Cannabis has been used as a herbal remedy for centuries to treat a range of ailments, both physical and mental.
From day-to-day symptoms such as anxiety, muscle cramps, and loss of appetite, to chronic and life-altering conditions such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, HIV/AIDS, ALS, and epilepsy, among others—cannabis has been an effective treatment for a variety of medical issues.
Even today, with evolving medical solutions, there are some disorders that continue to respond particularly well to treatment by cannabis.
Owing to extensive research in this vein, cannabis has frequently been recommended for patients dealing with PTSD.
But how does cannabis really help with PTSD?
What Is PTSD?
PTSD is short for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. As the name suggests, this is a condition that develops following the occurrence of a particularly shocking, dangerous, scary, or traumatic event, and is a result of the inability to recover after having experienced or witnessed such an event.
But not all cases of PTSD are associated with a dangerous event, as it may occur even after an emotional upheaval, for instance, following the unexpected death of a loved one.
In order to help someone struggling with PTSD, it is important to recognize signs and symptoms and to learn what really happens when someone is struggling with such trauma.
When someone is experiencing PTSD, their brain is essentially stuck in ‘danger mode’.
So that even when one is no longer in any imminent danger, their brain stays on high alert, causing the body to continue sending out stress signals so they can flee from, or face the ‘danger’.
This is ultimately what leads to PTSD symptoms.
In fact, studies have shown that the amygdala (the part of the brain that handles fear responses) is highly active in people with PTSD.
Some common groups of people who struggle with PTSD are veterans, emergency personnel, first responders, survivors of calamities, and abuse survivors.
Signs & Symptoms Of PTSD
Most often, symptoms of PTSD begin to surface within 3 months of the disturbing event.
But sometimes, signs may also show up several years later. People with PTSD may experience stress, fear, and a sense of anxiety, even when they are not in danger.
There are 4 broad categories of PTSD-related symptoms that may occur.
● Re-Experiencing Symptoms
These often occur following words, thoughts, objects, or situations that might remind someone of the event in question. Symptoms can include:
- flashbacks which cause one to relive the trauma
- sweating and a racing heart
- recurring bad dreams
- frightening thoughts
People experiencing PTSD may tend to avoid certain places, people, situations, or thoughts that might remind them of the witnessed or experienced trauma.
Often this leads to feelings of detachment and isolation from their surroundings. With all their focus diverted towards avoiding reminders of the trauma, they experience a loss of interest in events and activities that they may have once enjoyed.
These symptoms often appear in the form of excessive emotions and problems relating to others. This may include:
- issues with feeling or showing affection
- difficulty falling and/or staying asleep
- strong outbursts of anger
- difficulty concentrating on tasks
- feeling “jumpy” or being easily startled
These symptoms are tied to thoughts or feelings related to blame, abandonment, or estrangement, and to memories of the traumatic event.
Some patients may have trouble remembering key events from the traumatic incident and begin to hold negative thoughts about themselves or the world.
Over time, these distorted feelings of guilt and blame may lead to a loss of interest in previously enjoyed hobbies.
PTSD is a worrisome condition not just because of the host of chronic problems that come with it; in some cases, the overwhelming symptoms of PTSD can also lead to suicidal tendencies.
This makes it essential to be able to recognize and treat PTSD with the right tools and methods.
While research into this area has been inconclusive, patients worldwide have reported an improvement in PTSD conditions following treatment with cannabis.
How Cannabis Helps With PTSD
To understand the medical benefits of treating PTSD with cannabis, it will be helpful to learn how cannabis affects our bodies and minds at the chemical level.
Given the current field of research, there are three broad areas of impact that have been studied so far.
Cannabis Assists In Key Bodily Functions
Studies have shown that cannabinoids present in medical marijuana are similar to certain chemicals produced by our bodies that assist in carrying out key functions.
This is why cannabis has been a successful way to treat issues pertaining to appetite loss, memory, muscle movement, and pain.
Cannabis Targets Fear & Anxiety Receptors In The Amygdala
Emotional processes such as fear learning, perception of threats, and anxiety, are all biologically dependent on the amygdala.
When someone encounters a perceived threat, the amygdala is able to evoke fear responses in the body.
However, PTSD patients find themselves in a prolonged ‘danger mode’, which causes their bodies to respond as if they are faced with threats, based merely on remembrance of past trauma and their surroundings.
This is where cannabis comes in; a study found that THC significantly reduces amygdala reactivity to social signals of threat.
This has opened up avenues for novel therapeutic strategies that use cannabinoids to treat anxiety and social fear, which includes using medical marijuana for PTSD.
Since PTSD patients display a highly active amygdala, cannabis can help to soothe this part of their brains and reduce feelings of stress, fear, and anxiety.
Researchers at the Federal University of Parana in Brazil have explored another potential way that cannabis could help PTSD patients.
After first being hypothesized by Yale Associate Professor of Psychiatry, R. Andrew Sewell, a mode of treatment was discovered whereby cannabis could extinguish the intensity of traumatic memories.
Biologically, it was suggested that cannabis can help PTSD patients “overwrite” traumatic memories with new ones and this process has been called ‘extinction learning’.
Although research into this field is still ongoing, this could be a promising avenue of treatment in the future.
A Future Of Relief: Benefits Of Using Cannabis To Treat PTSD
Among the suggested treatments for PTSD, cannabis has surfaced as an accessible and affordable alternative for diverse patients across the world.
As a patient with PTSD, you can seek the qualification to safely approach your state’s medical marijuana authority and acquire a medical marijuana license.
After collecting your prescribed dosage from a nearby dispensary, it is easy and safe to administer cannabis in the form or method that is best suitable to your needs.
Counselling is always recommended for persons struggling with PTSD as a therapeutic tool to delve into their trauma and undo its resulting effects over time.
However, such healing efforts may hold greater potential for recovery in the long run when combined with the use of medical cannabis to actively relieve anxiety and dismantle fear biologically.
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Laura Henry is a writer and editor with a passion for alternative health products and practices. When they’re not outside with their rescue dog, they spend their time exploring local wellness/new age spaces and practicing yoga.