Tomorrow (06/27) is National PTSD Awareness Day and as such we wanted to draw attention to the benefits medical marijuana can have on those suffering. PTSD is considered a viable condition for a medical marijuana card in many states. Here we uncover what causes the condition and how best to treat it with MMJ…
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
PTSD is a type of disorder that arises after experiencing or witnessing a particularly distressing event or set of events. Exposure to warfare, traffic collisions, repeated or extreme interpersonal violence (e.g. child abuse) and lots of other situations where there is a significant threat to one’s life can all cause PTSD.
Although PTSD is listed as a type of anxiety disorder in the DSM-IV, it is listed as a “trauma- and stressor- related disorder” in the DSM-5. However, panic and generalized anxiety disorders share many of the same traits as PTSD, so many still see there being a significant overlap between the two. For those of you wondering what DSM stands for, it is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
Symptoms of PTSD include an increase in flight-or-fight response, avoidance of places or objects that remind a person of their trauma, sleep disturbances, avoidance of trauma-related cues, flashbacks, significantly disturbed thoughts and emotions, recurrent nightmares, and sometimes even amnesia.
Why is PTSD so commonly associated with the military?
PTSD became known as such during the 1970s when military veterans of the Vietnam War noticed their soldiers suffering from extreme distress after their experience of combat. The APA recognized the condition officially in the third edition of the DSM (1980). Of course, the extreme psychological impact of war has been noted in many literary epics and the like for centuries, and post- World Wars I and II the condition was often referred to as “shellshock” or “combat stress”.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, seeing combat and facing some of the most extreme environments known to man can cause significant stress. Combat veterans are one of the highest-risk groups for PTSD development. It is also no secret that the homelessness and suicide rates of military veterans is quite a big issue, and there are often other psychological problems that can arise from being in dangerous conditions all the time (e.g. depression).
Is there a genetic component to developing PTSD?
Possibly, yes. 4042 Vietnam veteran twins were studied, and there could very well be significant genetic influences on symptom liability, even after adjusting for differences in combat exposure. There is some evidence suggesting that those with a smaller hippocampus are more likely to develop PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event. The evidence so far suggests that there is.
How is PTSD treated at the moment?
The most common treatment methods are:
- Counselling – cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, group therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) like sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil)
- Mood Stabilizers like lithium (Lithobid or Eskalith) and carbamazepine (Tegretol)
- Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) like isocarboxazid (Marplan)
- Prazosin (Minipress) – an alpha-blocker used to help PTSD sufferers sleep
Unfortunately, benzodiazepines and barbiturates are also sometimes prescribed to PTSD sufferers, even though there is no evidence that they work and may even cause the condition to worsen. Harsh antipsychotics like risperidone (Risperdal) are also sometimes prescribed to help with flashbacks and nightmares, but has also been associated with an increased risk in suicide.
Needless to say, prescribing such nasty drugs to those who are already likely to face an increased risk of addiction and suicide is like trying to fight fire with fire – all you are doing is causing more fire.
How can medical marijuana help with PTSD?
Here are the following ways medical marijuana can be a useful adjunct in treating those with PTSD:
- Aides sleep – terpenes like myrcene and the like can be useful in getting to sleep
- Reduce the need for SSRIs, mood stabilizers and MAOIS – though some of these are useful for PTSD and have high therapeutic value, they can take a long time to take effect and may not be suitable for everyone
- Eradicates the need for addictive benzodiazepines and barbiturates entirely, as well as antipsychotics
- Terpenes like bisabolol and cannabinoids like CBD are effective stress-relievers
- Is a safer “crutch” than other addictive substances like alcohol and tobacco
PTSD and the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)
Yes, there is definitely a link between the ECS and PTSD. There are studies showing that the body’s “pleasure and euphoria” neurotransmitter, anandamide, is severely depleted in PTSD sufferers, and THC can help treat this endocannabinoid deficiency:
“…[S]kewed CB-1 signalling, due to endocannabinoid deficits (low serum levels of anandamide), results in impaired fear extinction, aversive memory consolidation, and chronic anxiety, hallmarks of PTSD.” Martin Hall, Cannabinoid Science Sheds New Light on the Darkness of PTSD
The reality is, there is no medication out there that targets both the cognitive and emotional features of PTSD, and though SSRIs are useful, they do not necessarily work for everyone due to the fact that they can’t help with the emotional problems – just the anxiety. Many doctors and scientists also claim that most of the medications prescribed for PTSD have no real benefit at all for sufferers.
With medical marijuana, however, we potentially do have a medication for PTSD that can help treat both the emotional and cognitive features. Added to this is the anti-inflammatory effects of cannabinoids like CBD, and you have something that can help with the pain from any injuries and the like as well. This makes cannabis quite possibly one of the most effective treatments for PTSD out there at the moment.