The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) estimates that around 8 million people in the U.S. have PTSD. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) notes that between 11% to 20% of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom veterans have PTSD, as do 12% of Gulf War veterans and around 15% of Vietnam War veterans. Military sexual assault is another incident in which PTSD can develop, as can sexual assault incidents in the civilian population.
Many people use marijuana to ease PTSD symptoms obtaining it legally from a medical marijuana store or illicitly. Studies have been conducted to learn how marijuana and cannabis affect people who have PTSD. Should PTSD be treated with marijuana and cannabis instead of prescription drugs, such as antidepressants and benzodiazepines?
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after one is “exposed to a potentially traumatic event that is beyond a typical stressor,” as defined by the National Institute on Mental Health. It can develop from violent personal assaults, combat, accidents, natural or human-made disasters. The Institute indicates that people who experience PTSD might have persistent, frightening thoughts and memories of the event or events, have sleep problems, feel numb or detached, and easily startled.
PTSD symptoms could start within three months of the traumatic event; however, they can also begin years after the incident. Symptoms should endure more than a month and be severe enough to interfere with relationships, work, and life. Diagnosis for PTSD has four qualifying characteristics:
The individual should have at least one re-experiencing symptom:
- Flashbacks-reliving the trauma over and over causing a racing heart or profuse sweating
- Bad dreams
- Frightening thoughts
These symptoms cause problems in a person’s everyday routine and stem from their own feelings and thoughts. Objects, words, or situations can be reminders of the incident.
Should have one avoidance symptom:
- Staying away from any reminder of the traumatic event, such as places, events, or objects
- Avoiding feelings or thoughts related to the incident
Anything that can cause a person to change their personal routine is an avoidance symptom.
Should have at least two arousal and reactivity symptoms:
- Easily startled
- Difficulty sleeping
- Being “on edge” or feeling tense
- Having angry outbursts
These symptoms are constant and are not usually triggered by any reminder of the traumatic incident.Should have at least two cognitive and mood symptoms:
- Cannot remember key features of the traumatic incident
- Feeling negative about themselves or the world
- Feeling guilt or blame
- No interest in once enjoyable activities
These symptoms may begin or worsen after the traumatic incident but are not due to injury or substance use. The individual may feel alienated or detached from loved ones.
Some individuals diagnosed with PTSD might use marijuana to self-medicate their symptoms. Marijuana may soothe or ease symptoms and reduce tension or the feeling like they are “on edge” and ready to snap. Many U.S. states have legalized medical marijuana and cannabis products that some people are able to obtain, and others seek marijuana from a person they know who sells it illicitly.
Can Marijuana Help with PTSD?
Marijuana comes from the hemp plant, whose scientific name is Cannabis sativa. Cannabis and marijuana are common products that some people use to ease PTSD symptoms. Recent research, noted in an article by Forbes magazine, relays how cannabis might reduce amygdala activity, which is the part of the brain that controls fear responses to threats. Another study noted indicates that the cannabinoids, a chemical compound found in the plant, might help to snuff out traumatic memories associated with PTSD.
Marijuana is the dried leaves or buds of the Cannabis sativa plant. It consists of psychoactive (mind-altering) compounds, like tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and other active compounds, such as cannabidiol, or CBD, which is not mind-altering.
Veterans who used marijuana to self-medicate have said that they use it mostly to alleviate their hyperarousal symptoms. Marijuana was also used to help people deal with unpleasant emotions related to PTSD.
While there will be some people who believe marijuana and cannabis can help treat their PTSD, regular use of it can lead to tolerance, chemical dependence, and addiction.
Marijuana and PTSD: Are there Negative Effects?
A Washington State University study, noted on Science Daily, found that people struggling with PTSD reported that cannabis reduced the severity of their symptoms by more than half in the short term.
Marijuana helps many people fall asleep and stay asleep, thereby reducing sleep problems. However, long-term use of marijuana for sleep difficulties can cause long-term sleep trouble for those with PTSD, as indicated by a 2015 study from The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders. The study also found that sleep disorders can cause substance use or worsen it.
Marijuana can relieve some PTSD symptoms temporarily, but the root problem remains. Substance use, and particularly marijuana use, is commonly utilized to relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PTSD. However, once the intoxication effects are gone, it is possible the symptoms will come back and be more intense.
Why Self-Medicating is a Temporary Fix
Many people self-medicate symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD. Marijuana helps people tolerate feelings like anger or relieves them of chronic stress. Due to the legalization of medical marijuana, many more people have access to products that contain cannabis and THC.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that around “30% of people who use marijuana may have some degree of marijuana use disorder (MUD).” MUD is usually associated with chemical dependence on the substance, which is when an individual experiences withdrawal symptoms when not using the drug.
Regular users of marijuana relay that they are irritable, experience mood and sleep difficulties, have less of an appetite, marijuana cravings, restlessness, and other physical discomforts after ending use.
Self-medicating with marijuana and cannabis may lead to addiction also. Regular marijuana use for PTSD can also lead to misusing other substances, such as alcohol or other drugs. Marijuana use by those with PTSD can cause problems with families, work, school, and other responsibilities, and they may struggle to complete everyday tasks.
PTSD and Marijuana Use Disorder
Substance use often goes hand-in-hand with those who struggle with anxiety disorders and phobias. A person with PTSD and marijuana use disorder may likely be misusing other substances like nicotine and alcohol. Additionally, they may experience more long-term health problems.
It is crucial that both disorders are treated at the same time, as opposed to just one. There are many evidence-based therapies that can be beneficial for someone with PTSD, and Vista Pines Health offers them. Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) involves a 12-week course where the individual talks about the trauma and associated thoughts and later journal them.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy involves thinking about something positive while recounting the actual trauma while they listen to or watch a therapist do something.
Therapy sessions for people with PTSD and co-occurring marijuana use disorder might also include motivational enhancement, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and other treatment options that will best help the individual.
Should PTSD Be Treated with Marijuana or Cannabis?
The point of this topic is that CBD has shown to be effective when used with the help of a clinical professional. However, smoking marijuana to self-medicate for PTSD is not advised. CBD has proven benefits for many ailments, from easing stress and tension to pain relief and relieving nausea that stems from chemotherapy.
Cannabis helps people get a night of deep and regenerative sleep, can help prevent night-terrors associated with PTSD and prevents some people from having violent outbursts, as long as alcohol is not used at the same time as cannabis. It can also improve mood and impulse control and lessen traumatic memories.
Smoking marijuana is not only harmful to your body, but there can be roughly 500 chemicals in the buds or leaves. The THC level in marijuana cigarettes is hard to determine, which, if in excess, could cause psychosis.
Higher levels of THC can cause a person to develop a dependency on the substance and possibly become addicted to it. Addiction is defined as “compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences,” by the American Psychiatric Association. It is also known as a chronic disease of the brain that is treatable.
If you have PTSD and are using marijuana or cannabis to ease your symptoms, it is best to find a treatment that is unique to your needs and find solutions for tolerating the triggers to post-traumatic stress syndrome. Vista Pines Health can help the veteran or civilian learn how to manage PTSD without misusing substances.