The Latest Studies on PTSD and Cannabis
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental health condition that affects people who have been exposed to traumatic events.
The type of traumatic events that can trigger PTSD vary: it can be mental or emotional abuse, terrorist acts, combat and war, natural disasters, rape, and bullying. The symptoms of PTSD can be detrimental to one’s quality of life because it interferes with normal functioning. These symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks, severe anxiety, anger, and crippling fear to stimulus that resembles or reminds them of the traumatic event.
PTSD can also have comorbidities, or other mental health disorders that occur as a result of this condition. Most commonly, these are depression and anxiety. The accepted conventional treatments for PTSD include talk therapy, pharmaceutical drugs, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, others though many patients struggle with finding relief from its symptoms.
However, over the past few years, cannabis has been shown to be revolutionary in its ability to reduce or treat the symptoms of PTSD. Study findings have been hopeful and promising.
Here’s what the latest studies have to say about cannabis use and PTSD:
Cannabis Improves Quality Of Life For PTSD Sufferers
A December 2022 paper by London-based researchers discussed the findings of a study that analyzed patient responses to a questionnaire that measured anxiety, sleep quality, and PTSD symptoms specifically avoidance, intrusions, and hyperarousal.
A total of 144 patients were studied at baseline, then again at 1, 3, and 6 months after they started medicating with cannabis. The researchers noted significant improvements across all three scores throughout the follow-ups. Side effects caused by cannabis use were rated either moderate or mild, though fatigue and insomnia were the most predominant.
However, there were study limitations such as its observational nature and several uncontrolled variables. These included the frequency and size of cannabis dose.
“Nevertheless, this study can serve to inform future randomized placebo-controlled trials with the aim of confirming these promising effects, whilst informing current clinical practice,” wrote the authors. “Future work should also focus on including objective measures, determining optimal dosages, and conducting comparisons to existing treatments to better inform prescribing of add-on or sole medical cannabis therapy,” they concluded.
Cannabis Use Effective For Sleep Disturbances Due To PTSD
In September 2022, a study was published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders detailing the link between marijuana consumption and sleep. Researchers at the Israel Institute of Technology Cancer Biology and Cannabinoid Research Laboratory first asked participants to complete a baseline survey, after which they were sent succeeding surveys daily for 14 days.
Participants’ daily sleep outcomes, the frequency at which they would wake up the night before, nightmare frequency, and waking up too early without being able to sleep again, were all taken into consideration. The researchers also surveyed participants about their use of medical cannabis the night before, how much CBD and THC the cannabis contained and the time they actually fell asleep were also analyzed. The investigators utilized the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), which includes scores from 0 to 21, to rate sleep problems. meanwhile, they used the PTSD Checklist (PCL-5) which has a scoring system of 0 to 4 to rate the severity of PTSD symptoms.
They found that individuals who had a delayed sleep onset had reduced nightly awakenings and reported less nightmares. They were also more likely to wake up too early. On the other hand, those with greater PTSD severity scores had a significantly higher number of nightmares and waking up too early. But those who were using medical cannabis products containing high concentrations of CBD were less likely to rise from bed early.
Researchers concluded that using medical cannabis was helpful in improving sleep disturbances caused by PTSD.
Low Dose THC Effective In Reducing PTSD Symptoms
A recent study from Wayne State University Researchers found that low doses of THC were effective in helping PTSD patients deal with emotional regulation, though it was most effective when paired with cognitive reappraisal therapy.
Cognitive reappraisal therapy involves reassessing normally triggering situations so that the patient associates it with less negative emotions. Additionally, the researchers conducted a double-blind experiment involving 51 participants who were randomly tasked to consume either a 7.5mg THC capsule or a placebo. When THC was at its peak effect, the participants were asked to do tasks which involved emotional regulation and cognitive reappraisal. Specifically, they were exposed to images that would normally trigger them, and they were given the opportunity to reappraise it.
An FMRI machine was used to scan patients’ brains, and they were later on asked to describe their emotional state.
The study results highlight how participants reported experiencing negative emotions less when tasked with cognitive reappraisal behaviors after consuming THC compared to a placebo. It was also interesting that the researchers noted THC was observed to increase brain activation in parts of the brain that were less activated among PTSD patients as observed in the past. However, these changes were significant enough that they were effective in decreasing neurobiological changes between people with and without PTSD. Because of this, they reported that THC does indeed improve emotional regulation.
“THC may prove to be a beneficial pharmacological adjunct to cognitive reappraisal therapy in the treatment of PTSD,” the researchers concluded.
Studies show that cannabis works in many different biological mechanisms to help patients with PTSD regain control over their life. You may want to explore using medical cannabis for treating your PTSD symptoms, or speak to your physician if you would like more information on it.