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Can medical Cannabis help treat PTSD?

Medical Cannabis and PTSD.

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is an anxiety condition caused by disturbing episodes, such as military combat, hijacking, violent crime and sexual assault etc.

According to a 2010 News24 article there may be as many as 6 million South Africans, if not more now, who suffer from PTSD. Up to 25% of South Africans could suffer from post traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), according to psychiatrist Dr Eugene Allers. When crime and motor vehicle accidents are taken into consideration, six million South Africans could suffer from PTSD. Nearly a third of these are between the 30 and 40 years old. Allers further said that 58% of South African children have witnessed incidents of violence and crime – 22% of these children could meet the criteria for PTSD.

Three classes of symptoms characterize PTSD: re-experiencing, avoidance, and hyper arousal (e.g., flashbacks, social isolation, insomnia). The persistence of PTSD over time is attributed to changes in brain chemistry that occur at the time of the trauma, when adrenaline and stress hormones are hyper-responsive.

PTSD was once known as “shell-shock” because it affected soldiers returning from war. But we now know that PTSD does not only affect war veterans. A person from any background can experience PTSD.

The symptoms of PTSD can be severe, and unfortunately, treatment does not help everyone. Many people who suffer from PTSD use cannabis to help with their symptoms, but evidence is conflicting.

Symptoms of PTSD

The symptoms of PTSD can be different for each person. The most common symptoms fall into one of four categories:

Intrusive thoughts – Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts that are difficult to control. They can be repeating memories, nightmares or flashbacks of the traumatic event. Intrusive thoughts are very vivid, and can make sufferers feel like they are re-living events.

Avoiding reminders – People with PTSD may avoid people, places, objects or situations that remind them of the traumatic event. They may also try not to talk about or remember the event.

Negative thoughts – Negative thoughts related to PTSD may include fear, anger, shame or horror. People that survived an event that killed others may also suffer from survivor guilt.

Hypervigilance – Those with PTSD may be more irritable and on edge. People may have trouble sleeping or concentrating, and may be startled more easily than usual. Outbursts of anger and self-destructive behaviour are also common.

Clinical studies are underway, and these results should help clarify the relationship between marijuana and PTSD.

Scientists have found CB-1 receptors signal the deactivation of traumatic memories. People with PTSD have been found to have an endocannabinoid deficiency. There is a theory that cannabinoids from cannabis can fill the void left by a lack of endocannabinoids.

Unfortunately many conventional medications for treating PTSD offer temporary relief at best and come with adverse side effects.

Research published last year on CBD revealed a potential for treating anxiety-related disorders. CBD is the main non-psychoactive component of cannabis. It has medicinal properties and can be consumed without getting an individual high.

One way PTSD patients have been coping with learned fears is with exposure therapy. Exposure therapy is when someone with PTSD is exposed to stimuli that trigger their traumatic memory in a safe space. The goal is to desensitize the patient to the trigger. This process is referred to as extinction.

CBD can enhance extinction, which could help PTSD patients inhibit learned fears. Ingesting CBD can also decrease fear expression and disrupt memory reconsolidation which is responsible for strengthening long-term memories.

Medical cannabis is best used in conjunction with other therapies. Peer support groups are a highly supported therapy for patients suffering an Operational Stress Injury (another term for PTSD). Medical cannabis strains with the right CBD and THC (psychoactive chemicals in cannabis) levels are assisting those with chronic physical pain, as well anxiety and insomnia issues.

Benefits of medical Cannabis For PTSD:

  • Improves sleep quality
  • Provides anxiety relief
  • Eases the fear of the memory

When using marijuana in a medical context, it is always important to consider its cannabinoid content.

THC is marijuana’s main psychoactive compound, responsible for its euphoric, relaxing high. It can also help induce sleep, which can be beneficial for PTSD-related insomnia sufferers.

However, THC has some side effects, including paranoia and increased anxiety. These effects may be intolerable for someone with PTSD.

CBD, on the other hand, is non-psychoactive and is considered to have many medical benefits.  CBD has anti-anxiety and antipsychotic properties, which are thought to balance out the oftentimes intense effects of THC.

From the sounds of it, cannabis certainly has the potential to help PTSD patients. The way the main psychoactive and non-psychoactive cannabinoids impact memory can be beneficial to PTSD patients. More research on cannabis and PTSD is necessary for a more definite answer. We believe that medical cannabis will continue to work in conjunction with many other therapies.

If you are suffering from PTSD in South Africa we strongly advise you to seek professional help and guidance. And if you are going to buy medical Cannabis oil to help treat your PTSD we suggest first starting with CBD oil with little to no THC. CBD isolate, with zero THC may also be worth trying.

Start with the lowest amount possible and slowly increase your CBD oil drops.