Medical Marijuana Benefits For Patients With PTSD

Medical Marijuana Benefits For Patients With PTSD

Traumatic events cover a vast amount of situations. Combat, serious forms of abuse, and disasters –both natural and human-made– are included on this list, providing a stark contrast from life’s daily fleeting inconveniences. Real trauma, the kind that earns patients a PTSD diagnosis, surpasses a human’s ability to process what has occurred. The clinical symptoms that develop from this warrant real treatment, but that treatment doesn’t always have to necessitate a medley of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or other antidepressants. In fact, many patients with PTSD see real benefits from medical marijuana.

What Is PTSD?

First, let’s define the diagnosis: PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is an anxiety disorder caused by witnessing or enduring a traumatic event or series of events. This could mean any number of life-altering circumstances, like serious accidents, sexual assault, or violence of any sort. While not everyone who goes through these types of trauma will develop the severe disorder, those that do find it extremely crippling in their everyday activities. In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, symptoms must cause continued significant distress or functional impairment.

What Does PTSD Look Like?

The DSM-IV Diagnostic criteria for PTSD symptoms includes three crucial symptom clusters:

  • Intrusive Recollections –  A patient’s sensation that they are reliving their trauma through flashbacks or nightmares.
  • Avoidant or Numbing Tendencies – A patient’s impulse to retreat from other people and avoid social situations or any environments that may remind them of their trauma.
  • Symptoms of Hyperarousal – This encompasses many types of heightened reactions:  irritability or aggression; a patient’s participation in risky or destructive behaviors, difficulty with sleep or concentration, or most often, strong reactions to otherwise ordinary situations like loud sounds or an off-putting touch.

What may feel like an average interaction or “normal” situation for one person may be extremely triggering to someone with PTSD.

For most patients, symptoms can last for years and interfere with day-to-day routines and activities. This can lead to other serious issues like depression, alcohol abuse, or other anxiety disorders. Depression is a common problem that can often interfere with the process of seeking initial treatment.  But helpful treatment does exist for those who are diagnosed with PTSD. Antidepressants like SSRIs and SNRIs are considered first-line treatments for anxiety disorders, but each medication comes with its own set of side effects.

Common side effects of everyday antidepressant use include shakiness, upset stomach, loss of appetite that could lead to excessive weight loss, dizziness, and the list goes on. Rather than accept the excessive symptoms, patients with PTSD are turning to medical marijuana for small-but-mighty improvements in their daily lives.

Using Marijuana for PTSD

Medical marijuana use can provide relief for a number of symptoms commonly attributed to PTSD. Marijuana strains that contain high levels of CBD and less of THC offer more opportunities to calm a patient’s heart rate and prepare them for potential triggers. This is because CBD has less psychoactive cannabinoids, making it popular for its anxiety-reducing effects. On the opposite end of the spectrum, strains high in THC can often be a more cerebral experience. Ingesting cannabis by smoking, vaping, edibles, or any number of methods, can alleviate the symptoms of such an intrusive disorder like PTSD. Here are a few benefits that patients may see from moderate medical marijuana use:

Memory Extinction

Memory recall and PTSD are directly related. In order to combat recurring memories of trauma, the neurological pathways that trigger the recall need to be blocked. This is where the therapeutic use of cannabis can really make strides. Developing research shows that cannabinoid systems are strongly connected to memory extinction, meaning using marijuana could reduce stimuli association in PTSD patients. A war veteran who continues to have flashbacks of war combat or has visceral reactions to loud noises could potentially further himself from associated negative memories by utilizing medical marijuana.

Reduced Reactivity

In general, having marijuana in your system will slow down a human’s reaction to situations. THC inhibits neurotransmitters, which means the mind has a harder time connecting to the body’s physical response. Whether it is on the search for the uplifting or relaxing properties of cannabis strains, users are finding relief. Indica strains with a high percentage of CBD are known for their anxiety-reducing effects and ability to relax the body with a light sedative-like feeling. Studies show that cannabis users experience slowed reactions in stressful situations. For a patient with PTSD, this could mean overcoming specific triggers. Being able to control a reaction to triggering stimuli is a vast improvement for many patients who may struggle to even leave the house.

Sleep Aid

Many cannabis users like to partake before bed in order to get longer, uninterrupted sleep cycles. The sedative-like properties of potent Indica strains can act as a good sleeping aid for anyone struggling to sleep due to intrusive thoughts or hyperarousal. Medical marijuana users promote it as an integral step in their nighttime routine that is crucial to the quality of a night’s sleep. Patients with PTSD will often struggle with different moments in a single night’s cycle. And each patient is different; some may have a hard time falling asleep while others whose past trauma is associated with nighttime may not be able to stay asleep. The active compounds found in cannabis can offer a soothing moment to patients with hyperactive minds. It is not a cure for difficulty sleeping, but a cannabis-induced bedtime may provide comfort and offer a smooth transition into REM cycles – something that many PTSD patients could benefit from.

To Wrap Up

Patients with PTSD who are seeking therapeutic benefits outside of typical therapies or antidepressants should explore the full scope of medical marijuana. Studies done on the efficacy of marijuana on anxiety disorders show that moderate use can diminish the unique, persistent side effects that accompany such an intrusive disorder. Cannabis is no miracle cure – its intended use is to support and help patients navigate their journey of healing and treatment.

With so much of a PTSD diagnosis revolving around navigating anxiety, terror, or intensity, it is nice to see the relaxing benefits of an herbal remedy like medical marijuana.