Study Summary: Cannabis for PTSD

A range of peer-reviewed research studies and many anecdotal reports indicate a strong potential efficacy of cannabis for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition suffered by some who have experienced traumatic events, including military combat, physical and emotional assault, and severe accidents.

According to the Mayo Clinic, PTSD "is a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event—either experiencing it or witnessing it." The famous clinic listed PTSD symptoms that include "flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, [and] uncontrollable thoughts about the [trigger] event."


PTSD Statistics

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, "one half of all U.S. adults will experience at least one traumatic event in their lives, but most do not develop PTSD."


During the past year, almost four percent of adults in the United States experienced PTSD. According to official reports, this condition is suffered more by women than men, with about five percent of women diagnosed with PTSD while just under two percent of men are diagnosed. Over their entire lifetimes, about seven percent of adults in the U.S. experience PTSD.


PTSD is suffered more by women than men, with more than five percent of women diagnosed with PTSD while just under two percent of men were diagnosed. Over their entire lifetimes, about seven percent of those in the U.S. experience PTSD.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, "Women are more likely to experience sexual assault and child sexual abuse. Men are more likely to experience accidents, physical assault, combat, disaster, or to witness death or injury." The organization reported that roughly 8 million Americans experience PTSD in a given year. According to the Sidran Institute, about nine percent of all adults, or one of 13 people in the United States, develops PTSD at some point during their lifetime.

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The Study

A 2019 study entitled "Cannabis: A Potential Efficacious Intervention for PTSD or Simply Snake Oil?" that was published in the Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience investigated the effectiveness of cannabis for PTSD.


The study's authors noted that cannabis has been used to treat a range of conditions that include "asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, menstrual cramps, AIDS, nausea, and cancer" and that it has been reported "to improve neurocognitive and psychiatric conditions, such as Alzheimer disease, anxiety disorders, and bipolar disorder."


"Low endocannabinoid tone contributes to the...anxiety and hyperarousal symptoms characteristic of PTSD."

The study noted that PTSD "shares several [characteristics] with depression and anxiety, making it difficult to distinguish underlying processes." It reported that "low endocannabinoid tone contributes to the...anxiety and hyperarousal symptoms characteristic of PTSD."

The human endocannabinoid system (ECS) produces two primary cannabinoids, 2-AG and anandamide. Both of these molecules have been tied to emotional balance (the name anandamide stands for joy or bliss in Sanskrit, the ancient Indo-Aryan language that is the classical language of India and Hinduism.


"Given that ECS processes are affected by stressors and can affect anxiety and fear, it was hypothesized that ECS functioning is tied to the development of PTSD, possibly through a corticotropin-releasing hormone–mediated reduction of anandamide in several brain regions," reported the study.


PTSD = More CB1 Receptors, Less Anandamide

The study reported that PTSD was associated with "increased expression of cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1) and reduced...levels of the [endocannabinoid] anandamide. The scientists hypothesized that a deficiency in the endocannabinoid system "reflects a stress endophenotype underlying PTSD" and that this raises the possibility that "endocannabinoid manipulations could be potentially useful in a therapeutic capacity."


If the ECS of PTSD sufferers is deficient in the endocannabinoid anandamide, the it goes to reason that administration of THC, which has been identified as a molecule that binds to CB1 receptors in the ECS and mimics anandamide, may provide positive outcomes.

If the endocannabinoid system of PTSD sufferers is deficient in the endocannabinoid anandamide, it goes to reason that administration of THC, which has been identified as a molecule that binds to CB1 receptors in the ECS and mimics anandamide, may provide positive outcomes.

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Study Results

The study found that "5 mg of THC twice a day as an add-on treatment enhanced sleep quality and reduced the frequency of nightmares and PTSD hyperarousal." It reported that "cannabis also mitigates the propensity for inflammation and may be useful in psychological conditions that involve elevated inflammatory processes within the brain."


5 mg of THC twice a day as an add-on treatment enhanced sleep quality and reduced the frequency of nightmares and PTSD hyperarousal.

This anti-inflammatory mechanism involves the CB2 receptor of the ECS, which binds not with THC, but rather CBD (which can also bind with CB1 receptors). "Cannabinoids could potentially act against PTSD by activation of...CB2 receptors, which promote anti-inflammatory actions."


The study observed that the existing preclinical (those with test tubes or rodents) and clinical studies (those involving humans) "support further detailed investigation into the use of cannabinoids in the treatment of PTSD." The researchers commented on the dearth of research regarding cannabis efficacy, including its safety profile for various illnesses, saying that such research "has not kept pace with social reforms concerning its use."


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