The definition of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is “a psychiatric disorder that occurs following the experience or witnessing of a life-threatening event.”
To be diagnosed with PTSD, a person must meet the following criteria for at least one month:
- Have at least one reoccurring negative symptom
- At least one “avoidance” symptom (refusal to express emotions, refusal to visit a certain location, having a phobia of certain events or activities that bring us painful memories, etc.)
- At least two “arousal” and “reactivity” symptoms (such as anger, aggression, rage, trouble sleeping, being easily startled or “on edge”, etc.)
- At least two cognition and mood symptoms (such as anxiety, depression, strong feelings of guilt, brain fog, trouble concentrating, loss of memory, etc.)
How long do PTSD symptoms last? Every person has a different experience. Some overcome their symptoms and reach a stage considered to be “recovery” within about six months. Others deal with symptoms for years. Getting professional help from a therapist, seeking support from a group of peers or family and friends, and sometimes considering medication can all decrease the odds that PTSD will remain chronic and debilitating for many years.
- The most studied type of treatment for PTSD is use of prescription medications, especially antidepressants.
- Antidepressants for PTSD include several types of SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors). These are used to treat depression in general, including in patients who do not have PTSD but suffer from similar symptoms.
- While side effects are always possible when using anti-depressant medications, they can also be life-saving for some patients. Medications will not work for every patient. Side effects ranges from nausea, headaches, anxiety, sweating, dizziness, agitation, weight gain, dry mouth and sexual difficulties.
Medical Cannabis and PSTD
Alternative or natural treatments for PTSD include use of medical cannabis, therapy or counselling, group and family support, yoga, exercise, meditation and other forms of managing stress through self-care.
Cannabis has been found to help PTSD patients manage their symptoms. Two major cannabinoids found in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), influence the body’s endocannabinoid system, which plays an essential role in maintaining emotional homeostasis and in regulating memory consolidation, retrieval and extension. Cannabinoids found in cannabis activate the cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) of the endocannabinoid system, which in turn modulates the release of neurotransmitter and produces a wide range of effects on the central nervous system, including an increase in pleasure and the alternation of memory processes. The cannabinoids block the continuous retrieval of the traumatic event, thus enhancing its extension and reducing its associated anxiety.
These effects help PTSD patients manage the three core symptoms of the condition, which include re-experiencing, avoidance and numbing, and hyperarousal. PTSD patients saw a 75% reduction in PTSD symptoms, as measured by the Clinical Administered Post-traumatic Scale, when they were using cannabis compared to when they were not.
To date, there is no large-scale, randomized, controlled study investigating efficacy of marijuana and PTSD symptomatology, however, the literature that exists suggests that it may have an effect on decreasing PTSD symptoms, and the neurobiological and animal studies seem to suggest potential underlying mechanisms consistent with these findings. There’s evidence to suggest, that the benefits of cannabis for PTSD patients go beyond temporary – Findings support that cannabis has the potential to dampen the strength and emotional impact of traumatic memories. In addition, administering cannabinoids shortly after the exposure to an intensely stressful event can help prevent the development of PTSD-like symptoms.
Written by Zara Martin, January 2018
Disclaimer: Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary (MCDSA) aims to be a hub of information about medicinal cannabis, healthy living and the latest scientific research. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of MCDSA. Always consult your doctor before starting a new treatment.