Medical Cannabis & PTSD

PTSD is a term that started being used in the 1970s, although it was first listed in the third edition of the DSM in 1980. The inclusion of the term within the manual is largely thought to be due to the increased awareness around the mental issues Vietnam war veterans were experiencing following their service.

PTSD is not just experienced by veterans though. It can be experienced by anyone who has experienced a highly affecting and traumatic event. In fact, the NHS estimates that PTSD affects as many as 1 in every 3 people who have a traumatic experience.

So what is PTSD?

The term itself refers to post-traumatic stress disorder – a trauma and stressor related disorder (as listed in the fifth edition of the DSM) where a patient exhibits a prolonged response to a traumatic experience, resulting in a number of disabling symptoms.

Symptoms may include:

● Extreme physical reactions to reminders of the trauma – for instance nausea, sweating and a pounding heart
● Insomnia
● Difficulty concentrating
● Upsetting and invasive memories of the traumatic event
● Flashbacks
● A feeling of numbness or detachment from other people and the world around you
● A loss of interest in daily activities and activities you used to enjoy
● Intense feelings of distress when reminded of the traumatic event
● Avoidance of anything (e.g. activities or places) that reminds you of the event

These symptoms can ultimately make everyday life much harder for sufferers, with the need to avoid triggering circumstances limiting the individual’s ability to carry out tasks as they normally would prior to the traumatic event.

It’s important to note that PTSD might not present itself straight away. While some may experience the debilitating effects of the disorder immediately after their traumatic experience, many may not develop the disorder for weeks or years following the event.

While it’s normal for people to experience symptoms of PTSD for a short while following a disturbing experience, if these symptoms persist for more than 4 weeks following the event, then GPs should be contacted. If necessary, the GP can then refer the PTSD affected patient onto a mental health specialist so that their condition can be continually assessed and the correct form of treatment can be offered to them.
Typical treatment routes for PTSD

Some common first-line treatment options for PTSD include:

● Watchful waiting – where patients are encouraged to monitor their symptoms to see if they improve over time without the need for more intense treatment options
● Psychological therapies – like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
● Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing – a relatively new form of treatment that involves patients making rhythmic eye movements whilst picturing the event that triggered their symptoms. This supposedly allows the patient to work through their traumatic memories properly as the rapid eye movements are believed to mimic the way the brain processes memories during sleep.
● The use of antidepressants

How might cannabis help?

It is thought that medical cannabis generally, and THC and CBD more specifically, may be able to help those suffering from PTSD as the endocannabinoid system is believed to play a role in mediating our memory retrieval and consolidation processes. The use of cannabinoids may therefore impact the recall of traumatic memories associated with the event in question.

THC, as it thought to diminish the amount of time in REM sleep, may play a role in lessening the amount of nightmares experienced by sufferers regarding the traumatic event they may have experienced. When you couple this theorisation with the fact that THC is known to induce drowsiness, it’s thought that the use of THC-heavy medicines may allow sufferers to address the nightmares and insomnia associated with the disorder simultaneously.

Additionally, coexisting conditions of PTSD like feelings of anxiety and distress may be able to be treated with medical cannabis, as the activation of CB1 and CB2 receptors is thought to trigger the system’s ability to produce neurotransmitters that lead to an increased sense of happiness and pleasure.

This ability to create a greater sense of overall well-being while addressing specific symptoms of the disorder like nightmares and insomnia makes cannabis an exciting potential form of treatment for the disorder, although it is acknowledged that more research is required in this area to bolster the existing findings around cannabis’ efficacy for this indication.

To find out more about the psychiatric conditions we can treat with medical cannabis at our clinics, click here.

We only recommend taking cannabis-based products following a consultation with a medical professional, and do not advise patients on the recreational use of any cannabis-based products.

At The Medical Cannabis Clinics, our GMC registered specialists will identify the appropriate cannabis medicine care plan and products for patients following a comprehensive assessment which includes an in-depth evaluation of the main symptoms being targeted, current medications, pattern of symptoms and lifestyle factors such as safety-sensitive occupations.

They will also monitor and adjust the medication on a regular basis to ensure the best effect with the fewest side effects. There is also a carefully designed process in place to monitor patients’ wellbeing, with follow-up appointments after a week and then every month, for three months after receiving a prescription.

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