Updated: Jul 7
David A. Dawson, Affinity Patient Advocacy Board
PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a debilitating and life-altering condition that can occur after a traumatic incident. Those who suffer from it relive their trauma repeatedly through flashbacks and nightmares, causing panic attacks, hypervigilance, overwhelming emotions, detachment from loved ones, and sometimes even self-destructive behavior. Sadly, PTSD is not an easy condition to treat or to live with. No pharmacological treatment has been developed that successfully treats PTSD. There is consensus among clinicians that existing pharmaceutical medicines such as antidepressants simply do not work. Multiple research studies demonstrate that people with PTSD using cannabis experience more relief from their symptoms than from using antidepressants and other psychiatric medications. Data from a 2019 study of veterans suffering from PTSD revealed medicinal cannabis provided better life quality, fewer psychological symptoms, reduced use of opiates, alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceutical medicines.
Data from the 2019 Veterans Health and Medical Cannabis study conducted by Dr. Marion McNabb.
But PTSD doesn’t just impact soldiers in war. Approximately six out of every ten men and five out of every ten women in the U.S. experience at least one trauma in their lives. Overall, about seven to eight percent of people have PTSD. Anyone who has experienced or witnessed a frightening, shocking, or life-threatening event can develop post-traumatic stress disorder. This trauma may take many forms. It could be a car accident, a house fire, a sexual assault, or an explosion. PTSD is diagnosed if symptoms such as flashbacks, social anxiety, and nightmares persist for a month or more and negatively affect a person’s everyday life. Over half the United States population has witnessed traumatic events, and eight million people are reported to have PTSD.
Despite all the reports from PTSD patients that cannabis provides them a better quality of life, research of its potential for treating the condition was banned in the United States by President Richard Nixon in 1971. In the United States, politicians operate under the belief that they were elected due to their medical expertise and that their role is to determine the direction of medical research. Less repressive regimes have studied the medicinal potential of the molecules within the cannabis plant for more than half a century. Scientists conducting research in less repressive countries have identified the mechanism that causes the molecules within the cannabis plant to treat PTSD.
It was discovered in 1992 that all vertebrates (including humans) produce molecules that are structurally similar to the molecules the plant produces. These molecules are called cannabinoids. Researchers have discovered the concentrations of these cannabinoid molecules in people suffering from PTSD are significantly less than the concentrations within non-PTSD suffering individuals. Put simply, medicinal cannabis treats PTSD by replacing the deficient cannabinoids in the PTSD sufferer with the structurally similar cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant.
Courtesy of NIDA
The cannabinoid THC, found in the cannabis plant, is structurally similar to the brain cannabinoid called anandamide. The similarity in structure allows the plant cannabinoid to supplement an anandamide deficiency, thereby altering brain chemistry and treating PTSD.
The prohibition of research on the potential medical benefits of many cannabinoid molecules was rescinded in 2018. A study took place in the U.S. that adds to the evidence that cannabis could help those suffering from PTSD. The researchers found that PTSD sufferers who used cannabis not only saw reductions in their PTSD symptoms, but they were more than twice as likely to recover than those who were not using cannabinoids.