Research indicates medical cannabis could hold the key to treating PTSD

  • Multiple studies have found strong evidence that cannabis can help treat PTSD
  • Cannabinoids reduce REM sleep, prevent nightmares
  • Cannabinoids also prevent the retrieval of the underlying trauma
  • PTSD diagnoses among UK military personnel rose by 2% in a decade

With more research into the medicinal properties of cannabis comes a greater understanding of which medical conditions may benefit from medical cannabis treatment.

Research is building a solid case that cannabis may hold the key to treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition which develops following a traumatic event in a person’s life.

Those diagnosed with PTSD experience emotionally disturbing flash-backs of traumatic events, often in their dreams (nightmares). PTSD patients may also become emotionally numb, avoiding people and places which may trigger these flashbacks, isolating themselves from those who love them most.

Due to fears of nightmares, PTSD patients also have difficulty sleeping. Maintaining concentration is also difficult, and they are more easily susceptible to outbursts of anger or irritation.

Traditional PTSD medication can, unfortunately (as with most pharmaceutical medications), make some of these symptoms worse. Some of the common side-effects to PSTD medications include an increase in agitation, which could exacerbate the emotional instability of PTSD sufferers, and increase sleepiness, which is the last thing someone who experiences horrifying nightmares would want.

Medical cannabis, however, may have the potential to help treat some of the more serious symptoms of PTSD, without any of these troubling side-effects of the pharmaceutical medications.

The Endocannabinoid system (ECS) is central to research, as the ECS regulates essential mental functions, such as memory consolidation and retrieval.

Cannabinoids like THC and CBD activate cannabinoid receptors, known as CB1 and CB2, along the ECS, prompting the ECS to produce neurotransmitters that help promote happiness, pleasure, and regulate memory.

These cannabinoids may play an integral role in the future of PTSD treatments, as they prevent the retrieval of the underlying trauma, effectively blocking traumatic memories and nightmares, simultaneously aiding sufferers to achieve a more stable emotional state.

As cannabis helps bring out happiness while blocking trauma, it has made it a popular treatment for PTSD patients, many of whom are military veterans.

…we know very well that people with PTSD who use marijuana — a potent cannabinoid — often experience more relief from their symptoms than they do from antidepressants and other psychiatric medications.
– Dr. Alexander Neumeister

Researchers at NYU Langone Medical Centre found that those suffering PTSD exhibited much lower levels of anandamide, as well as other neurotransmitters.

Anandamide is one of the body’s primary endocannabinoids (a naturally produced cannabinoid in the body), responsible for core functions such as regulating happiness, fear, and anxiety.

Anandamides functions as a natural antidepressant, with the ability to impair memory as well.

CB1 cannabinoid receptors in the body help turn off traumatic memories, allowing us to essentially ignore them. Research also suggests that a lack of endocannabinoids, such as anandamides, may induce symptoms of PTSD such as fear and anxiety.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Alexander Neumeister, explained why more research must be conducted into the potential of using medical cannabis for conditions which pharmaceuticals are not well equipped to:

“There’s a consensus among clinicians that existing pharmaceutical treatments such as antidepressant simply do not work.

“In fact, we know very well that people with PTSD who use marijuana — a potent cannabinoid — often experience more relief from their symptoms than they do from antidepressants and other psychiatric medications.

“Clearly, there’s a very urgent need to develop novel evidence-based treatments for PTSD.”

PTSD triggers severe stress in its sufferers, putting them in a constantly tense state, often preventing them from getting to sleep. Even when those with PTSD are able to sleep, it is common for them to suffer intense nightmares.

Unlike antidepressants or other pharmaceutical medication prescribed to PTSD patients, cannabinoids can prevent, or at least minimise, nightmares.

Cannabinoids reduce REM sleep, which prevents the vivid dream which occurs during this state, suggesting medical cannabis has the potential to relieve PTSD sufferers from reliving their trauma via nightmares.

Canadian researchers conducted a study in 2009 to test this thesis by studying 47 PTSD patients who continued to experience nightmares despite the use of antidepressants and psychotherapy.

Following cannabinoid treatment (in the form of Nabilone, a synthetic medical cannabis medication), 72% of the patients either experiences a drastic reduction in the severity of their nightmares or stopped having them entirely. An improvement in the quality and duration of sleep was also reported.

The majority of the patients also had a reduction in daytime flashbacks.

The study highlighted how ineffective conventional, pharmaceutical medications are at treating PTSD, while making a really solid argument for the use of medical cannabis in future treatments.

Despite the growing number of evidence that medical cannabis has real potential to help treat some of the more serious symptoms of PTSD, it is not recognised by either the UK or US Governments.

Currently, only those suffering chronic physical pain or epilepsy have received medical cannabis prescriptions in the UK, and the Trump administration is continuing to oppose measures which would provide the medicine to those who need it most: US veterans.

The majority of PTSD patients served in our military, putting their lives and safety on the line for the country. The least we can do is provide them a safe and effective medication when they come home.

The overall rate of probable PTSD among current and ex-serving military personnel rose to 6% in 2014-16, compared with 4% in 2004-06.

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