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Cannabis and PTSD: Strategies for Coping and Healing

Post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD for short) is a psychological condition suffered by people who have experienced disruptive or disturbing life events. It can be triggered by anything from childhood abuse to warfare and may have significant mental and physical consequences for years following the initial trauma.

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Although estimates on the scope of PTSD can be complicated by factors like personal shame over seeking treatment, the 2013 edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders states that 9% of Americans will develop it at some point in their lives.

Conventional medicine has prescribed ongoing psychotherapy and pharmaceutical treatment as ways to mitigate the effects of this disorder. But emerging evidence suggests that cannabis can help too.

Let’s take a look at the connection between cannabis and PTSD.

How Cannabis May Be Able to Help

Since PTSD can manifest in different ways for different people, the condition’s potential treatments have a similarly broad scope.

A traumatic event may condition a person to avoid future triggers of distress. As such, one of the more pernicious symptoms of PTSD is a constant, moment-to-moment anxiety. Cannabis — especially strains that are high in the therapeutic cannabinoid CBD — can help to switch off these mechanisms of hyperarousal.

More specifically, a 2017 study in Australia suggested that CBD can mimic the effects of certain antidepressant pharmaceuticals. CBD has the ability to alter receptors in a brain, making them more likely to bind with gamma-Aminobutyric — the chemical transmitter responsible for tamping down excited neurons in the brain.

Another common way that PTSD can manifest is in nightmares. Cannabis may help decrease the frequency of nightmares because extended use can suppress rapid eye movement (REM), the phase of deep sleep during which dreams occur. Whether or not you have PTSD, you may have experienced the inverse of this phenomenon by having a sudden uptick in vivid dreams when taking a lengthy break from cannabis use.

Cannabis and PTSD in Practice

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Although anecdotal evidence suggests that people with PTSD-like symptoms have been self-medicating with cannabis for hundreds of years, modern medicine has recently begun to recognize the beneficial link between cannabis and PTSD.

In the U.S., this trend has been largely driven by military veterans, a demographic with particularly high rates of PTSD. In 2016, the DEA took a step back from its historically stringent stance on cannabis by authorizing the first-ever controlled study of the efficacy of cannabis in treating traumatized veterans. Conducted in Phoenix, Arizona, and in Baltimore, Maryland, this study measured the impact of high-CBD, high-THC, and equal-ratio THC/CBD strains in treating symptoms among 76 veterans; results are still under analysis.

As of December 2018, Maryland is one of 29 states that list PTSD as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis consumption.

Consuming With Care

Despite the many promising links between cannabis and PTSD, some challenges exist.

Depending on the strain and on an individual user’s biochemistry, cannabis may actually serve to increase anxiety in the long- and short-term via intense cerebral stimulation. The high rates of substance abuse among patients with PTSD also presents the possibility of habit-forming use.

If you’re interested in exploring cannabis as a means to treat PTSD, it’s a good idea to talk to a medical professional about which symptoms you hope to improve and what you’d like to gain from treatment.

As with any kind of cannabis use, a mindful and thoughtful mode of consumption can help to provide the most fulfilling experience.

To learn more about medical cannabis and to receive help throughout the application process, schedule a consultation today.


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