Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating mental health problem characterized by intense fear, anxiety, panic attacks, nightmares, scary flashbacks, and self-destructive behavior. For years, PTSD patients have been saying that cannabis helps manage the symptoms, although research on the benefits has remained limited for decades.
But it seems some light has been thrown on the subject. New research explains the biological pathway behind cannabis’s therapeutic influence on PTSD. Two studies, to be precise.
One study shows how cannabis reduces activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain contributing to how we respond to threats through fear. The second study suggests that the plant can promote a decline in traumatic memories. Of course, these are what any PTSD patient would desire.
Research #1 — how cannabis affects the amygdala
Past studies have shown that cannabis can help reduce anxiety, but none has been done on adults dealing with trauma-related anxiety, like PTSD, until now. Researchers from the Wayne University took it upon themselves to look into that by studying the amygdala’s response to cannabis in PTSD patients.
The researchers gave 71 participants either a low dose of THC or a placebo. Out of these 71 participants, some had PTSD, some had been exposed to trauma but didn’t suffer PTSD, while the rest had never been exposed to a traumatic incident. In all three groups, those who took
After giving each group the same treatment, the researchers exposed them to threats to see how their amygdala responded. In all three groups, those who took a low dose of THC had reduced signs of fear and anxiety when exposed to fear-triggering situations. Since the same result was in all groups, it clearly shows that those battling PTSD experienced less fear after using THC.
Research #2 — how cannabis can help extinguish traumatic memories
After encountering traumatic experiences, such as a ghastly car accident, it’s normal to live with the memory for some time and be scared of entering cars. But most people will feel less fearful after about six weeks the more they enter cars without having that same bad experience. The traumatic memories gradually diminish, giving way to the more recent positive experiences. This process is known as extinction learning.
In PTSD patients, that traumatic memory never diminishes. Fear and panic attacks may be triggered whenever they are in a similar situation — like entering a car. R. Andrew Sewell of Yale believed that cannabis could help with PTSD, seeing that the plant expedites the extinction learning process. He couldn’t finish his research before passing, but researchers from Brazil have now done so.
The recent study suggests that low doses of THC or THC combined with CBD enhance the diminishing of traumatic memories and reduces overall anxiety. Evidently, a PTSD patient can benefit from taking cannabis concentrates as these can provide the right amount of THC and CBD required to support extinction learning. In the research, it seemed THC facilitated the traumatic memory extinction, while CBD helped to overcome the side effects of higher doses of THC.
The researchers conclude that the evidence shows that such low doses of cannabis can suppress anxiety and the negative response to traumatic memories without producing significant adverse effects. This is just one of the many reasons cannabis products may become vital to medicine and psychiatry. However, more research would be required to determine how and when best to use cannabis effectively for PTSD.