Imagine walking around your neighborhood on a warm, sunny afternoon. Without warning, a firecracker shoots off. Logically you know it’s just a harmless bang, but it sounds enough like gunfire that you involuntarily duck for cover. If you have a history of trauma, you might experience vivid flashbacks of a time under duress, seeing every detail and feeling time slow like you’re living two timelines at once. Worst of all, you feel unable to quell the anxiety building up.
Almost everyone has had an unpleasant experience that was difficult to let go of and grow past, but for those living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, this immersive experience is a daily struggle. These individuals must repeatedly relive their traumatic event(s), never knowing what benign interactions may suddenly trigger an intrusive memory or flashback, causing full-on panic.
PTSD is a mental health condition that can affect anyone who has survived a traumatic or life-threatening experience. PTSD often afflicts individuals who have been involved in military combat, survived a terrorist attack, experienced a severe accident or natural disaster, or been the victim of assault, though other traumatic events can also lead to PTSD.
Individuals living with PTSD typically exhibit recurring symptoms from each of the following categories for at least one month:
- Re-experiencing the event through intrusive memories, flashbacks, and/or vivid nightmares.
- Avoiding discussion of the incident and/or avoiding places or things that trigger re-experiencing symptoms.
- Feeling tense, being easily upset or startled, and/or experiencing unpredictable moments of rage or terror (often called “hyperarousal”).
- Blocking memories of the event and/or experiencing the symptoms of severe depression (guilt/blame, withdrawal, low self-esteem).
Currently, there’s no known cure for PTSD, but therapy and other treatments can help manage symptoms, making it easier to cope with daily life. Experts recommend trauma-centered psychotherapy, prolonged exposure (PE) therapy, cognitive processing therapy (CPT), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.
In addition, some emerging research suggests that many individuals with PTSD use cannabis to manage their anxiety during the day and to sleep more easily at night.
While qualifying symptoms for medical cannabis treatments vary from state to state, PTSD is a common symptom across many states that have approved medical cannabis use. As of 2018, the following states have recognized PTSD as a qualifying condition for MMJ treatments:
- Georgia (CBD only)
- Louisiana (non-smokable cannabis products only)
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York (non-smokable cannabis products only)
- North Dakota
- Pennsylvania (flower is permitted but must be vaporized, not smoked)
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia (non-smokable cannabis products only)
There’s been substantial research on cannabis and PTSD. So far, though, that research has mostly involved observational studies or correlative reports. Much of the existing research to date hasn’t included large-scale, long-term, randomized control studies measuring the cannabis’ efficacy as a PTSD treatment option.
Even though there’s a lack of large-scale clinical studies, researchers are investigating whether cannabis can help PTSD sufferers improve their sleep quality, reduce nightmares, and manage hyperarousal/anxiety symptoms.
Studies have also sought to determine whether cannabis may help control neurotransmitter functions, alter the memory process, and improve overall mood. Further research (including clinical, reproducible results) is necessary to better understand the role cannabis may play in treating the symptoms of PTSD.
Some studies suggest that cannabis use may be problematic among people with PTSD. Researchers have expressed concerns about possible dependence and withdrawal symptoms in some patients.
In addition to these concerns, it’s worth remembering that researchers don’t fully understand the relationship between cannabis and anxiety. Because PTSD often causes anxiety and hyperarousal of panic in many, anyone considering using medicinal cannabis should proceed with caution. If you have PTSD and are prone to anxious reactions, talk to your primary physician about these and other potential risks associated with using cannabis.
Recreational cannabis customers often choose strains or edibles with the highest THC content. However, high doses of THC may not always be best for someone with serious medical needs, including patients with PTSD.
Instead of a high-THC product, ask your budtender about a high-CBD option. Researchers are investigating whether CBD may offer potential health benefits that include managing the symptoms of generalized anxiety, which could have implications for patients living with PTSD. Some cannabis strains with high CBD include Charlotte’s Web, ACDC and Ringo’s Gift. There are also many high-CBD/low-THC concentrates, edibles, tinctures, and sublingual sprays.
Also check which terpenes, the aromatic hydrocarbons that give cannabis its unique smell and taste, are in your flower or concentrates. Terpenes may offer their own additional therapeutic benefits, which is nothing new. Multiple studies indicate that linalool, found in lavender and numerous cannabis strains, may offer anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) effects in some. However, aromatherapy isn’t recognized as a legitimate treatment option and more research is needed.
Try keeping a written record of which strains/concentrates/tinctures you’ve tried, how you were feeling before and after, and any overall impressions you had. This will help identify which strains and products work best for you.
Start by talking to your doctor about your needs as a PTSD patient. He or she may advise you to avoid cannabis altogether or may have some recommendations, like sticking with CBD. No one besides your doctor can determine whether cannabis can help or worsen your symptoms.
We understand you may have more questions, and we’re here to help. Nugg’s cannabis concierge service connects you with a team of experts who can address your questions or concerns. Nugg’s Cannabis Concierge can also share product information as well as overall emerging industry knowledge. Trust Nugg to help you meet your needs and give you the answers you want and talk to your doctor about treating your PTSD symptoms.
Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational purposes only. While the content is accurate and true to the best of our knowledge, the author is not a medical professional. There may be omissions, errors, and mistakes. Therefore, never solely rely on the information in this, or any other post on our site or affiliated sites, for medical advice. This post does not create a physician/patient relationship with any of Nugg or NuggMD’s affiliated staff or physicians.