Christopher’s PTSD came about after he saw Hurricane Sandy wash his home away. And, the situation went from bad to worse as he watched on helplessly while the raging waters swept his parents away too.
Fortunately, they survived but the memories of the breaking glass, roaring water, and his mother’s screams are still fresh in his mind. Until today, the sound of breaking glass takes Christopher back to that terrible day when he almost lost his parents.
If you are suffering from PTSD you may relate to Chris’s experience. The recurring nightmares, anxiety attacks and insomnia make life hard for the survivors of tragic events. But there may be a solution to help ease the fears and make life more bearable; medical marijuana.
Of all the medical conditions marijuana is believed to treat, none is as polarizing as its treatment for PTSD.
Supporters are often very confident in the effectiveness of marijuana for PTSD. But, skeptics are entirely against its use for treatment. So why these differing opinions?
For team Mary Jane, compelling testimonies from PTSD patients on the effectiveness of weed in reducing anxiety, improving sleep, and reducing hyperarousal back their belief in the drug. Not to mention current and preclinical studies that further solidify these claims.
Conversely, the anti-cannabis brigade also mentions experiences from patients whose condition worsened after taking the drug. Moreover, some scientific studies suggest that marijuana use may indeed worsen the symptoms in PTSD patients.
Who is right and who’s wrong?
Medical Marijuana for PTSD
So why is medical marijuana even considered in PTSD treatment?
First, the components in cannabis have the twin ability to tweak memory processes and reduce depression and anxiety.
Secondly, a recent study revealed that cannabinoids administered shortly after exposure to a traumatic event could prevent the development of PTSD-like characteristics. So not only can medical marijuana provide relief, but it may also be a safeguard against post-traumatic stress disorder itself.
PTSD symptoms lessened by marijuana
Several scientific inquiries over the years have sought to prove whether medical cannabis is a valid solution in reducing the severity of symptoms among PTSD patients.
Most recently, a study published in the book, Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research sought to understand whether cannabis sold in dispensaries helped PTSD patients.
The test involved PTSD patients who were divided into two groups. Those who used marijuana for their PTSD and those who didn’t. Over three months, patients who used cannabis reported a significant reduction in the severity of their symptoms than their counterparts.
Moreover, preliminary human studies also suggest that treatment with cannabis may effectively decrease PTSD symptoms. For instance:
- frequency of nightmares
- sleep quality
Despite these promising results, most of the studies decry the limitation in their research as a result of the illegal status of the herb. Consequently, studies can’t yet be conducted on a large scale and comprehensive manner to provide conclusive results.
Still, where there’s a will, there’s a way. And scientists have circumnavigated this hurdle by using animals to test for cannabis response on PTSD symptoms. Despite the brilliance of this move, replicating the true psychological effects of PTSD in animals still proves a challenge.
Despite this, animal trials have shown that cannabinoids affect several PTSD-related symptoms. For example:
- The effects of stress on emotional functions and memory processes
- Enabling fear extinction
- Having an anti-anxiety-like effect on a variety of tasks.
Prevents hyperarousal and PTSD-related anxiety
On the endocannabinoid system
Since PTSD is a psychological problem, it’s important to understand what happens in the brain that promotes its development and persistence.
First is the amygdala, a part of the brain believed to play important roles in emotion and behaviour. And is best known for its part in processing fear and the fight or flight response.
Second, is the endocannabinoid system which plays a big role in balancing many processes in our body. Most importantly, the cannabinoids present in marijuana, mainly CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) react with the endocannabinoid system to spur certain effects.
Several studies have linked PTSD to lower anandamide levels and an increased expression of cannabinoid type 1 receptor (CB1); both found within the endocannabinoid system.
Thus, this imbalance is assumed to result in hyperactivation of the amygdala. Hence causing extreme threat processing with characteristics of hyperarousal anxiety.
As a result, hyperarousal anxiety then causes a myriad of PTSD symptoms, such as:
- Sleep disturbances
- Memory and cognitive impairments
- Altered pain sensitivity
- Emotional numbing
So how does cannabis prevent hyperarousal? Well, since hyperactivation of the amygdala is caused by a deficiency in the endocannabinoid anandamide, CBD increases the anandamide levels. Thus, no deficit means no amygdala hyperactivation hence no extreme fear.
Additionally, THC also plays a role in regulating threat processing in trauma-exposed PTSD patients.
To support this theory, PTSD patients participated in a study where they took THC doses and got exposed to situations designed to trigger fear. As severe as the test may seem, the results were worthwhile since participants showed lower threat-related amygdala activity besides reduced fear and anxiety.
To reduce inflammation
Sometimes, psychological conditions may involve elevated inflammatory processes within the brain. CBD, the non-psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana is known for its anti-inflammatory properties.
This element not only works for pain relief but also doubles down against PTSD by activating the cannabinoid type 2 receptors (CB2).
Promotes fear extinction
What is fear extinction?
Fear extinction is a decline in conditioned fear responses and this occurs during new learning.
When we experience a traumatic event, something known as fear conditioning occurs. This means that you automatically develop a fear-conditioned response related to a specific event or object. Even if the traumatic event occurred once.
Take for instance Christopher’s response after his parents’ near-death experience with Hurricane Sandy. His brain ‘learned’ that the sound of crashing glass is a sign of a deadly experience. As a result, every time he hears crashing glass, he reacts by feeling extreme dread.
Sometimes, the fear response in people goes away. Why is this?
Normally, after experiencing a traumatic event, the brain slowly ‘forgets’ the feelings associated with the stressor. And, in Christopher’s case, the sound of crashing glass is a PTSD stressor.
Assume that Christopher is a construction worker, and glass breaking is a norm in his life. Had he not developed PTSD, initially the sound of crashing glass would paralyze him with fear. But, as the months went by, his brain would realize that the sound of crashing glass didn’t lead to anything dangerous. And eventually, the sound of crashing glass wouldn’t lead to a vivid traumatic recollection.
This process of ‘forgetting’ the fear is known as fear extinction. And it’s not forgetting, but a learning process where the brain stops associating the PTSD stressor to trauma but another experience. This new learning says something counter to the conditioning of the fear.
But, in the case of PTSD, the memory plus its accompanying emotions and physical experiences still occur even months after the event. And this has to do with a malfunction in the extinction process.
How medical marijuana promotes the fear extension process
Fortunately, several studies have uncovered that marijuana may help in extinguishing traumatic memories. Simply put, cannabis may help you ‘forget’ your traumatic episode.
This theory was first hypothesized by the late R. Andrew Sewell, M.D. who was an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Yale.
Doctor Sewell suggested that marijuana may help PTSD ‘overwrite’ traumatic memories and replace them with new memories in a process called extinction learning.
And since PTSD affects the normal functioning of the endocannabinoid system this may lead to a problem with the normal extinction process. But, marijuana might kick-start this process enabling patients to recover from their intense traumatic memories.
Additionally, researchers discovered that low doses of THC or a combination of both CBD and THC improved the extinction rate for bad memories. It appears that THC improves the extinction process while CBD eases the potential adverse effects of high THC doses.
Nightmares are like vampires that rise in the cover of darkness to torment PTSD patients.
As if the fear and anxiety experienced during the daytime aren’t enough, patients experience haunting dreams in their slumber reminiscent of their traumatic memories. Insomnia becomes a norm and some end up developing sleep apnea.
As luck would have it, cannabis can serve to prevent or reduce the frequency of nightmares.
People experience vivid dreams during a stage of sleep known as REM sleep. And cannabis reduces REM sleep, as a result, relieves recurring nightmares associated with PTSD.
To test this hypothesis, researchers administered a cannabinoid stimulant known as nabilone to 47 patients who despite using antidepressants and seeing a psychiatrist still reported nightmares. After the treatment, 72% of patients stopped having nightmares or their intensity dropped.
Apart from extinguished nightmares, patients also reported that the quality and duration of sleep improved while also daytime flashbacks and night sweats reduced.
Not only does this study show the benefits of cannabis for PTSD treatment but also the significant advantage it has over other methods of treatment.
Side effects of marijuana use in PTSD patients
Those against the use of marijuana in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder do have legitimate concerns. And some studies do support some of the concerns they have.
One study revealed that marijuana use has been linked to unfavorable psychiatric outcomes such as depression, anxiety, psychosis, and substance abuse.
A paradox, since other studies support cannabis use to treat these conditions.
So why this divide? And should the results of this research deter patients from using cannabis for their treatment?
It is true that marijuana may increase anxiety in PTSD patients. But, this effect is greatly influenced by the amount of THC taken by the patient.
The publication, Integrating Endocannabinoid Signaling and Cannabinoids into the Biology and Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder best explains the relationship between anxiety and THC dosage. The study proved that lower doses of THC greatly diminished anxiety in patients. However, when doses of THC were increased, anxiety levels spiked.
What does this mean? Like any other drug, excessive use is bound to make things worse than better. Thus, proper use of cannabis will indeed provide relief for anxiety and not worsen the condition.
Another study opposing marijuana also linked its use after treatment to more violent behavior and alcohol use. Additionally, the study went further to state that marijuana would make symptoms of PTSD more severe or nullify the benefits of specialized intensive treatment.
Best strains for PTSD and anxiety
Getting the best weed for your PTSD and anxiety may dramatically improve your condition and prompt a period of rapid recovery. Yet, the sheer number of strains available in marijuana dispensaries may make the selection process overwhelming and frustrating.
One option is to simply test out different strains. Strains that come highly recommended among PTSD patients include:
- Blue Dream – a Sativa-dominant hybrid strain with 18% THC that delivers quick relief from nausea, pain, and depression
- Macnanna strain – an Indica-dominant hybrid strain known for its potent effect on inducing sleep and reducing pain.
- Blue Nightmare strain – a cross of the Blue Dream and Tahoe O.G strains known for their happy and relaxing effects.
- Sunset Dream strain – also known as Sunset OG is an Indica strain with 17% THC best for reducing pain and anxiety.
- Polar Express strain – a powerful Indica strain with 20% THC. It’s best to be cautious due to its potency.
- Dakini Kush – an Indica-dominant strain that improves mood, diminishes pain and promotes rest.
For more options on the best strains for PTSD and anxiety, we recommend taking a look at Leafly’s Cannabis Strains That may Help with PTSD.
We don’t recommend trying out many different weed strains, however, given that one bad experience may adversely affect your recovery. So what’s the best course of action?
Speak to a medical marijuana doctor
Speaking to an experienced and well-informed marijuana doctor should be a top priority when you decide to use cannabis to treat your condition.
Sometimes, patients are resistant to bring up the topic of marijuana to their doctor, and that’s completely understandable. Regardless of how hard this conversation may seem, it’s essential for your recovery.
To smooth out this process, QuickMedCards has a team of accomplished and compassionate marijuana doctors ready to help you with your treatment and recovery. For PTSD patients, in particular, we have doctors in the following states which approve medicinal cannabis for PTSD:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- West Virginia
With QuickMedCards, not only will you receive a recommendation to get medical marijuana in your state, but also a personalized treatment plan for your rapid recovery. Additionally, approved patients get a free gift of CBD worth $30 along with the doctor’s recommendation.
Indica or Sativa for PTSD
Indica strains are best used for relaxation whereas Sativa strains are responsible for the improvement in mood.
Both strains are useful in treating PTSD symptoms. For instance, Sativa strains may help ease depression while Indica strains improve sleep and reduce anxiety. Perhaps hybrid strains would be more effective since both the qualities of Sativa and Indica are blended into one effective drug.
Nevertheless, we still insist on consulting a marijuana doctor for the best option for your individual needs.
CBD oil and PTSD
As already established, both THC and CBD are very effective in treating the bothersome symptoms of PTSD.
CBD on the other hand may have an advantage over THC given that it’s the non-psychoactive cannabinoid in the drug. As a result, we could assume that most concerns people have against cannabis for PTSD treatment would be canceled out by the use of CBD.
CBD oil, especially derived from hemp plants only contains trace amounts of THC. Meaning that becoming intoxicated while taking this drug is virtually non-existent. But, patients still enjoy the therapeutic effects of CBD to reduce anxiety and hyperarousal.
Another advantage is that unlike most medicinal cannabis products, CBD does not need one to undergo a state registration process to access the drug. Consequently, making it easily accessible.
Companies such as InstacraftCBD are proficient in producing pure and quality CBD oil at low prices. So that patients can be confident in taking a safe product that contains the benefits they seek, which is simultaneously a safer alternative to the possible adverse effects of THC-dominant cannabis products.
What is PTSD?
Post-Traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that develops in individuals after they experience or witness an intense and life-threatening traumatic event.
Causes of PTSD
- Serious accidents
- Physical or sexual assault
- Abuse including childhood and domestic abuse
- Witnessing natural disasters
- Experiencing a serious health issue such as being admitted into the ICU
- Losing a child
- War and conflict
Symptoms of PTSD
PTSD often comes with a host of behavioral, mood, and psychological symptoms. For example:
- Hypervigilance is a state of extreme alertness where you become extremely sensitive to your surroundings.
- Hyperarousal, like hypervigilance but instead, a person may lose contact with reality
- Self-destructive behavior
- Social isolation
- Intense flashbacks
- Severe anxiety
- Mistrust or extreme paranioa
- Unwanted thoughts
- Frequent nightmares
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities enjoyed before
Marijuana use and PTSD among Veterans
The events of combat make veterans very susceptible to developing PTSD.
The numbers from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs paint a grim picture of how many brave men and women often develop PTSD after returning from service.
Data from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that the number of veterans using marijuana medically was more than double that of the general population.
Whereas most veterans using cannabis endorse its use citing improved coping, reduced anxiety, and better sleep where does the Department of Veteran Affairs stand?
First, the VA does not endorse the use of medicinal cannabis because of its classification as a Schedule I drug by federal law. But, the VA also states that veteran participation in state marijuana programs does not affect eligibility for VA care and services.
Moreover, VA providers are open to having discussions about cannabis use among veterans but clinicians cannot recommend medicinal weed.
The VA’s stance may seem like walking on eggshells since they don’t discourage the use of the drug among veterans nor do they completely voice their support.
Perhaps soon, when medical marijuana is legal at the federal level will the VA take a confident stance either for or against cannabis.
- Cannabis may be effective in greatly reducing the symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, and hyperarousal in PTSD patients.
- Misuse of marijuana, among PTSD patients, in particular, may aggravate symptoms.
- CBD oil may be an effective non-psychoactive solution in the treatment of PTSD.
- More research is required to find out whether medical cannabis may be the best medical option of treatment for PTSD patients.
- Despite the limited research, current clinical and preclinical data suggest that cannabis may offer therapeutic benefits for PTSD.