Cannabis for PTSD: What Science Says

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a neurological condition that extends far beyond the military, where decades ago it was known as “shell shock.” It can be debilitating because of its unpredictability, manifesting in flashbacks, mood swings, sleep disruptions and emotional detachment.

Among the factors that make PTSD a major concern is how it’s triggered by exposure to a traumatic event—violence, car accidents and natural disasters, among others—and its prevalence in the U.S. population: The National Center for PTSD puts the number at 8 million adults nationally.  

Conventional treatment includes therapy and a number of pharmaceutical options, which have their downsides. One emerging alternative is medical cannabis, and in particular, cannabidiol (CBD), a nonintoxicating cannabis plant compound. 

Cannabis for PTSD: A Review of Research 

A 2018 comprehensive review of existing research report suggested CBD could counteract the effects of PTSD, according to findings in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience. As the report’s authors noted:

 “CBD may offer therapeutic benefits for disorders related to inappropriate responses to traumatic memories. The effects of CBD on the different stages of aversive memory processing make this compound a candidate pharmacological adjunct to psychological therapies for PTSD.”

The Frontiers in Neuroscience report said CBD affects the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a bodily network of receptors that help regulate pain response, emotional behavior and other functions. The report’s authors note the ECS “is essential for synaptic processes that determine learning and emotional responses.” CBD has been shown in rodent studies to help eliminate and block the reconsolidation of troubling memories and improve sleep depth and duration. 

Furthermore, the report said, studies have also confirmed CBD’s ability to alter aspects of disturbing memories and ease PTSD symptoms in humans.

A Promising Case Report

And while it’s just one example involving one patient, a case report on a child who has PTSD also points to CBD as an effective therapy. A medical team’s findings, published in 2016 in The Permanente Journal, described how CBD helped a 10-year-old who developed PTSD after being sexually abused.

The report’s authors, Dr. Scott Shannon, an assistant clinical psychology professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, and naturopathic physician Janet-Opila Lehman of the Wholeness Center in Fort Collins, Colorado, said the child, who had been abused before age 5, showed significant easing of symptoms, including disturbed sleep, after using CBD oil (12 to 25 milligrams once daily), with minimal side effects. The CBD therapy, the researchers wrote, came after standard drug treatments had provided partial relief.

CBD’s Neurological Impact

A growing body of research suggests CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties also directly affect the brain and the central nervous system, which could play a role in easing symptoms of not just PTSD but also anxiety, depression, spasticity, seizures and other neurological conditions.

 

Learn More: Catch up on other CBD research findings on Compassionate Cultivation’s blog.

Featured image credit: National Institutes of Health’s Brain Research Image Gallery
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