We have written about how American veterans are calling for the federal government to relax its restrictions on medical cannabis and to allow its use for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
Soldiers who came from war have attested that medical marijuana has helped them deal with PTSD and that it has helped reduce suicide rates among them.
In more recent updates, the State of New York has signed a bill that includes PTSD in its qualifying conditions for the access to medical marijuana. The bill is aimed at soldiers, veterans, police officers, firefighters, and people who are survivors of domestic violence and other forms of abuse.
New York is the latest of 28 states to allow people suffering from PTSD to access medical cannabis legally. The New York governor’s office estimates around 19,000 patients in the state could be helped by this newly available treatment.
Can cannabis really treat PTSD?
PTSD is an anxiety condition brought about by disturbing experiences, such as sexual assault and military combat. PTSD often leads to changes in the brain chemistry that promotes hyper-responsive adrenaline and stress hormones. PTSD also leads to hyper-vigilance, insomnia, and depression.
While the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says that more scientific research on cannabis and PTSD is needed, there is strong anecdotal evidence that the two go hand-in-hand. Many people suffering from PTSD have turned to medical cannabis and attest to its effectiveness. In fact, accounts of PTSD patients who use cannabis after having tried other treatment options – typically pharmaceutical drugs – indicated that cannabis is far more effective at treating their symptoms and has less adverse effects or nothing at all.
Combat veterans are especially prone to PTSD and, according to statistics, about 1 in every 5 military personnel who are or who have been deployed in war zones such as Afghanistan and Iraq experience it.
However, given the fact that cannabis is illegal under federal laws and that not all states have allowed the use of medical cannabis, veterans suffering from PTSD are instead given pharmaceutical antipsychotics and antidepressants. These veterans assert that these medications are not very effective at treating their PTSD symptoms, especially the severe ones. What these pharmaceutical products do instead is they keep people with PTSD from functioning normally. Some patients who are under these medications could not even get up in the mornings. They go from having PTSD to having depression. And there are cases that end up in suicide.
How does cannabis work for PTSD patients?
Researchers have found that patients suffering from PTSD had low anandamide levels. Anandamide is an endogenous cannabinoid compound that triggers the same receptors activated by THC and other cannabis components. In other words, one of the indicators of PTSD is a deficiency in our endocannabinoid system. The body does not produce enough endocannabinoids to meet the demands of receptor sites.
And this is the part where cannabis plays a therapeutic role. The cannabinoids contained in cannabis help replenish our body’s required supply of endocannabinoids.
Scientists found that normal receptor cell signals deactivate traumatic memories and help the brain forget. However, abnormal receptor signals due to endocannabinoid deficiency result to chronic anxiety, impaired fear extinction, and aversive memory consolidation, which are all PTSD hallmarks.
PTSD patients must first consult a doctor, though, before treating their symptoms with cannabis. Those who are not accustomed to cannabis may find that THC – which is a psychoactive component of cannabis – aggravates symptoms of anxiety. Cannabidiol or CBD, which is another cannabis component – but is not psychoactive – counteracts some of the effects of THC, including anxiety and paranoia.
Further studies that examine the relationship between CBD and THC could result to more tolerable cannabis drug variants for high-anxiety patients.