A growing epidemic among Americans is the condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. It is estimated that about 8% of the U.S. population will have PTSD at some point in their lives, and about eight million people experience this disorder each year. Although PTSD is commonly associated with the traumatic experiences of first-responders and military members, this disorder can strike anyone at any time. It can be difficult to treat, and that has led medical researchers to investigate alternatives to traditional therapies in order to provide improved outcomes for PTSD sufferers. Medical cannabis may be a viable alternative in treating the symptoms associated with PTSD, and can hold the keys to managing this disorder effectively and safely. 

Understanding PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder that can develop in those who have experienced a traumatic event. In normal situations, scary or shocking events may produce a “fight or flight” response, and it is natural to experience fear during or after a traumatic event. In PTSD, those natural anxieties and fears do not dissipate, leading to feelings of stress or fear even when the PTSD sufferer is not in danger. PTSD may be experienced in the short term, or can develop into a chronic condition that negatively impacts a person’s life. Any traumatic experience can lead to the development of PTSD, and the symptoms may not manifest themselves until months or even years after the initial incident. 

There are four major classes of symptoms, including re-experience, avoidance, reactivity, and cognitive types. Signs and symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Flashbacks of the traumatic experience(s)
  • Bad dreams
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Avoidance of places or events that remind the PTSD sufferer of traumatic experiences
  • Behavioral changes, including mood swings and violent outbursts
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Difficulty remembering details of the traumatic events experienced
  • Being easily scared or startled, even when not in danger

Women are at greater risk of developing PTSD than men. About 10 out of every 100 women (10%) will develop the disorder at some point in their lives as compared to men, who develop the disorder at a rate of 4 out of every 100 (4%). Combat veterans are another group that see a higher incidence of PTSD.

Treating PTSD with Medical Cannabis

Typically, medical professionals will treat the symptoms of PTSD with a combination of therapies, including psychotherapy, individual or group counseling, and antidepressant medications. Antidepressants can be effective, but may produce unpleasant or even dangerous side effects, including:

  • Weight gain
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Suicidal ideation (thinking about or planning suicide)

Because these side effects can be potentially dangerous, medical researchers have embarked on studies to uncover safer alternatives. Medical cannabis is one of the alternatives that has been shown to be remarkably effective in treating the everyday symptoms of PTSD without the side effects associated with antidepressant medications.

The key to medical cannabis is a class of chemical compounds called cannabinoids. These compounds, including cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), mimic chemicals naturally produced by the human body in the endocannabinoid system. This system is responsible for regulating certain body processes and is crucial in the transmission of signals between nerve endings and the brain. Cannabinoids extracted from medical cannabis can bind with receptors in the endocannabinoid system, helping to correct any imbalances. In several clinical studies, cannabis was shown to be vastly more effective in helping patients overcome feelings of dread and fear than those prescribed antidepressant medications. 

For many individuals diagnosed with PTSD, both CBD and THC can provide benefits. CBD has been shown to reduce anxiety levels, while the psychoactive THC can help to promote clarity of thought and to reduce hypervigilance and anxiety, one of the characteristic symptoms of the disorder. Further research is needed to better understand the role of cannabinoids in treating PTSD, but for many sufferers of this disorder, medical cannabis has been incredibly effective, allowing people to regain control over their lives and their thoughts.