memory processing, two processes directly involved in the manifestation of PTSD symptoms.

CBD offers a unique option because it produces no psychoactive effects, which may pose a threat to some patients with PTSD, especially those exhibiting extreme symptoms of anxiety or paranoia. CBD made from industrial hemp is legal in all 50 states, which also helps make it more accessible than medical marijuana for many people. Still, you should consult your doctor before switching your wellness routine or using cannabis-based supplements to treat PTSD. This is especially true if you plan to use cannabis or CBD in place of pharmaceuticals, and a close relationship with your doctor could definitely impact the efficacy of your cannabinoid-based therapy.

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