Cannabis and PTSD: How to use CBD to Treat PTSD
The experience of trauma is more common than you might think, and post-traumatic stress disorder can be challenging to treat because many people experience it differently. Here we will discuss cannabis and PTSD, specifically how cannabis and CBD can be used to help manage the symptoms of PTSD.
What is Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that occurs in people who have experienced or witnessed trauma; such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault. Though it is important to note that not everyone who experiences trauma develops PTSD. In a 2008 study, approximately 9 per cent of Canadians surveyed had experienced PTSD in their lifetime with men being more likely to experience trauma but women more likely to develop PTSD symptoms (source).
People who have experienced trauma often have intense disturbing thoughts or feelings related to that experience long after the trauma event(s) have passed.
Symptoms of PTSD fall into four categories:
- Intrusive thoughts such as repeated, involuntary memories; distressing dreams; or flashbacks of the traumatic event. Flashbacks may be so vivid that people feel they are re-living the traumatic experience or seeing it before their eyes.
- Avoiding reminders of the traumatic event may include avoiding people, places, activities, objects, and situations that bring on distressing memories. People may try to avoid remembering or thinking about the traumatic event. They may resist talking about what happened or how they feel about it.
- Negative thoughts and feelings may include ongoing and distorted beliefs about oneself or others (e.g., “I am bad,” “No one can be trusted”); ongoing fear, horror, anger, guilt or shame; much less interest in activities previously enjoyed; or feeling detached or estranged from others.
- Arousal and reactive symptoms may include being irritable and having angry outbursts; behaving recklessly or in a self-destructive way; being easily startled, or having problems concentrating or sleeping.
Individuals may also be prone to health conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. PTSD can lead to disability, impaired functioning and interpersonal difficulties. It also poses a substantial risk of suicide.
Traditional Treatment for PTSD
Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals use various methods to help people recover from PTSD. Both talk therapy and medication provide effective evidence-based treatments for PTSD. One category of psychotherapy, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), is very effective.
Peer support groups that give people the opportunity to discuss their experiences with others who had had a similar experience are also common and have proven to be helpful for many people.
Cannabis and PTSD
Many people are using cannabis as a treatment for the symptoms associated with PTSD, but does that mean that it is effective?
Cannabis has the potential to be an effective treatment for the symptoms associated with PTSD but in many cases should be a supplement to traditional psychotherapy. Therapies like CBT can help people deal with the root of the traumatic experience that is causing the PTSD symptoms while cannabis can help to manage daily symptoms associated with anxiety and sleep disturbances. The reduction in symptoms with the use of cannabis can also help individuals through intensive therapies, particularly due to a reduction in anxiety.
What the research says
The research is still preliminary but, brain imaging research suggests that patients with PTSD have an abundance of cannabinoid receptors but produce few endogenous cannabinoids to lock into them. Endogenous cannabinoids are naturally occurring cannabinoids that interact with our endocannabinoid system. This means that supplementing the body with plant-based cannabinoids like THC and CBD might help some brain processes function as normal (source).
Dr. Mechoulam, the first scientist to discover THC as the psychoactive component in cannabis, has also discovered that the brain’s cannabinoid system is related to memory, with an emphasis on the ‘extinction’ of memories. The memory extinction process is a normal one and involves removing associations from stimuli (source).
PTSD and Depression
Those who experience PTSD are at a higher risk of also experiencing symptoms of depression and increased suicide ideation. An observational study by researchers at the British Columbia Centre for Substance Use shows that Canadians with PTSD who use medicinal cannabis are 60 per cent to 65 per cent less likely to have major depressive episodes or thoughts of suicide compared with those who do not treat their symptoms with medical marijuana (source).
PTSD and Sleep Disturbances
One of the symptoms associated with PTSD is flashbacks and traumatic nightmares. This has a significant impact on the person’s ability to get a decent sleep, which in turn negatively impacts their overall psychological and physical health.
Cannabis has a unique relationship with sleep and sleep disturbances. While cannabis can help people fall asleep as well as stay asleep it can, in some cases, make people feel groggy upon waking or impact how long they stay in REM sleep. REM (rapid eye movement) is the most restful part of the sleep cycle. Despite this, cannabis has an interesting impact on those experiencing sleep disturbances due to symptoms of PTSD. Because THC reduces the amount of time a person is in REM sleep it also dreams because REM sleep is where dreaming occurs most often. With reduced dreams comes reduced nightmares, and potentially more restful sleep for those experiencing frequent nightmares.
Finding the right balance with cannabis and sleep can be challenging. So, if you intend to use cannabis to help you sleep we recommend reading our article dedicated to cannabis and sleep. We also recommend consulting with your doctor or other health professional as well as keeping a detailed record of the type of cannabis and dose to find what works best for you.
A study was conducted to test the impact of THC on dreams by utilizing a cannabinoid receptor stimulant called nabilone. This involved 47 patients who despite using antidepressants and seeing a psychiatrist regularly, continued to have recurring nightmares. Following treatment, 72% of patients stopped having nightmares or had their severity drastically reduced (source).
Best Strains for PTSD
Check out Marijuana Break for their top five cannabis strains for PTSD symptoms.