PTSD and Cannabis

There is a prevalent misconception that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is strictly a “soldier’s disease”. While the term was popularized after WWII, replacing “shell shock” as a diagnostically correct term, we now know that PTSD affects individuals from all walks of life.  

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a complex medical condition that develops after the direct or indirect exposure to a traumatic event.  It is a biological survival mechanism that works through the activation of our fight or flight primary systems when triggers in the environment are present post-traumatic event exposure.  After the initial exposure to the traumatic event, the human brain naturally decreases the production of anandamide (Greer, Grob & Halberstadt, 2014). This decrease in our endocannabinoid neurotransmitter decreased the stimulation of the superior amygdala’s in the limbic system and this under stimulation causes the sympathetic system to be activated without the possibility of a cognitive analysis of the situation as soon as a trigger in the environment is perceived by the affected person (Passie, et al., 2013).  As it is well described in the literature, individuals suffering from PTSD often will experience flashbacks, severe anxiety, nightmares, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event, following a trigger in their environment (Campos, Ferreira & Guimaraes, 2012).  

Benefits of Cannabis on PTSD 

Cannabis use by affected individuals has been well documented for decades and it has been shown to significantly reduce intensity and frequency symptoms associated with PTSD (Greer, Grob & Halberstadt, 2014). The high THC concentration in combination with myrcene allows a better blood brain barrier penetration and re-stimulation of the superior amygdala with an agonistic exogenous cannabinoid allowing the fear extinction mechanism to be active again.  Post-cannabinoid therapy initiation, it has been reported that the individuals affected by the disorder experience better sleep and fewer nightmares. (Betthauser, Piilz, Vollmer, 2015). The THC based cannabinoid therapy also permits faster and better social interactions without anxiety crisis and some studies suggested that cannabis has the potential to dampen the strength and emotional impact of traumatic memories (Passie, et al., 2013). It was also reported that the administration of high THC doses shortly after a traumatic event exposure can help prevent the development of PTSD-like symptoms (Campos, Ferreira & Guimaraes, 2012).  The interaction of the CBD molecules with the cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) of the endocannabinoid system also modulates the release of neurotransmitter that increases a sense of pleasure and initiates alternation of memory processes (Betthauser, Piilz, Vollmer, 2015). Moreover, the effect of CBD can also help stimulating the superior amygdala in the limbic system allowing the modulation of memories from the traumatic event when exposed to an environmental trigger thus reducing its associated anxiety (Akirav, 2013), (Trezza & Campolongo, 2013) and (Passie, et al., 2012).

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