How does Medical Marijuana help with PTSD?
What is Post-traumatic stress disorder?
PTSD is defined essentially as an anxiety disorder that people go through after experiencing a dangerous and traumatic event.
A person naturally feels afraid when they are in danger. This element of fear prompts a number of split-second changes within the body which prepare it to defend us against the danger or to evade the circumstances. This reaction is also termed as a “fight or flight” reaction and is considered a healthy one as it defends a person against harm. However, in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this reaction is reversed or is damaged. People who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder feel frightened or stressed even when they are no longer in danger.
Symptoms and signs of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Post traumatic stress disorder symptoms can arise gradually or suddenly and mostly come and go with the passage of time. Symptoms of PTSD can also appear without any prior signs. Additionally, they can also be initiated by some aspect that reminds a person of the original traumatic event, such as through an image, noise, smell or through certain words.
Based on the facts stated by the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD symptoms can be classified into three main groups:
• Avoiding reminders of the trauma
• Re-experiencing the traumatic event
• Increased anxiety and emotional arousal
Post-traumatic stress disorder treatments
One of the PTSD treatment for people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder is the use of medical marijuana, as it helps patients cut off the anxiety in an attempt to make them forget the traumatic events that took place in their lives. The use of marihuana may trigger certain areas of the brain that will reduce the fear and anxiety and make the person feel more calm. In this way, the person is less prone to harm themselves or act dangerously. It also allows them to approach the situation in a more rational manner. This is one of the reasons why marijuana is an effective form of treatment.
Some patients also opt for psychotherapy, also known as “talk therapy”. Other popular PTSD treatments include the use of medication. Typically, a combination of the two treatments is used. However, a treatment that is beneficial for one person may not be as effective for another. It is therefore also important for a mental health care provider to help a person suffering from PTSD. People often need to try a variety of PTSD treatments before they can recognize which one works best for their symptoms.
Use of medical marijuana for post-traumatic stress disorder
Medical marihuana usually helps patients cope with symptoms of PTSD, which in turn gives them time to find the underlying cause and address it. It keeps the patient calm and prevents them from doing anything drastic or unusual. The use of Marijuana prevents many episodes of self-harm. The critical aspect of recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder is to work through the trauma experienced that caused the initial disorder, which can only be done in a calm state of mind. Only in a calm and rational state of mind can an individual deal with PTSD and move towards a healthy, balanced, stress-free life.
It is vital for a patient to work through all the stress, feelings and emotions associated with PTSD and only then can they be fully treated in a lasting manner. Medicinal Marijuana can help dull the fear and the levels of anxiety that the person goes through when they are suffering from PTSD.
From a scientific perspective, the use of medical marijuana can trigger certain vital changes in several areas of the brain that have been drastically affected by the traumatic event. The part of the brain, which forcefully relives the episode in many fearful forms, can be muted so that the person does not experience any kind of crippling fear, which can cause them to do something harmful to themselves or to other people that are around them. Hence, the use of medicinal cannabis not only improves many aspects of the patients’ lives but also helps in better interacting with people around them.
Research on marijuana as a PTSD treatment
Research in Israel
Israeli scientist, Dr. Mechoulam, was the first one to identify the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) isomer in marijuana. THC is the chemical that triggers psychological responses from cannabis. A few decades after this discovery came another one: the brain’s endocannabinoid system and also the endogenous neurotransmitter anandamide.
Dr. Mechoulam is a highly reputed neuroscientist and is respected by the international scientific community. He has served the Israeli government as a senior advisor on marijuana policy and research ethics when using human subjects. His research discusses the experiments conducted on mice suffering from traumatic brain injuries and the neuroprotective effects they demonstrated by the endocannabinoid system. He has predicted that marijuana’s neuroprotective effects can be applied to other conditions related to the brain and psychiatry such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
The normal and healthy process through which associations of memory from stimuli are removed is called memory extinction. The cannabinoid system is more importantly related to memory and memory extinction in particular. This is a very important discovery that can have serious consequences for PTSD. The experiments conducted by Dr. Mechoulam were useful in showing that mice that were given an electric shock after hearing a noise eventually forgot about the shock after a few days of the noise appearing alone. The subjects without cannabinoid systems however, would continue to jump at the noise no matter how much time passed.
These findings can prove beneficial to patients suffering from PTSD who have attacks triggered by stimuli that bring back memories of their traumatic experience. Marijuana can assist in memory extinction and aid patients in reducing the response triggering to stimuli that are reminders of their traumatic experience. Currently, Dr. Mechoulam is working with Army psychiatrists on PTSD, as his research with Israeli veterans has been approved.
Research in Colorado
The U.S state of Colorado has granted $2 million to researchers working on deducing the efficacy of marijuana as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. There is hope amongst supporters that the federally approved study will begin soon.
The total number of funds that the Colorado Department of Public Health has dedicated to the eight researches on medical marijuana is $7.6 million. Included in these is one sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (a nonprofit organization based in California) which focuses on veterans with PTSD related to combat.
The study has been approved recently by the federal Health and Human Services Department but has been delayed due to Dr. Sue Sisley, the head researcher’s termination from the University of Arizona.
The investment provided by Colorado is going to support the research that involves a total of 76 veterans from two groups.The process involves dividing the veterans suffering from PTSD into groups. Each veteran will receive 0.9 grams of marijuana a day, which can be inhaled by vaporizing or smoking. Participants will then have to provide observations on a weekly basis and confirm that they have followed the prescribed protocol. Results to come.