Cannabis for PTSD: Helping Wounded Warriors
PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, affects an estimated 7-8% of the world population at some point in their life. Whether a person lives through a violent wartime scenario, loses a loved one suddenly, experiences physical or sexual abuse, or any of a multitude of other triggering events, it’s extremely common for trauma survivors to experience sleep disturbances, nightmares, flashbacks, depression, paranoia, and anxiety, among other horrible symptoms. These symptoms are incredibly disruptive to sufferers, and can make it almost impossible to experience a normal quality of life. With a lack of effective medical treatment available through traditional healthcare facilities, it’s no surprise that those with PTSD can feel hopeless and alone in their struggle.
However, recent psychological research has illustrated several pathways through which cannabis can positively impact PTSD symptoms, and alleviate suffering for those living with it. Through these various mechanisms, cannabis may offer hope for symptom relief that has previously been unavailable before the modern age of cannabis legalization. Let’s take a look at a few recent studies showing promising results for the future of cannabis medicine for PTSD.
Cannabis and Sleep
One of the most well-known side effects of cannabis consumption is relaxed, almost sedative feelings - hence the stereotypical image of the lazy stoner chilling on the couch. This is mostly due to the slight nervous system depression of high THC doses, as well as the impact of sedating terpenes like Myrcene and Linalool, combining to produce a calming effect on our mental state and a sense of heaviness in the body. This may seem like a negative side effect in our productivity-driven world - however, this can actually be a major benefit when it comes to using cannabis as a medicine for sleep disorders.
A scientific study on cannabis and sleep recently illustrated that cannabis can not only improve the quality of the sleep you get, it can reduce the amount of sleep disturbances like nightmares and restlessness, and can even help you get to sleep faster. So common PTSD symptoms like insomnia, night terrors, persistent nightmares, fits of restlessness during sleep that disturb you or your partner, and inability to remain asleep, can all potentially be treated with the appropriate dose of the right cannabis product.
Cannabis and Anxiety/Depression
Widespread anecdotal evidence shows that many consumers find great relief for their chronic depression and anxiety through appropriate doses of cannabis products. Cannabis and some of its main terpenes can be quite mood elevating, which can help mitigate the surface-level feelings of sadness and despair that often accompany PTSD-related anxiety or depression. A review of those using medicinal cannabis for PTSD-related symptoms in Minnesota revealed that among those surveyed, 23% indicated anxiety reduction and 13% experienced improved mood and/or emotional regulation, with 73% of respondents stating that cannabis provided some form of significant relief from their symptoms.
However, it’s important to note that the wrong dose of THC, or even the wrong matrix of cannabis compounds for your body chemistry needs, can actually result in increased feelings of anxiety and paranoia. So it’s critical that cannabis medicine for anxiety be carefully dosed, beginning with low doses of THC and avoiding terpenes that have contributed to feelings of anxiety in the past. A measured and scientific approach to cannabis medicine is the best way to find the right product type for your needs.
Cannabis and Opioid/Alcohol Abuse Reduction
One of the most common negative side effects of untreated symptoms of PTSD is the increased likelihood to turn to illicit drugs and alcohol for relief. All too often, when faced with no legitimate medical options that help their symptoms, PTSD sufferers look to deaden their perception of the pain and suffering they live with through indulgence in drinking and drugs. This can lead to additional problems finding and maintaining work, and even leads a disproportionate amount of veterans and trauma victims finding themselves homeless.
Recent research shows that veterans with access to cannabis significantly reduce their dependence on alcohol, opioids, and other illicit drugs that they previously used to cope with their PTSD-related symptoms. Cannabis is able to effectively target the root cause of the symptoms of PTSD, rather than temporarily covering up the pain like alcohol and opioids, so these brave men and women no longer need to turn to such destructive crutches to attempt in vain to manage their pain.
Best Cannabis Products for PTSD Symptom Management
Cannabis medicine for PTSD, like for any acute medical condition, is quite complex and needs to be personalized for the individual being treated. Our unique body chemistries mean that varying doses of cannabinoids, as well as different types of terpenes, can have very different effects on us. It’s incredibly important to start low with dosing, and move doses up sequentially in small increments across consumption sessions until you find your ideal dose and chemical matrix for your needs. Use a journal to track the consumption types, product type and strain, and levels of important compounds like major/minor cannabinoids and terpenes, so that you can begin to identify the best products for use at various times of day.
For cannabis beginners, the best types of products to try will be those that are easy to dose, convenient for the user, and consistent in the chemical compounds they contain. Look for flower from reputable, consistent growers who carefully cultivate the same strains with the same methods over long periods of time. Try vaporizer devices that let you dial in your heat setting and inhaled THC dose precisely, and cannabis extract products with full test results available on terpenes and cannabinoids, as well as contaminants like pesticides and heavy metals. Cannabis edibles, with their delayed onset and long duration of effects, can be a great option for prolonged management of PTSD symptoms like sleep disruptions and depression. However, the wrong dose of an edible can be very panic and anxiety-inducing, so it’s extremely vital that proper THC dosing be observed when trying edibles.
We hope that these insights on how cannabis can assist in managing the varying symptoms of PTSD have helped guide you on your journey of self-help and discovery. If you’re interested in learning more about how cannabis works together with our bodies to support our health, check out our write-up on the Human Endocannabinoid System. If you’re nervous about experimenting with cannabis for the first time, especially edibles, read our blog post on preventing and combatting the negative side effects of THC overconsumption.