About 12% of Australians will develop PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) in their lifetime, and 25% of people who’ve witnessed a traumatic life event are at risk of developing PTSD [1]. Following the unprecedented events of the bushfire and the ongoing pandemic, the statistics on PTSD are projected to increase.  

 The ADF (Australian Defence Force) in 2019 reported that about 8.3% of their members had experienced PTSD since 2018 [2]. This year, the military, service personnel, and volunteers were the frontliners of the catastrophic summer of 2020. Survey says this would bring the prevalence of PTSD up to 10%. Australian military veterans still lead to the highest rates of PTSD at 17.7% [3].  

What is PTSD? 

 PTSD is a psychiatric condition largely brought upon by witnessing traumatic life events. The disorder is characterised by agitations, recurrent flashbacks of traumatic events, impaired memory, concentration problems, insomnia, and recurrent nightmares. PTSD is uncomfortable as it is, but can also lead to substance abuse, drug dependence, depression, and suicide.   

Most of PTSD’s conventional treatments are designed to subdue the symptoms of PTSD and help the victims understand better their psychological processes. Medications like antidepressant and antipsychotic are occasionally prescribed. Psychological treatments like trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy are also administered.  

Research on medical cannabis as a treatment for PTSD 

 Some people opt for an alternative way of treating PTSD. State-funded agencies like the DVA (Department of Veterans’ Affairs) explore the idea of cannabis as a treatment for PTSD-stricken military veterans. The DVA in 2017 supported a study on medical cannabis for PTSD operated by the Phoenix Australia Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health [4]. 

 A breakthrough study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology suggests that people with PTSD with no history of cannabis usage are at risk of major depressive episodes and suicidal ideation by seven and five times, respectively.  

 Meanwhile, the survey results of the study saw a trend that shows low-risk cannabis users were less likely to develop a depressive episode and suicidal ideation compared to non-users. For context, low-risk cannabis users are tagged as users that are less likely to abuse cannabis. Ultimately, the study concluded that cannabis could be a possible treatment for PTSD, but its usage is not without risks [5].  

 Another study reported that the endocannabinoid system, a system involved in processes relating to immune functions, sleep, stress, mood, and memory, can be tied to the development of PTSD [6].  

 PTSD is shown to be associated with an increased presence of CB1, a cannabinoid receptor that has an affinity for latching on certain cannabis compounds like THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) [7]. This chemical process means the endocannabinoid system is trying to compensate for a mental threat. This highlights the possibility of manipulating the endocannabinoid system for therapeutic capacities [8] which may logically require some stimulation from cannabis compounds. 

There are reported indications in which cannabis components such as THC and CBD (cannabidiol) reduce some PTSD symptoms. They found that a 5 mg dosage of THC twice a day reduced recurrent nightmares and PTSD hyperarousal among subjects [9]. Coincidentally, Nabilone, a synthetic analogue of THC, improves some of PTSD symptoms [10].  

 Additionally, cannabis mitigates inflammation [11] which might be useful in certain psychological conditions where inflammation processes in the brain are rampant. In fact, anti-inflammatory agents can reduce PTSD symptoms in animals [12]. Thus, cannabinoids could potentially treat PTSD by activating CB2 receptors [13] (a type of cannabinoid receptor involved with anti-inflammatory processes) which contributes to the overall anti-inflammatory action of the human body. 

Much of the evidence that supports the use of cannabis for PTSD is based on anecdotal reports and observational studies. For instance, people living with PTSD that self-medicate using cannabis reported reduced anxiety, arousal, and improvement in sleep [6].  

CanView does not endorse the use of Medicinal Cannabis without lawful prescription. Just like any Medicine, Medicinal Cannabis may have both positive and negative side effects on the user, and should only be prescribed to patients by a Health Professional with the authority and expertise to do so. The information provided by CanView is for informational and educational purposes, and is of a general nature. If you are interested in accessing Medicinal Cannabis please talk to your doctor and request a referral to a Medicinal Cannabis clinic.  

  Endnotes: 

  1. Medical Cannabis Services. N.D. Medical Cannabis for PTSD. Available at: https://medicalcannabisservices.com.au/ptsd/
  2. Department of Defence. N.D. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Available at: https://www.defence.gov.au/health/healthportal/PTSD.asp#:~:text=It%20is%20estimated%20that%20approximately,(8.1%25%20versus%204.6%25). 
  3. Wallace, D. 2020. Post-traumatic stress disorder in Australia: 2020. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1039856220922245#:~:text=Following%20Australia’s%20summer %20of%20disastrous,than%20previously%20reported%20(4.4%25). 
  4. DVA. N.D. Response to ABC – Cannabis as a treatment for PTSD. Available at: https://www.dva.gov.au/newsroom/media-centre/record/response-abc-cannabis-treatment-ptsd 
  5. Lake, S. et al. 2019. Does cannabis use modify the effect of post-traumatic stress disorder on severe depression and suicidal ideation? Evidence from a population-based cross-sectional study of Canadians. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0269881119882806?journalCode=jopa 
  6. Hill MN, Campolongo P, Yehuda R, et al. 2018. Integrating endocannabinoid signaling and cannabinoids into the biology and treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/npp2017162 
  7. Bitencourt RM, Takahashi RN. 2018. Cannabidiol as a Therapeutic alternative for post-traumatic stress disorder: from bench research to confirmation in human trials. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6066583/#:~:text=Human%20and%20animal%20studies%20suggest ,to%20psychological%20therapies%20for%20PTSD. 
  8. Hill MN, McLaughlin RJ, Bingham B, et al. 2010. Endogenous cannabinoid signaling is essential for stress adaptation. Available at: https://www.pnas.org/content/107/20/9406#:~:text=In%20recent%20years%2C%20the%20endocannabinoid, adaptation%20(7%2C%208).&text=A%20growing%20body%20of%20evidence,of%20stress%20habituation%20(8). 
  9. Roitman P, Mechoulam R, Cooper-Kazaz R, et al. 2014. Preliminary, open-label, pilot study of add-on oral Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol in chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. Clin Drug Investig. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24935052/ 
  10. Jetly R, Heber A, Fraser G, et al. 2015. The efficacy of nabilone, a synthetic cannabinoid, in the treatment of PTSD-associated nightmares: a preliminary randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled cross-over design study. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25467221/ 
  11. Burstein, S. 2015. Cannabidiol (CBD) and its analogs: a review of their effects on inflammation. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25703248/ 
  12. Wang W, Wang R, Xu J, et al. 2018. Minocycline attenuates stress-induced behavioral changes via its anti-inflammatory effects in an animal model of post-traumatic stress disorder. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6232125/ 
  13. Mecha M, Carrillo-Salinas FJ, Feliú A, et al. 2016. Microglia activation states and cannabinoid system: therapeutic implications. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27373505/ 

Related Posts