Marijuana and PTSD – Does Marijuana Help the Condition?

Have you been through a traumatic event in your life, or might you know a loved one who has gone through it? Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is never an easy condition to deal with, and the patient undergoes extreme stress levels due to the disorder.

However, medical marijuana use is gaining acceptance in certain states and even in the medical community. Increasing numbers of people are turning to the drug to relieve their condition and help them manage it, though general views still remain skeptical. In various states that legalize medical marijuana, one of the conditions they set is a patient suffering from PTSD. There is a danger though – marijuana withdrawal symptoms.

What is PTSD?

This is a mental condition that develops when a person witnesses or experiences a traumatic event, which can include sexual assault, bombings, violence, life-threatening accidents, or other events.

Any person can experience the disorder, even though it had an association with war veterans due to their experiences with wars.

What are the signs of PTSD?

The specific signs are different for every person, though general consensus puts the symptoms into four categories, which are:

Thoughts that are highly intrusive

These are thoughts that are very difficult to control. They make the person highly paranoid, and can lead to issues such as having recurring nightmares, bad memories that come up at inappropriate times, as well as flashbacks to the event.

These thoughts make the individual feel as though they are going through the event again and again, and are highly vivid.

The patient tries to avoid all reminders

They do not want to talk about it, neither do they want to hear anyone mentioning the event. They can also avoid people, situations, places or objects that remind them of the event.

Negative thinking patterns

The patient experiences anger, fear, horror or shame that relates to the event, both directly and indirectly. In addition, this can affect survivors of an occurrence that resulted in the deaths of others, and they suffer from ‘survivor guilt’.

Hyper vigilance

Since the person has gone through a traumatic event, they become more irritable and on the edge. This can lead to problems with insomnia (they have difficulties sleeping), they lose concentration, and they get startled more than usual. The person may also show self-destructive behavior or outbursts of anger and fear.

So, what is the link between PTSD and marijuana?

The scientific interest in the drug is increasing, despite it being under the classification of an ‘illicit drug’. In fact, the U.S. banned the use of medical marijuana in the 1970s, even though it has supposed benefits to health.

Most skepticism comes from the associations people have with marijuana itself, and this has led to a problem where studies on the links between mental disorders and the drug are limited in their scope and information.

The journal Molecular Psychiatry indicated that treatments involving the use of specific compounds in marijuana benefits individuals suffering from PTSD. Even with these findings supporting the use of the drug, doctors will not prescribe medical marijuana on its own. Instead it is in conjunction with other therapy methods and drugs, such as peer support groups and counselling.

How does the drug help?

Research from 2016 shows that the drug has a high potential of treating and managing anxiety-related disorders through its ingredient CBD.

CBD is a non-psychoactive component of the drug, which contains mainly medicinal properties. It also does not result in ‘high’ feelings, so patients can consume it safely.

One cause that aggregates PTSD is learned fears. For instance, a traumatic experience maybe forcing you to be scared of dark alleys or loud sounds (if you have been through a bombing or car accident). This fear results in flight or fight reflexes, even during the most inappropriate times. The brain produces very high amounts of adrenaline, causing the stress levels in your body to rise and changing the chemistry of the brain.

What CBD does is that its receptors signal the reduction of trauma and associated memories. This is because people suffering from PTSD have endocannabinoid deficiencies, and marijuana fills the void. Many medications that treat the problem only give the patient temporary relief, but unfortunately have side effects.

PTSD patients tend to try and remove their fear through exposure therapy, where they are exposed to stimuli that triggers the memory, but within a safe confine. This helps their brain desensitize from the trigger.

However, CBD makes the process faster and enhances long-term memories, especially for individuals like war veterans.

Certain quarters are not convinced of marijuana helping patients to deal with the problem, for instance a 2017 study showing that there is not enough evidence to prove that the drug helps. Some patients may not agree with the drug assisting in managing the condition, as their symptoms either stay the same or they get worse.

However, there is still research going on. In particular, the MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) has been carrying out a clinical study testing, which is to war veterans who have treatment-resistant PTSD. The study will conduct the experiment by administering them with marijuana and test the safety of the treatment method, as well as its effectiveness.

Improving the quality of sleep

Patients who suffer from very bad insomnia are more likely to self-medicate with marijuana, as a 2014 study shows. For instance, the drug Nabilone contains some marijuana that mimics the effects if THC.

In fact, the study shows that 72% of patients who use the drug have less problems with nightmares and reducing night sweats.

Relieves anxiety

Even though no scientific study confirms this claim, some individuals prefer using the drug when they are trying to relax. This is due to the reduction in hyper arousal, as well as the anxiety that comes from their fears and trauma reminders.

Might the drug be doing more harm than good then?

Emotional crutch

The underlying fear when resorting to marijuana use is the risk of developing an addiction and marijuana withdrawal, as the person has no other coping skill. For individuals who have problems managing their PTSD symptoms, the drug may do more harm than good.

Final thoughts

The use of marijuana to treat PTSD is not a new phase, but has been in existence for quite some time. The benefits of this treatment and marijuana detox are not clear though, as using the drug is still a controversial topic.