Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that can negatively affect a person’s life in many ways—from nightmares to physical pain to panic attacks. Fortunately, many PTSD patients are finding that cannabis offers a form of alternative treatment to help manage their symptoms.
One major argument for taking medical marijuana to combat PTSD is that it doesn’t have the same undesirable side effects as that of pharmaceutical drugs, which are prescribed to PTSD sufferers. Here’s everything you need to know about treating PTSD symptoms with marijuana.
What Is PTSD?
PTSD is a condition that occurs when someone has lived through a traumatic or life-threatening event. Examples of things that could result in PTSD could include:
- Violent crimes
- Natural disasters
- Car accidents
- Sexual assault
- Military assignments
- Physical and emotional abuse
For PTSD patients, memories of the traumatic event occur periodically in the form of:
- Panic attacks
These and other symptoms force the person to relive the trauma as if it were occurring again.
Firefighters, emergency medical technicians, military personnel and police officers are more likely to experience traumatic events and consequently develop PTSD.
Common symptoms of PTSD typically involve:
- Emotional disengagement
- A negative outlook
- Avoidance of triggers such as certain places, activities, feelings or thoughts that are reminiscent of the tragic events
- Memory loss
- Distress, anxiety, insomnia and depression
- Physical reactions including panic attacks, excessive sweating, nausea and high blood pressure
How Do People Usually Treat PTSD?
Most PTSD patients are usually prescribed some kind of medication to treat the condition. Typical treatment medication for PTSD includes pharmaceuticals called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which help increase serotonin levels in the brain. Their aim is to reduce feelings of depression, anxiety and panic.
But SSRIs, and other types of drugs prescribed to PTDS patients—antidepressants, benzodiazepines, sleeping pills, beta-blockers—are highly addictive. They can also cause lots of unwanted side effects like lethargy, which makes it near impossible to relieve symptoms but remain productive and alert at the same time.
Non-medication treatments include cognitive behavioural therapy and psychotherapy. Many PTSD patients do find relief with these potentially effective treatments, and they can form part of a well-rounded treatment plan along with the right type of cannabis.
Understanding Marijuana Cannabinoids’ Role in Helping Treat PTSD
The cannabis plant has over 100 cannabinoids, compounds that bind with receptors that are part of the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). You’ve probably heard of at least two: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). The body also makes its own endocannabinoids, some of which are very similar to THC and CBD.
ECS receptors are found in practically every part of the body and affect change in the brain and nervous system. When marijuana cannabinoids bind with the ECS’s cannabinoid receptors, they can influence lots of functions like pain response, digestion, depression, anxiety, sleep and the ability to adapt to stress and cope with emotional learning. This is why cannabis can help improve so many different conditions, including ones that may arise because of PTSD.
How You Can Add Cannabis to a PTSD Treatment Plan
Cannabis can become part of your daily routine to manage the debilitating symptoms of PTSD that hinder everyday life—and you don’t have to be so high that you can’t be productive or a functioning member of your community.
You may want to start your day with a CBD oil to help fight anxiety without a head high. CBD has been proven to help ease anxiety. There are many CBD-rich cannabis strains that may help target symptoms commonly associated with PTSD like anxiety, panic or depression.
During the day, you may want to stick to smoking or vaping, or go for sublingual cannabis oils since these methods all work quickly—albeit consuming marijuana sublingually will take a bit longer to take effect. If you‘re out and about or in a public space where smoking or vaping isn’t allowed, that’s when an oil would be best as it’s a discreet, smoke-free option.
At night, a homemade cannabis edible is a good solution for PTSD patients who suffer from insomnia. Though they take longer to kick in, edible effects typically last much longer than other consumption methods do. The evening could also be when you could work more THC into your cannabis routine, or whenever you’ve completed all of your tasks for the day.
It may take a while to find the right CBD to THC ratio, dose, strain and delivery method for your personal needs, so don’t be discouraged if your first few tries aren’t spot-on. Taking notes or making journal entries about your experience can help you track how the different strains affect your PTSD symptoms.
Recommended Cannabis Strains for PTSD Sufferers
- Blue Dream: This is a popular sativa strain known for inducing relaxation without causing drowsiness. Blue Dream is widely available and produces a mild euphoric high to uplift the mood for PTSD patients who experience anxiety and depression.
- Cannatonic: Another strain that can be used in the daytime, Cannatonic has a high CBD content that has a calming effect and reduces anxiety. Its low THC content of around 6% produces a mild effect that won’t stop you from carrying on with daily activities.
- Tangerine Dream: Like its namesake, this hybrid strain has citrus aromas that will relax the body while boosting mood and providing focus and energy for better mental clarity. Tangerine Dream is a perfect daytime strain to help deal with anxiety and stressful situations where triggers for trauma may occur.
- Headband: With a high-THC content of as much to 20%, this indica-heavy hybrid strain will produce a mind and body high, making this a good nighttime strain if you want to experiment with THC.
Headband is especially helpful for PTSD patients who suffer from recurring nightmares as it encourages deep sleep and helps bypass REM sleep. A 1972 study found that THC decreased REM sleep, which is the sleep stage where we dream—and when many PTSD patients experience nightmares.
Photo credit: Kat Jayne