Can medical marijuana really help ease the symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? New neurological research suggests that it can. A clinical study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology presented evidence that patients with changes in their brain chemistry caused by PTSD have responded positively to treatments with cannabis.
Conducted by researchers at the University of Haifa in Israel, this study suggests that medical marijuana can have beneficial effects on both mental and physical reactions to trauma due to the presence of cannabinoids. Two areas of the brain, the cannabinoid and glucocorticoid systems, are essential in resolving damage to the brain due to emotional trauma.
The National Institute of Mental Health defines PTSD as a condition that "develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm." Although it may originate from a terrifying event, it can also stem from the frightening experiences of loved ones or even strangers.
Media coverage of PTSD in the wake of several extended US wars around the globe has increased public awareness of the condition. The US Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that around eight percent of the US population will experience PTSD at some point during their lives. That risk factor is slightly higher for women (10 percent) and slightly lower for men (4 percent).
The three main symptoms of the disorder are:
- Re-experiencing the traumatic event through nightmares or flashbacks
- Avoidance of all things that relate to the incident or social contact all together
- An overly developed startle response (hyperarousal) accompanied by insomnia or sudden outbursts of rage.
It's important to recognize that people of all ages can suffer from PTSD. Those with a higher risk factor includes war veterans, victims of physical and sexual assault, those who have been mentally or physically abused, survivors of natural disasters, first responders, and anyone involved in a life-threatening event.
PTSD is often treated with pharmaceutical anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications like Prazosin, an anti-hypertensive drug that eases insomnia and nightmares. However, these have been shown to have severe side effects, including nausea, low blood pressure and headaches.
Medical marijuana, rather than traditional medication, is seen as a safer route for delivering cannabinoids to the troubled areas of the brain for those who suffer from PTSD. Medical research from Tufts University found that trauma to the region of the brain called the amygdala is primary responsible for the symptoms of PTSD. In another recent study from the University of Michigan, researchers found that cannabinoids can help repair abnormally functioning brain systems, as well as inhibit inappropriate responses like anxiety disorders, PTSD, panic attacks and phobias.
The research on cannabis as a powerful tool to help those suffering from trauma is an example of modern medical science that supports the ancient practices of traditional healers all over the world. For centuries, marijuana has been prescribed to help people recover after traumatic events.