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How Does Marijuana Work As a PTSD Treatment?

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) sufferers in multiple states can now take medical cannabis to help alleviate their symptoms. Despite scant evidence explaining how cannabis or THC might help, PTSD sufferers swear by the drug. The good news is that scientific research is starting to uncover possible mechanisms.

A New Way of Looking at Cannabis

The medical cannabis experts Utah Marijuana say that more research into PTSD in cannabis is needed. Along with chronic pain and cancer, PTSD is one of the more often cited complaints among people looking to get medical cannabis cards – both in Utah and elsewhere. More research could change how state and federal lawmakers treat cannabis as an option for PTSD.

For example, veterans suffering from PTSD still have a challenging time getting approval for medical cannabis from VA hospitals. They say the VA needs a new way of looking at cannabis; one that offers veterans access without running afoul of federal law. That is not going to happen until the DEA or Congress make actual changes to the law.

What PTSD Patients Say

While lawmakers and medical experts debate the value of medical cannabis as a PTSD treatment, patients have a lot to say. Patients routinely claim that cannabis consumption reduces anxiety and helps him relax. Just getting a handle on anxiety can be a game changer. Patients also say that cannabis:

  • helps them manage traumatic memories.
  • reduces the number of flashbacks they experience.
  • improves the quality and quality of their sleep.
  • reduces the likelihood of hyperarousal.

Patients may not necessarily know how cannabis is helping. They just know that it is. Despite claims that there is insufficient evidence to prove cannabis works, PTSD sufferers will not budge from their assertions.

Two Possible Explanations

Research studies cited by Forbes suggest two possible explanations of how cannabis might help PTSD patients. First is the reduction of brain activity in that portion of the brain responsible for controlling fear in relation to threat response. In essence, cannabis seems to depress functioning so that the brain isn’t so ready to identify and respond to threats.

A second possible explanation suggests that certain cannabinoids can reduce or completely eliminate traumatic memories. This particular mechanism is not clearly understood, so more research is warranted. However, researchers will likely look into a principle known as ‘extinction learning’ to see if it is related.

Research Is Encouraging

In addition to the two studies cited by Forbes, an FDA-regulated study published in early 2021 seems to provide ample evidence that PTSD sufferers find significant relief through medical cannabis. That study was a placebo-controlled, double-blind study that enrolled 150 participants who were treated with different levels of THC and CBD.

The study found that a concentration of 9% THC provided significant symptom relief among participants who smoked marijuana. Furthermore, mixing the THC with 11% CBD seemed to produce better results. Researchers even saw success with a formula containing 8% of both THC and CBD.

One last thing to note is that the study was a follow-up to a previous project that did not involve placebo control. To get the same results with placebo control only reinforces the assumption that medical cannabis does indeed alleviate PTSD symptoms.

If It Works, It Works

So, what are we left with at the end of the day? We are left with both anecdotal and scientific evidence strongly suggesting that PTSD sufferers can be treated with medical cannabis. We may not understand the mechanisms behind it, but that only provides fodder for additional research. In the meantime, a simple adage applies: if it works, it works.

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