Treating PTSD with Cannabis
Why cannabis is better than pharmaceuticals & which strains are best.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is a condition that affects about 7.8% of Americans. This number only includes people that have come forward with their condition and doesn’t include the many that have kept their symptoms to themselves, especially soldiers that’ve come back from combat or rape victims.
Once PTSD was recognized as a cognitive disorder in 1980, various pharmaceuticals were developed to treat the ailment, ultimately pushing many towards dependency or changing their mental demeanor in negative ways. Because of this, a vast majority are seeking other options, leading them towards the path of cannabis consumption.
The Pharmaceuticals for PTSD
Man-made drugs made to suppress the symptoms of PTSD work by hindering the brain’s neurotransmitters responsible for communicating the emotion/reaction of fear and anxiety. They help regulate the production and release of serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid, norepinephrine, dopamine, excitatory amino acids, etc. – the hormones responsible for initiating the “fight or flight” response. Even as these drugs seem to help regulate the brain, none have been known to entirely eliminate the symptoms of PTSD – and all of them can produce unsettling side-effects or lead to physical dependency.
Side-Effects of Pharmaceuticals Approved for PTSD by the FDA
Only two medications have been approved by the FDA to treat PTSD, and they’re Zoloft and Paxil. This list doesn’t include all their side-effects, believe it or not, but you can click the links below to grab an in-depth list.
Sertraline AKA Zoloft (Full List)
- Dyspepsia (indigestion)
- Tremors/Muscle Spasms
- Paresthesia (“pins & needles” sensation)
- Decreased Libido
- Ejaculation failure (men)
- Loss of bladder control
- Sudden loss of consciousness
Paroxetine AKA Paxil (Full List)
- Chest pain/Chest congestion
- Cold sweats/Chills
- Difficulty breathing
- Irregular heartbeat
- Skin rash
- Decrease/absence of body movements
- Difficulty speaking
- Poor coordination
- Inability to move eyes
- Difficulty Urinating
- Decreased Libido
Other Pharmaceuticals Prescribed for PTSD
Often, doctors will prescribe either Zoloft or Paxil for PTSD to begin treatment. When these fail the patient then fluoxetine (Prozac), mirtazapine (Remeron), venlafaxine (Effexor), or nefazodone (Serzone) can also be prescribed which are anti-depressants. These four medications also have long lists of side-effects – and none of them are pleasant. These medications have been proven to lead to physical or psychological dependency and over-dosing on them will lead to death or in some cases, psychosis.
Cannabis for PTSD
The symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, flashbacks, experiencing triggers, avoiding social crowds, relationship anxiety, and paranoia among others. It doesn’t matter who you are, what your background is, or what your personal beliefs are, those of us suffering from PTSD want one thing and that is to be free of the disorder. Once we push ourselves into consulting with a physician for solutions and begin treatment, it can often feel as if we’ve entered a never-ending loop of pills and hazy days.
Some of us experience the more horrific side-effects of the drugs prescribed to us. Others want to avoid the risk all-together. No matter where we are on our journey in treating PTSD, cannabis may be able to provide the relief we’re searching for. We’ve all heard that no one has ever over-dosed on cannabis and died. This is the first fact that intrigues those of us searching for a solution to our PTSD. The second? Well, let’s take a look at the side-effects of cannabis from the worst to the not-so-bad.
How Cannabis Treats PTSD
It’s all about memory extinction. When those of us with PTSD respond to stimuli, or “triggers” in our environment that remind us of the initial trauma experienced, we’re associating the stimuli with a past memory. To eliminate this unhealthy response, the traumatic memory should be forgotten or at the very least, the patient find peace with what happened.
Cannabis helps in that it has the ability to aid in memory extinction. The formal definition of memory extinction is when our brain healthily processes and removes associations from stimuli, ultimately letting go of distant memories from the past. Cannabis aids memory extinction when used by animals that have the endocannabinoid system. Lucky for us, humans have one.
Consider this quote taken from VeteransForMedicalMarijuana.org:
“Dr. Mechoulam explained that an animal which has been administered an electric shock after a certain noise will eventually forget about the shock after the noise appears alone for a few days. Mice without cannabinoid systems simply never forget - they continue to cringe at the noise indefinitely. This has implications for patients with PTSD, who respond to stimuli that remind them of their initial trauma even when it is no longer appropriate. By aiding in memory extinction, marijuana could help patients reduce their association between stimuli (perhaps loud noises or stress) and the traumatic situations in their past.”
This means that having an endocannabinoid system – the very system cannabis uses its cannabinoids to produce effects – increases our ability to forget and/or disassociate. By stimulating this system, it’s believed forgetting/disassociating comes faster – a grand effect for PTSD victims.
Martin Lee, an affiliate of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies & director of Project CBD has written on the subject of cannabis for PTSD:
“Researchers found that people with PTSD had lower levels of anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid compound, compared to those who did not show signs of PTSD. Innate to all mammals, anandamide triggers the same receptors that are activated by THC and other components of the marijuana plant.”
But this isn’t the only way cannabis can help PTSD patients.
Simple relaxation can be difficult to find no matter what a PTSD patient’s environment is or who they surround themselves with. Cannabis, especially strains of the indica variety, are known to soften tense muscles and allow the mind to reach a state of relaxing euphoria. Not only will this help the patient relax, but it can pull the consumer into sleep, thus making it a great way to beat insomnia too.
Stress and anxiety often subside when consuming proper amounts. Creativity can be a side-effect, allowing the mind to wander towards crafting something with their hands, ultimately pushing aside negative thoughts that could lead towards focusing on triggers.
Strains of Cannabis Ideal for PTSD
Keep in mind everyone has different body chemistry and every strain will affect us differently. However, there are some strains out there that have been known to be a better option for those treating the symptoms of PTSD.
The effects of this strain are obvious due to its name. Consuming this via flower or edible will have the mind completely at ease, with all thoughts nearly obliterated. You won’t remember much, making this an ideal strain for PTSD patients. Though you’ll still be able to function, this energy will gear more towards creative tasks. This strain isn’t recommended for daytimes use since the mind will wander and the body will fall into a state of relaxation.
For those treating PTSD during the day and want a strain they can function on without drowsiness, Durban Poison could possibly be the answer. It’s a sativa and will boost energy while eliminating social anxiety. It’s been called the “espresso of strains”. Those that are uncomfortable in crowds/around people will find this strain quite pleasing.
This hybrid causes the consumer to mellow, calming the mind and body as both relax and a social mood arises. This strain is known not only to treat PTSD but anxiety and depression as well.
One of the easiest strains to find on the market, OG Kush will create a heavy body stone that helps ease the consumer into sleep/sedation. This is especially good for those suffering anxiety attacks or insomnia due to PTSD.
There are absolutely others out there that can help with PTSD, but it all depends on what’s right for the patient and how they respond to a specific strain.
If you suffer from PTSD, ask your doctor about cannabis as an alternative option. If you’re in a state that’s legalized cannabis, you can try some from a local dispensary and ask your budtender any questions you may have (they’re usually quite knowledgeable about the ailments cannabis can treat) including those concerning how to properly consume and the amount to start with.
Negative Side-Effects of Cannabis
- Increased Heart Rate
- Red Eyes
- Memory Impairment
For a detailed description of these side-effects and their remedies, take a look at our article, “10 Undesirable Side-Effects of Cannabis + Remedies”
There not only are far fewer side-effects of consuming cannabis versus pharmaceuticals, they’re also far less uncomfortable and less critical. Plus, the symptoms of PTSD can be thoroughly dulled.