Most people are aware of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or know someone who’s coping with it. PTSD is a medical condition typically triggered by a traumatic event or injury. It often takes the form of an anxiety affliction, accompanied by symptoms that can include recurring flashbacks, grumpiness, anger and irritability, difficulties with sleeping or concentrating, irrational fears of people and places, physical immobility or fainting, and other similar reactions1.
PTSD can affect anyone, sometimes immediately following the event or months and even years after the occurrence, like with an accident a life-threatening event such as a physical assault. Frequently, PTSD affects armed service veterans who have engaged in and survived combat duty-related injuries, sudden shocks or external threats to their well being, only to re-imagine the occurrence of the event at home.
PTSD is no new disease. It was even rationalized that 1700s-era soldiers experienced a symptom known as “nostalgia” from their battles, and that Charles Dickens suffered from anxiety and sleeplessness as the result of witnessing a railroad accident2.
Therapy as Treatment for PTSD
Over the years, a number of FDA and clinically approved treatments for PTSD have been developed and administered to people suffering from the condition. Among the various types of therapies available from treatment centers include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which help patients modify and adopt new behavioral habits that aim to change their sense of well-being3.
Therapies that involve talking one-on-one with a therapist or in a group setting are other methods that help some patients in their recovery by conversing and connecting with other people who may have experienced similar traumas. There are also experiential therapies that allow patients to connect with their minds and bodies to promote healing4.
Cognitive behavioral therapy has customarily been used to treat PTSD in patients, relieving or even completely eradicating it, but its success rate isn’t always 100%.
Every PTSD Isn’t Created (or Treated) Equally
Since PTSD can occur in both adults and children (almost 10% of women compared to just about 4% of men5), and affect everyone differently, a variety of medications are currently available to help PTSD patients manage symptoms. Some of the drugs most people have heard of include familiar names such as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, and Effexor. The drugs act on the brain’s chemistry to alleviate the feelings of fear and anxiety that are typical of PTSD, but only Paxil and Zoloft have been approved to treat the condition by the Food and Drug Administration6.
Every medication treats patient symptoms differently, and with different results, which is why a doctor may authorize the use of “off label” drugs. These are drugs that have not been requested by their manufacturers to be reviewed by the FDA to determine whether they’re specifically effective as treatments for PTSD.
The drugs that have been included in this category include antidepressants, MAOIs (or Monoamine oxidase inhibitors), antipsychotic drugs, beta-blockers, and benzodiazepines7.
The Bridge to Better Treatment
As part of a viable method of treatment for PTSD, in a recent study that appeared in Molecular Psychiatry, certain compounds contained in marijuana were shown to effectively help PTSD patients8. Cannabinoids that have their origins in the marijuana plant may be able to combat PTSD in patients by alleviating disturbing nightmares plus other debilitating symptoms. The psychoactive chemicals in cannabis can help decrease PTSD symptoms and help patients process their way through their condition to make progress toward eliminating it all together.
It’s been found through study that a lack of endocannabinoids is closely tied to PTSD, and when the body loses so many of them, the cannabinoids that are present in medical cannabis can have a therapeutic effect that can help patients get a break from reliving painful memories over and over. Cannabinoid receptors that are spread throughout the brain and body are receptive to medicinal cannabis, which can improve symptoms that impact mental and physical well being. One of the benefits of treating PTSD with medical cannabis is that it can stem the onset of increased depressive behavior and afflictions of anxiety from overuse and abuse of drug medications.
A recent study approved by the FDA was able to go beyond being just observational and be more hands-on and controlled. The Medical Cannabis Program in New Mexico was the first of its kind to add PTSD to the list of treatable conditions for medicinal cannabis so that researchers could analyze its effectiveness9 10. In one of the findings from the study, of the total number of patients participating in the study, over 75% experienced a lessening of symptoms versus when they had no exposure to medical cannabis11.
For the maximum benefits of medicinal cannabis to treat those afflicted with PTSD, it’s important to seek the guidance of a doctor12 with a practice serving medical cannabis patients, and a local cannabis dispensary clinic if you live in a state where medicinal cannabis is legal.
The conditions caused by PTSD won’t be totally eliminated by any one kind of drug, but medicinal cannabis does offer some relief. And despite the pushback from researchers and organizations that have the approval of the government, breakthroughs will come to light as more knowledge about cannabis is gained and the healing benefits of cannabis are more widely recognized.