Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop in people who have experienced or witnessed a dangerous, shocking, or frightening event. People with PTSD have recently turned to medical marijuana to help reduce their symptoms and it seems to be a growing topic of how cannabis can help.
The positive effects of marijuana in helping with relaxation and sleep have been known to aid with intense symptoms of PTSD. However, how useful is medical marijuana really for PTSD patients? Let’s find out more about the connection between the two and whether people who have PTSD can safely turn to cannabis as a solution.
Understanding PTSD symptoms
Before jumping into the connection between marijuana and PTSD, let’s first answer the question: What is PTSD? As previously mentioned, it’s a type of anxiety disorder developed after a traumatic experience. Examples of traumatic events include abuse, being part of combat, surviving a natural disaster, and the sudden death of a loved one. Initially, after a traumatic event, people experience acute stress disorder (ASD), and when the ASD symptoms develop or persist after the first month of the event, it is considered PTSD.
Common ASD symptoms
- Emotional detachment or numbing
- Dissociative amnesia
- Reduction in surrounding awareness
Common PTSD symptoms
- Flashbacks of the event
- Reminiscent of the trauma
- Intense mood swings
- Emotional numbing
- Suicidal thoughts
- Avoidance of feelings, thoughts, or places
- Ongoing anger, guilt, fear, or shame
- Being startled easily
- Feeling on guard or tense
- Appetite changes
- Muscle aches
- Back pain
- Stomach pain or cramping
How can medical marijuana help with PTSD?
Medical marijuana has been found to help people who experienced traumatic events reduce their intense symptoms. For example, assault survivors can smoke cannabis to reduce the flashback of traumatic memories. Patients who used cannabis for PTSD have reported it helps them keep their issues at bay so they can be present with their family and be productive members of society.
Not getting enough sleep is another common issue with PTSD patients. Being adequately rested allows your brain to better process anxiety and panic when triggered. CBD can help with muscle relaxation and provide a sense of calm that helps you fall asleep and stay asleep.
Looking at the science
PTSD treatment typically involves going through behavioral therapy that exposes people to the traumatic memory or event. The feelings of anxiety can intensify following therapy, especially when initially undergoing treatment. A 2014 study from Wayne State University found that giving patients THC prior to extinction learning therapy can reduce the intensity of the emotions previously associated with their traumatic memory.
A different 2020 study from Washington State University found that cannabis does reduce the severity of PTSD symptoms by more than half in the short term. Similarly, a 2020 study from Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research found that patients using cannabis had a greater decrease in PTSD symptoms and were 2.57 times more likely not to meet the DSM-5 criteria for PTSD after a year.
PTSD and medical marijuana: what to keep in mind
It’s important to note that marijuana doesn’t cure PTSD even though it can temporarily relieve symptoms. Here are things to keep in mind when considering cannabis with your PTSD evaluation for medical cannabis.
THC vs CDB
THC has an anxiety-reducing effect similar to what is found in anti-anxiety medications. However, since THC is a psychoactive ingredient, it’s generally recommended to take lower doses of THC. Larger doses, especially for a prolonged period, can cause more paranoia or anxiety. Some patients find it most helpful to choose CBD only or high CBD products to alleviate PTSD symptoms since it isn’t a psychoactive ingredient.
Keep it legal
In states with medical marijuana programs, it’s a legal requirement to have an MMJ card. Although you don’t need one for states allowing recreational use, there are still plenty of benefits of an MMJ card. This includes lower costs, legal protection, stronger potency, and more. Consulting with a doctor on your use of medical marijuana for PTSD can also prevent substance abuse and situations where your condition is negatively impacted.
It can be helpful to keep a log of your dosage amounts and notate the therapeutic effects you experience. Report any worsening symptoms to your healthcare provider and work with them to get to an optimal dosage. Using tinctures or vape concentrates can be easier to dose. In contrast, shatter or wax generally contains high doses of THC and may not be suitable for PTSD patients.
You can also develop a tolerance with prolonged marijuana use making the dosage less effective. Taking a tolerance break could help re-regulate your receptors in these situations.
While more studies are needed to detail the benefits of using medical marijuana for PTSD symptoms, there are plenty of people who have found the treatment helpful, especially in the short term. Make sure you are working with a healthcare provider and obtain a medical marijuana card while you figure out the right dosage to treat your symptoms. Also, keep in mind that everyone has different reactions to different treatments, so you need to take it low and slow to find what is best for you.
Alicia Saville did her degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.