MAY 22, 2022 10:00 AM PDT

Cannabis and PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event—either experiencing it or witnessing it. This debilitating condition causes chronic problems like nightmares, panic attacks, hypervigilance, detachment from others, overwhelming emotions, and self-destructive behavior. In some cases, these overwhelming symptoms can even lead to suicide.

We often associate PTSD with military combat, but PTSD can be caused by a literal limitless number of events that we might witness throughout our lives. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a single event but can also come from a prolonged traumatic experience. These include serious accidents, physical or sexual assault, abuse, exposure to traumatic events at work, serious health problems, childbirth experiences, war and conflict, and torture. While treatment for PTSD often comes from medication and/or therapy, one such method to treat PTSD is cannabis.

A 2021 study published in PLOS ONE revealed improvements among PTSD patients receiving cannabis doses with higher levels of THC. Over the course of a year, the study found that cannabis users reported a greater decrease in the severity of their PTSD symptoms. They also were more than 2.5 times as likely to no longer meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD as those who did not use cannabis.

Research in recent years suggest the biological mechanisms behind how cannabis can treat PTSD. This includes how cannabis can reduce activity in the amygdala - a part of the brain associated with fear responses to threats, along with how the plant’s cannabinoids could play a role in extinguishing traumatic memories.

A very recent study in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research provided evidence that the types of cannabis available in recreational and medical cannabis dispensaries might hold promise as an alternative treatment for PTSD.

While the legalization of marijuana is rapidly expanding across the United States, more studies are undoubtedly needed to see how cannabis can play a positive role in treating PTSD.

Sources: Mayo Clinic, Forbes, NHS, WebMD, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Forbes, Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, US News

MS in Geological Sciences
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of “Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey”.
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