As a human being living in such a complex world, it is possible you’ve been exposed to some type of traumthat is linked to PTSD.  But before we jump into the research, let me explain what Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is exactly.   

It is defined on the American Psychological Association website as: 

“Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety problem that develops in some people after extremely traumatic events, such as combat, crime, an accident or natural disaster. 1

Symptoms may include both “re-experiencing” symptoms, avoidance symptoms, arousal and reactivity, cognitive and mood symptoms such as feeling guarded/on edge, irritability, anger, risky/reckless behavior, difficulty with sleep and concentration, etc.  Flashbacks, memories/dreams physical stress, and mental thoughts are all also possible symptoms. 2

While the degree of symptoms can range from mild to very severe, the challenge occurs when it affects your ability to function more than a month after the event occurs.3 This is complicated by the fact that it can show up years after an event 4. It can come from both being directly involved in the traumatic event, witnessing one, having someone close to you being threatened by one, or being repeated exposure to traumatic events (like a first responder).

Estimates of the lifetime prevalence of PTSD in the population are 7-8% of the population having PTSD. Women have a higher risk with the documented percentage of PTSD in women at 10-12% and men at 5-6% 5.  While genetics can play a factor, it is also worth noting that men tend to experience different sources of traumatic events such as work-related (ie. more men working as police officers or EMTs) while women are more likely to experience it due to events such as sexual abuse and domestic violence 6 for women and at a younger age”.

I was one of those cases.  I experienced sexual abuse as a very young child.  While I haven’t been formally diagnosed, recognize first-hand what re-experiencing the trauma, flashbacks, avoidance symptoms, etc. meansFor example, after seeing a rape on TV once, I had an immediate visceral reaction of feeling re-traumatized and it was days before I felt safe again.  This is despite knowing there was not a constant pressing danger.   

I have done significant work with my trauma, including somatic experiencing, EMDR therapy, art therapy, and other types of trauma work.  While I would consider that I have reclaimed my sense of safety and sexual well-being, I still sometimes experience a trigger that causes an immediate physical reaction.    

At one point, a friend who had also experienced sexual trauma suggested that I might use cannabis in small dose when I get triggered to stop the downward spiral that can take so long to come back fromThis got me interested in exploring the relevant research and potential efficacy of this plant.   

A more detailed summary of my research findings can be found below in the “For More Info” section of this blog, but to summarize, preliminary research studies on the potential of using cannabis to help treat symptoms of PTSD show promising evidence that cannabis could be an effective treatment option and is often a more preferred solution by patients with PTSD than their previous pharmacotherapy treatments. While more data needs to be collected through double-blinded, randomized trials to fully determine medicinal cannabis’ place in healthcare, the evidence from funded research studies, as well as testimonies from individual patients who are self-medicating certainty, suggest CBD’s therapeutic potential in the treatment of PTSD. 

For me, it gives me great hope to see the preliminary data on cannabis treatment for PTSD, knowing traumatic events can shape one’s life longterm.  I am optimistic to know that cannabis products may expand the medicinal toolbox that can assist so many of us in the difficult transition back to daily living after a traumatic event.   

FOR MORE INFO: 

The growing interest in using CBD to support mental health treatments is partly associated with the limited impact that existing products are having. In a 300-patient study by Care by Design7 only 18% of PTSD patients’ conditions improved when using anti-depressants and more than half reported a worsening of symptoms.  Half of the respondents had been prescribed 5 or more medications and 7.5% were prescribed 10 or more. In this study, researchers measured symptoms of anger/irritability, anxiety, depression, pain, and sleep problems. They found that cannabis was the most likely to improve symptoms and the least likely to make conditions worse when compared to anti-depressants, mood stabilizers, tranquilizers, anti-anxiety medications, anti-psychotics, sleep medications, narcotic pain medication, anticonvulsants, beta-blockers, and non-narcotic pain medication.   

In a 2019 qualitative study, researchers organized a focus group discussion with 7 military veterans as well as follow up evaluations with 4 of their partners. The discussion revolved around the veterans’ usage of medical cannabis in the treatment of their chronic PTSD. In the discussions, all patients mentioned their dissatisfaction with their original pharmacotherapy treatment and cited its ineffectiveness in the management of their PTSD as well as unwanted side effects such as feelings of hangovers, liver and kidney problems, disorientation, and withdrawal symptoms. It was from this dissatisfaction that each of the veterans eventually tried using medical cannabis instead.  

Overall, the group had varied therapeutic effects in taking cannabis, but the most frequently discussed benefit during the focus group was the impact on sleep quality and the reduction of nightmares. In addition, several patients reported a decrease in headaches, alleviation of pain, and reduced feelings of anger and irritability.8  

Furthermore, in another small study overviewing the clinical benefit of CBD for patients with neuropsychiatric conditions, 10 out of 11 patients experienced a decrease in PTSD symptoms upon receiving a treatment of orally administered CBD alongside routine psychiatric care.9    

Links to these three studies mentioned can be found here:  

  1. PTSD Patient Survey by Care by Design 
  2. Experiences with medical cannabis in the treatment of veterans with PTSD: Results from a focus group discussion 
  3. Cannabidiol in the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Case Series 

[1] Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2020, from https://www.apa.org/topics/ptsd

[2] NIMH (2020). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Retrieved September 30, 2020, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml

[3] Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). (2018, July 06). Retrieved September 30, 2020, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20355973

[4] Auxéméry Y. L’état de stress post-traumatique comme conséquence de l’interaction entre une susceptibilité génétique individuelle, un évènement traumatogène et un contexte social [Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a consequence of the interaction between an individual genetic susceptibility, a traumatogenic event and a social context]. Encephale. 2012 Oct;38(5):373-80. French. doi: 10.1016/j.encep.2011.12.003. Epub 2012 Jan 24. PMID: 23062450.

[5] Olff M. (2017). Sex and gender differences in post-traumatic stress disorder: an update. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 8(sup4), 1351204. https://doi.org/10.1080/20008198.2017.1351204

[6] Greenberg, M. (2018, September 25). Why Women Have Higher Rates of PTSD Than Men. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201809/why-women-have-higher-rates-ptsd-men

[7] Care By Design. (2016). PTSD Patient Survey. https://www.projectcbd.org/sites/projectcbd/files/downloads/ptsd-patient-survey_2016_march.pdf

[8] Krediet, E., Janssen, D. G., Heerdink, E. R., Egberts, T. C., & Vermetten, E. (2020). Experiences with medical cannabis in the treatment of veterans with PTSD: Results from a focus group discussion. European Neuropsychopharmacology, 36, 244-254. doi:10.1016/j.euroneuro.2020.04.009

[9] Elms, L., Shannon, S., Hughes, S., & Lewis, N. (2019). Cannabidiol in the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Case Series. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 25(4), 392-397. doi:10.1089/acm.2018.0437

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Author Laura Smith

Laura is Managing Principal and lead of the Patient Centered Care work at Csequence. Laura brings extensive knowledge of the pharmaceutical industry and leads patient focused care at Csequence. Laura’s professional experience includes over 20 years in various roles within the healthcare industry as well as training in the intentional use of plant medicine, a background in community health education and is a grief recovery specialist. She has a unique educational background with an MBA from Yale University coupled with a MA in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica.

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