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Can Cannabis Help Treat PTSD? - Latest Research

Post-traumatic stress disorder can manifest in one or most of the following ways:

  • Impaired concentration
  • Flashbacks
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Depression

Did you know that the risk of suffering from major depressive episodes among Canadians who don’t use cannabis is approximately seven times higher compared to those who do? This study shows clear and factual data pointing to the beneficial effects of cannabis on people suffering from PTSD. As you might know, one of the most dangerous symptoms of PTSD is the major depressive episode which could lead to suicide.

Out of 420 people with a clinical diagnosis of PTSD, 106 were cannabis users. When the researchers observed the recurrence and intensity of major depressive episodes as well as suicidal ideation, they had a surprising discovery. Only those sufferers of PTSD with no known usage of cannabis were associated with these two symptoms. Those who consumed cannabis didn’t have these symptoms at all.

What does this tell us? That cannabis has just received preliminary epidemiological evidence pointing to its benefits against PTSD. At the very least, its effects diminish the correlation between PTSD and major depressive episodes and suicide rates among people.

Is cannabis beneficial for people with PTSD?

Cannabis isn’t only a preferred alternative treatment against anxiety or depression but many people use it against PTSD as well. Moreover, many of these people self-report positive benefits after consuming cannabis. That’s because the cannabinoids within the cannabis plant (THC and CBD) interact with the endocannabinoid system in our bodies. In turn, the ECS interacts with certain neurotransmitters and receptors in your brain, ones that influence various functions, including mood and stress response.

When you consume cannabis, both THC and CBD lead to changes to a couple of biological processes. When it comes to PTSD, for instance, brain scans show us that people with PTSD have plenty of cannabinoid receptors in their body. However, their bodies produce fewer endogenous cannabinoids to interact with those cannabinoid receptors. There is also a lack of the neurotransmitter anandamide, which is the body’s natural anti-depressant system. This leads to imbalances (physical and psychological) in the body.

THC and CBD are naturally-occurring plant-based endogenous cannabinoids that can supplement the body’s lack of biological cannabinoids. This way, the cannabinoid receptors in a patient with PTSD connect with the cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, which could lead to an improvement or regulation of certain brain processes.

However, despite an increasing social phenomenon where people struggle harder and harder with PTSD symptoms and potential treatments, there are still too few studies on the relevance of cannabis. Moreover, even though there is a vast interest in using cannabis to treat PTSD symptoms, scientific interest and evidence are simply too scarce. This is mostly due to the illegal status of marijuana as a dangerous and addictive drug.

PTSD treatable with low-risk doses of cannabis

One in four Canadians suffering from PTSD uses cannabis for self-treatment, Statistics Canada survey data says. In a study performed using this data, the researchers looked for associations between cannabis-using people with PTSD and symptoms of suicidal ideation and a major depressive episode.

Indeed, they found out that cannabis does indicate a decrease in that association. However, only lower-risk cannabis use was an indicator of this conclusion. Those patients with high-risk cannabis use (discovered to be cannabis dependent) actually tended to have higher risks of both outcomes. They had more chances to go through a major depressive episode and to have suicidal thoughts.

However, there are still many uncertainties in this study as well. They couldn’t clearly paint a picture of whether it was cannabis that led to this reduction in the association between PTSD, depression and suicidal thoughts or something else. Though it might seem clear at first, there are other factors that come into play, such as the order of events – when they started using cannabis, and whether it was after or before the onset of PTSD.

Despite all this, there is evidence showing the benefits provided by cannabis to people suffering from depression, anxiety or stress. Coincidentally, depression and anxiety are common symptoms of PTSD, so there is at least solid evidence that marijuana can assist people with PTSD in managing these symptoms.

In fact, studies show that cannabis can combat stress, depression and anxiety in an overwhelming majority of patients. When compared to the downsides, when cannabis exacerbated feelings of anxiety and depression, the benefits are vastly superior and much more recurrent than the downsides.

Cannabis treatment is only a temporary fix for PTSD

Make no mistake – cannabis is not a cure for post-traumatic stress disorder. Its proponents only claim that it can help relieve the negative symptoms of PTSD, such as insomnia, nightmares, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. This should make one thing clear – even if cannabis is fully legalized, it won’t suddenly become a healing panacea that will miraculously cure people with PTSD.

Even though cannabis has a strong consumer base and there is plenty of anecdotic evidence to back up its benefits, it does have its downsides. For instance, while cannabis use can reduce nightmares if you suffer from PTSD, it will also reduce the amount of REM sleep you get. REM sleep is when you dream, so theoretically, if you aren’t dreaming, you should be in a state of deep sleep.

While that might be true, especially for people with PTSD who have less nightmares (nightmares are a type of dream) as a result, REM sleep is important as well. It’s responsible for the proper functioning of your immune system, while also ensuring your cognitive functions are steady and healthy.

People with PTSD should know that cannabis is only a temporary solution for their symptoms. It will not cure PTSD at its core, unfortunately. In fact, long-term use of cannabis has been associated with significant changes to your brain. The amount of gray matter might diminish slightly over time, upon long-term consumption of cannabis.

Still, by simply looking at the symptoms of PTSD and the benefits of cannabis, there is definitely a silver lining connecting all these dots. Marijuana might very well become the future of PTSD treatment plans due to how it deals with most PTSD symptoms piece by piece.