CBD may help eliminate stress & anxiety from PTSD. View the best CBD oils for post-traumatic stress & anxiety disorders. Studies have found that the topical application of CBD oil effectively alleviated anxiety and insomnia in a child with PTSD. Reviews of current research suggest that CBD may help treat PTSD symptoms. Learn about the health benefits of CBD for PTSD. Two recent studies point to the way that cannabinoids may help treat PTSD. One shows how cannabis can reduce activity in the amygdala – a part of the brain associated with fear responses to threats. Another suggests the plant’s role in extinguishing traumatic memories.
CBD for PTSD: Benefits, Dosage, & Side-Effects
Learn how it works, how much to take, and what CBD oils are most effective.
PTSD affects at least 10% of people at some stage in their life .
Most of us have experienced trauma in some way. It can come from many places — abuse, war, accidents, disasters, or traumatic loss. It can overwhelm and affect our ability to cope. Response to trauma can have devastating consequences.
If someone is feeling distressed, disconnected, or isolated after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, they may have PTSD. Current treatment methods are often unsuccessful and some have unwanted side effects.
Recently, studies have confirmed the ability of cannabidiol (CBD), a component of Cannabis sativa to be extremely beneficial in improving PTSD symptoms.
Here, we discuss PTSD, its symptoms, and how high-quality CBD oil products can help to support trauma recovery.
Let’s get started.
MEDICALLY REVIEWED BY
Updated on November 13, 2021
Table of Contents
- Can CBD Oil Help With Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
- What is a Traumatic Event?
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Can CBD Oil Help With Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
Researchers have discovered many promising benefits of CBD to alleviate the symptoms associated with the disorder — especially in people that haven’t responded well to conventional therapies.
The benefits of CBD oil for PTSD include:
- May prevent nightmares
- may prevent the formation of “fear memories”
- Alleviates symptoms of anxiety & depression
- Alleviates insomnia
1. It Stops Nightmares
Clinical Trials have shown that CBD ceased or significantly reduced flashbacks, nightmares, and persistent memories in patients with PTSD .
2. It Prevents The Formation of Fear Memories
CBD disrupts the feelings of long-term fear memory processing, consequently reducing stress and anxiety .
3. It Reduces Anxiety and Depression Symptoms
CBD has a range of calming effects that reduce anxiety, panic attacks, compulsiveness, and the long-term effects of stress .
4. It Helps With Insomnia
CBD improves the quantity and quality of sleep and reduces night sweats. 
What’s The Dose of CBD Oil For PTSD
If you’re considering trying CBD oil for the first time, it’s important to start with a small dose and increase gradually.
Dosage recommendations vary and depend on the product you choose. Use our CBD dosage calculator below to find the best dose based on your weight and desired strength.
The most common method of taking CBD oil is in the form of drops. Place the dose under your tongue where it’s easily absorbed and swallow after 30 seconds to a minute.
Studies have shown high dosage ranges from 12 mg to 25 mg of CBD can significantly decrease anxiety symptoms, taking effect within 1-2 hours after taking the oil .
The key is to start low and go slow.
Be patient. Keep a daily journal of dosage and track your symptoms. You’ll know you’ve reached the ideal dose when your symptoms start to improve.
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Endocannabinoid Dysfunction & PTSD
The two major cannabinoids found in Cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), are both compounds that influence the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) but have very different effects.
Recently, researchers have focused on the importance of the endocannabinoid system as an essential emotional regulating system the body uses to maintain homeostasis — or support ‘balance’ in the internal environment despite changes in the external environment.
The ECS plays a crucial role in brain and nervous system function and is involved in modulating other factors such as appetite, sleep, pain, and cognitive function .
Researchers believe that chronic stress, or a traumatic event, can impair the ECS signaling in the brain, therefore, leading to a host of symptoms described above.
For those with PTSD, the ECS system is integral to the regulation of emotional behavior, learning, and responses to traumatic events.
To break it down, CB1 and CB2 are receptors that cannabinoids like CBD target.
The CB1 Receptors: Regulating the Brain & Nervous System
These are found in the brain and the nervous system. CB1 receptors play a role in fear memory formation, appetite, pain tolerance, and mood. The mood enhancing neurotransmitter anandamide activates CB1, and when anandamide levels are low, it creates a deficiency of CB1 receptors leading to increased levels of stress and anxiety.
The CB2 Receptors: Regulating Pain & Inflammation
The CB2 receptors regulate inflammation, a primary cause of many diseases.
High concentrations of CB2 receptors are found in the immune and gastrointestinal system. CB2 receptors bind with CBD and regulate appetite, immunity, inflammation, and pain.
It’s thought that in people with PTSD, ECS signaling is disrupted due to endocannabinoid deficiencies or excess — resulting in increased anxiety, fear, and unpleasant memories.
Most cannabinoids act on both CB1 and CB2 receptors, helping them to regain normal function.
As a result, CBD may be useful for PTSD patients.
CBD vs. THC for PTSD
CBD is the primary non-psychoactive component of cannabis and has anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, anxiolytic and antipsychotic actions— it’s different to THC— which produces the mind-altering effects you may commonly hear about, also known as causing a ‘high’.
CBD doesn’t make you ‘high’— hence its popularity as a therapeutic agent.
Another advantage over other agents (such as THC) is CBD has fewer complications at high doses .
Research Supports CBD for PTSD
Promising research shows that CBD is effective in attenuating some of the major symptoms of PTSD— such as preventing the consolidation of fear memories, reducing anxiety and improving sleep.
In a recent 2018 review, researchers found that CBD offers a safe, therapeutic alternative for treating PTSD— with significant improvements in these symptoms, particularly in reducing the retention of unpleasant memories .
Other research has confirmed that nabilone, a synthetic cannabinoid, is effective in blocking trauma-related nightmares in patients that did not respond to traditional therapies .
As acceptance of CBD widens, more countries have approved the use of medical-grade cannabis for the treatment of PTSD. CBD is recognized as a suitable treatment option with its ability to reduce anxiety and depression, improve sleep, and eliminate flashbacks — all without risk of serious side-effects.
What is PTSD?
PTSD is a chronic psychological condition that can develop after experiencing a traumatic event.
You may be wondering if you or someone you care about has PTSD.
Often, people don’t believe they meet the criteria or have the ‘right’ to have PTSD, because it’s regularly associated with first responders and military veterans.
However, PTSD can affect anyone.
What is a Traumatic Event?
Traumatic events can mean experiencing or witnessing life-threatening events that cause intense fear or threat to safety.
Some Examples of Traumatic Events Include:
- Domestic violence or abuse
- Witnessing someone being killed or seriously injured
- Surviving a car/train/bus accident or plane crash
- Surviving a heart attack or receiving a serious medical diagnosis
- Being a victim of rape or sexual assault
- Victim of a crime, kidnapping, stalking or torture
- Experiencing a life-changing event, such as divorce, unemployment or the death of a loved one
- Experiencing a natural disaster like bushfires, earthquakes, floods
- Experience in war or civil conflict or terrorist attack
What Are The Symptoms of PTSD?
People living with PTSD often experience multiple symptoms as the body and mind try to cope with the stressful event.
PTSD can manifest in many ways — developing into anxiety and depression or reckless behavior. Gut issues, migraines, headaches, and reduced immunity are common symptoms associated with PTSD.
Signs & Symptoms of PTSD (According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America):
- Flashbacks of the trauma
- Physical symptoms (such as racing heartbeat, sweating, brain fog)
- Trouble sleeping
- Overly emotional, mood alterations (such as rage, shame, blame, negativity)
- Emotional detachment
- Negative beliefs and feelings
- Intrusive thoughts and memories
- Living in fear
- Nightmares and strange dreams
- Difficulty maintaining employment
- Difficulty concentrating
- Avoidance and Social isolation
- Substance abuse
PTSD symptoms can last between a few months to many years after the event — sometimes leading to chronic illness.
Sufferers often feel like they’re on guard, or something’s always about to go wrong, and they’re left feeling exhausted and in fear — which can continue for many years after the event.
Bodily symptoms of shortness of breath, tremors, increased heart rate, memory loss, and poor concentration can hijack our ability to lead a healthy life.
Risk Factors for PTSD
Anxiety and fear are normal adaptive responses that help us cope with threats to our survival. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD, but some factors can influence their likelihood of developing it.
Some risk factors of PTSD include:
- A long-lasting or intense trauma (such as childhood abuse or domestic violence)
- First responders and military personnel where there is greater exposure to traumatic events
- Having existing anxiety and depression
- A family history of anxiety and depression
For survivors of trauma, it can be extremely difficult and frustrating to try to understand the psychological and physical changes occurring — and what can be done to ease them.
How Is PTSD Diagnosed?
A doctor may perform a physical exam and a psychological assessment, using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
PTSD is identified by signs and symptoms in the following three categories for a period extending from 1 month :
- Reminders of the Exposure — Flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts
- Activation — Hyperarousal, agitation, insomnia, irritability, aggression, impulsiveness
- Deactivation — Numbing, isolation, avoidance, confusion, anxiety, depression
How Trauma Affects The Nervous System
The nervous system is a complex system that involves nerves and cells, known as neurons, which transmit signals from the brain to various parts of the body.
When the brain experiences any event that has negative consequences from a stressful or dangerous situation, the hormone adrenaline kicks in via the sympathetic nervous system. This is commonly known as ‘fight or flight’ which is a natural, built-in stress response.
However, in PTSD, the stress response is heightened, and instead of returning to normal soon after the threat is over, it’s pushed beyond its limits, and becomes ‘stuck’.
The nervous system loses its ability to self-regulate, leading to psychological and physical distress.
This state is known as hypervigilance. The body is continuously alert in order to avoid danger. As a result, people can startle easily, have increased sweating, a rapid heartbeat, and quick breathing.
Conventional Treatments for PTSD
Conventional treatment usually involves psychotherapy, and can also include medications, such as antidepressants to improve symptoms.
The Mayo Clinic explains the symptoms, causes, current diagnosis, and treatment to treat both children and adults with PTSD.
Those suffering PTSD symptoms often feel their only option is a life relegated to pharmaceutical drugs and therapy. Medications have their place and can be life-saving — but are often ineffective.
Unfortunately, remission in PTSD patients is relatively low. These medications can also have unwanted side effects , including:
Opioids are also prescribed to patients with PTSD, however, they’re highly addictive medications and patients with PTSD may be at a higher risk of developing opioid use disorder compared to patients without PTSD.
Thankfully CBD offers a safer treatment option for people with PTSD without the side effects. However, CBD interacts with many medications.
If you’re thinking about trying CBD oil, it’s important you speak with your doctor before stopping other medications.
When combined with conventional treatment, natural therapies can be beneficial in recovery from PTSD in addition to lifestyle modifications such as:
1. Yoga & Meditation
Research has shown yoga improves emotional regulation, heart rate variability and reduces anxiety and stress .
2. Good Sleep & Hygiene
Ensure enough quality sleep and rest by adopting healthy sleeping habits. Relaxation exercises and improving your sleeping environment so it feels restful and comfortable will help.
In addition to getting enough sleep, showering and taking good care of your hygiene goes a long way to maintain your mental health.
3. Leverage Social Connection & Close Relationships
Use support networks such as family and friends or organizations in your local area. Depending on where you live, there are likely support groups where you can connect with others who have PTSD. Meetup is another excellent way to bond with like-minded people.
A natural and inexpensive way to improve mood, appetite, and sleep is by finding an enjoyable way to get movement into your day — even if it’s simply going for a walk, preferably in nature.
5. Eating a Well-balanced & Clean Diet
Limit caffeine and alcohol can decrease anxiety symptoms . A poor diet high in sugar and processed type foods can lead to low mood, fatigue, increased anxiety, and weight gain.
Although PTSD is not curable, it doesn’t have to run your life.
Key Takeaways: Using CBD For PTSD
Living with PTSD can be difficult. There is no cure but there is hope.
Used in addition to therapies, CBD may relieve many of the symptoms related to PTSD — such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and prevent nightmares and flashbacks.
CBD Oil offers a safe and effective treatment to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.
CBD for PTSD: Does Cannabidiol Oil Help With Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a severe mental condition that is still widely misunderstood. Despite increasing numbers of PTSD patients, it is still most commonly associated with war veterans affected by traumatic events.
Of course, PTSD affects this group of people to a very large extent; but one doesn’t need to be a veteran to suffer from PTSD. In fact, this disorder can be triggered by several other conditions, such as childhood neglect, sexual harassment, or a tragic accident.
Today, we’re going to elaborate on the problem of PTSD and how to use CBD oil to effectively manage its symptoms without dangerous side effects associated with pharmacological treatment.
How Does CBD Help with PTSD?
PTSD is a chronic mental condition that can happen to anyone who has gone through a major trauma. According to PTSD statistics, there is a higher risk of PTSD among specialists working in public services, such as soldiers, policemen, or firefighters, the condition can affect just anybody.
The symptoms of PTSD include anxiety, higher sensory sensitivity, dizziness, forgetfulness, fatigue, depression, headaches, and troubles with focus. PTSD is also characterized by returning traumatic memories, which may lead to a panic attack.
Coincidence or not, CBD can help relieve, or at least manage, the above symptoms on top of reaching the core problem of the condition.
In order to understand that mechanism, we need to elaborate on the interactions between CBD and CB1 receptors in the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
CB1 receptors occur throughout the entire body, with the highest concentrations in the brain and the central nervous system. The indirect activation of CB1 and serotonin receptors through the use of CBD can result in reduced anxiety, better sleep, stable mood, and increased alertness.
Moreover, CBD targets the cannabinoid receptors in the immune system, regulating the release of stress hormones, blocking mood receptors that are compromised by traumatizing stimuli, and stopping reconsolidation memory referred to as flashbacks.
Last but not least, CBD may help a person reprogram their brain to respond to specific stimuli in trauma-releasing circumstances. On the whole, CBD seems to help with PTSD from multiple angles, relieving the mental symptoms and improving one’s physical health as a result.
CBD and PTSD: Research Studies
There are a lot of anecdotal reports from people who successfully use CBD for PTSD.
But is there any scientific evidence to back them up?
According to a study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology, CBD may effectively treat PTSD and an array of specific phobias (1). The effects of CBD were tested on rats that had been regularly exposed to intense fear. Similar to other prey animals, rats tend to adopt a ‘freeze response’ when their life is in danger, but when they were exposed to the same stimuli after being treated with CBD, the level of fear dropped considerably.
In a 2009-2011 study by Greer, Grob, and Halberstadt, the research team evaluated the PTSD response after giving cannabis to 80 patients. The scientists reported a 75% reduction in PTSD-related symptoms on the Clinical Administered Post-traumatic Scale (CAPTS) (2).
Preclinical evidence from 2015 also confirmed that CBD had a strong potential for treating multiple anxiety disorders, including PTSD. The study underlined the effectiveness of acutely administered CBD, adding that the long-term health benefits of the cannabinoid make it a desired supplement for stress management throughout the day (3).
A 2016 study found a link between drugs acting on the endocannabinoid system and the reduction of the symptoms experienced by individuals with PTSD after a memory extinction procedure. The authors of the study attributed these results to the CB1 receptors, which regulate anxiety and memory (4).
Another 2016 study provided clinical evidence that supports the efficacy of CBD as an alternative to pharmaceutical PTSD treatments. The case study involved a girl with PTSD-triggered insomnia; according to the researchers, the girl showed a significant improvement in her PTSD symptoms as well as in her sleep patterns (5).
Finally, a 2019 literature review on medical cannabis, synthetic cannabinoids, and PTSD found that CBD may be an effective treatment for the condition. However, the study concludes that scientists still need more in-depth research on CBD’s therapeutic applications, efficacy, and safety (6).
Can You Use CBD for Depression from PTSD?
PTSD is often accompanied by depression that results from chronic episodes and recurring flashbacks. While the effects of CBD are not yet fully understood, the cannabinoid targets the same receptors as some commonly used antidepressants.
For example, CBD uses the same mechanism of action as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) (7). Current evidence suggests that CBD has a positive effect on the brain’s serotonin concentrations. Serotonin is a natural neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood on top of many other things. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression and low mood. While CBD doesn’t directly stimulate the production of serotonin, studies suggest that it may alter the activity of serotonin receptors — helping to process the brain’s existing levels of serotonin more efficiently.
As mentioned, CBD also helps in the management of stress and anxiety, which are two essential components of depression from PTSD. Those suffering from PTSD are particularly sensitive to normal stressors. If a person suffers from stress-related depression, CBD may come in handy.
Another important benefit of CBD for depression is its ability to stimulate the plasticity of the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the brain’s region responsible for memory, emotional processing, cognitive performance, and mood stability. People with a shrunken hippocampus may experience more frequent flashbacks, learning difficulty, low mood, and suicidal thoughts. Studies have shown that a prolonged CBD treatment may improve the plasticity of the hippocampus, translating into the reduction of the said symptoms (8).
CBD or THC: Which Is More Effective for PTSD?
As you might have noticed, we’ve mentioned that some studies have tested both THC and CBD as the potential treatment for PTSD. Among those who have experienced the medical benefits of marijuana, there’s a debate over THC and anxiety-related disorders.
THC is directly responsible for the psychotropic effects of marijuana. In low and moderate doses, it can relieve stress and anxiety by providing deep relaxation and a euphoric mood. However, when a person consumes too much THC at a time, it may backfire at you, exacerbating anxious feelings.
However, these results were observed in healthy people with balanced levels of anandamide — the so-called bliss molecule that controls our feelings of happiness, well-being, and calm. People with PTSD have low concentrations of anandamide in the blood, and thus may have a harder time dealing with traumatic memories and feelings of anxiety.
The cannabinoids in cannabis, specifically CBD and THC, act much like anandamide by changing the way cannabinoid receptors work. However, they do it in a different manner. While THC tricks your brain that there is more anandamide in the bloodstream, CBD signals the endocannabinoid system to produce the necessary amount of the endocannabinoid — leveling out imbalances.
Since CBD doesn’t directly bind to the CB1 receptor in the brain, it doesn’t cause a high. For this reason, many PTSD patients choose CBD oil with only trace amounts of THC in order to reap the health benefits without the psychoactive buzz and the risk of causing the aforementioned backfire effect.
If you live in a place that has a medical marijuana program, you can try CBD oil with higher levels of THC, but for many people out there, such products are out of reach due to the legal status of marijuana in their country or state. The only type of CBD oil legal in all 50 states is the one that comes from hemp plants.
How to Use CBD for PTSD
Multiple studies have analyzed different forms of CBD when testing its efficacy for PTSD. Some studies have used oral or sublingual CBD, and others have used topical CBD.
A 2019 study found that PTSD patients who took CBD capsules in conjunction with behavioral therapy saw improvements in their symptoms (9).
The aforementioned case study from 2016 found that the topical application of CBD oil was effective for insomnia in a child with PTSD (10).
Finally, there’s a 2018 review of literature suggesting that a combination of CBD and THC may be the most effective cannabis treatment for PTSD (11).
Finding the best CBD products for PTSD may take some time, so we encourage you to experiment with different forms. Make sure to consult a doctor experienced in cannabis use for professional advice, dosage guidance, and to avoid potential interactions with antidepressants and other medications for PTSD.
CBD Oil Dosage for PTSD
If you’re considering trying CBD oil for PTSD, it’s important to start with a low dose and gradually work your way up to the point where you experience relief from your symptoms.
Dosage recommendations vary and depend on the product you choose, on top of many other factors, such as your weight, age, metabolism, gender, the severity of symptoms, expected effects, and your unique body chemistry.
CBD oil drops are the most common method of taking CBD among beginners. Squeeze the dropper to measure out your dose and place it under the tongue. From there, it will be absorbed through hundreds of tiny blood vessels in your mouth. Once 60 seconds have passed, swallow the remaining oil and let it pass through your digestive system.
Studies have shown that the dosage ranging from 12 mg to 25 mg of CBD can significantly curb anxiety symptoms, reaching peak effects within 1-2 hours after administration.
Again, it’s essential to start low and go slow. Keep a daily log of your dosage and track the results. Doing so will help you reach the ideal dose when your symptoms start to get better.
Best CBD Oil for PTSD
As mentioned earlier in the article, finding the right product for your needs may take some time. There are hundreds of brands on the market, each of them claiming to sell the best CBD oil for a wide range of conditions, including PTSD. Of course, the market is full of great companies that make high-quality products at affordable prices, but there’s an equal number of manufacturers who don’t bother churning out poor quality products that are mislabeled and sometimes downright dangerous.
Below we’d like to show you our top pick when it comes to organic, full-spectrum CBD oils. The products from this company come from non-GMO hemp and are rigorously tested for their potency and purity.
You may have already read about Royal CBD by now, but in case you didn’t, here’s our short review of this premium CBD oil.
Royal CBD Oil
- Made from locally grown organic hemp
- Extracted with supercritical CO2
- Infused with full-spectrum CBD
- Available in 4 strengths and flavors
- Up to 2500 mg of CBD per bottle
- 3rd-party tested for potency and purity
- Great natural flavor
- Not available in local CBD stores (this may soon change)
- No CBD vapes
Why We Recommend Royal CBD Oil for PTSD
Royal CBD specializes in making premium CBD oils that are priced slightly below average — despite the quality of these products being way above the generally agreed standards.
The company uses hemp from multiple farms in different regions of the country, which makes them able to get a consistent product by using various suppliers. The Royal CBD oil is made from organically-grown, non-GMO hemp that is bred specifically to produce high CBD flowers.
The formula of the oil is simple, featuring a CO2-extracted full-spectrum hemp extract and MCT carrier oil. The product comes in four potency options; you can choose from 250 mg, 500 mg, 1000 mg, and 2500 mg bottles. There are also flavored options available, including Berry, Mint, and Vanilla. Only the strongest version doesn’t have a flavored variant, as it would compromise the original cannabinoid profile of the product.
As we said, these are full-spectrum extracts, so you’re getting all the naturally occurring phytonutrients in hemp, including minor cannabinoids, terpenes, essential oils, and flavonoids. These compounds allow your body to process CBD more efficiently, meaning you need less CBD to experience the same results as with isolates. Scientists have a special name for this phenomenon: the entourage effect.
The entourage effect is leveraged in this product thanks to the suspension in coconut-derived MCT oil. The carrier oil improves CBD’s bioavailability, so it doesn’t lose potency upon ingestion, unlike capsules or edibles.
On top of its best-selling oil, Royal CBD offers capsules, gummies, and topicals. The entire Royal CBD collection is tested for potency and purity in a third-party laboratory. The company also has a 30-day money-back guarantee for those who want to try out its products in a risk-free way.
Final Thoughts on CBD and PTSD
PTSD is a chronic mental health condition that people may develop after experiencing a tragic event, or anything that can cause trauma.
While there are various traditional treatments available, such as counseling and pharmacological medication, evidence suggests that CBD may also help alleviate this condition.
CBD may be able to reduce anxiety, stress, and depression. The interaction between CBD and the endocannabinoid system also produces other beneficial effects, such as better focus, improved sleep patterns, emotional stability, resistance to traumatic memories, and more.
Researchers are still trying to determine the most effective form of CBD — whether it works better as an isolate, full-spectrum extract, or in equal ratios with THC — and the dosage range for anxiety-related conditions. If you’re considering taking CBD oil for the first time, we encourage you to consult a holistic medical practitioner who will be able to point you in the right direction when it comes to the said factors. A consultation with a qualified physician will also help you avoid potential interaction with medications.
Do you take CBD for PTSD? Do you use it on its own or with THC? Let us know in the comment section!
- Song, Chenchen et al. “Bidirectional Effects of Cannabidiol on Contextual Fear Memory Extinction.” Frontiers in pharmacology vol. 7 493. 16 Dec. 2016, doi:10.3389/fphar.2016.00493
- Bitencourt, Rafael M, and Reinaldo N Takahashi. “Cannabidiol as a Therapeutic Alternative for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: From Bench Research to Confirmation in Human Trials.” Frontiers in neuroscience vol. 12 502. 24 Jul. 2018, doi:10.3389/fnins.2018.00502
- Blessing, Esther M et al. “Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders.” Neurotherapeutics : the journal of the American Society for Experimental NeuroTherapeutics vol. 12,4 (2015): 825-36. doi:10.1007/s13311-015-0387-1
- Song, Chenchen et al. op. Cit.
- Shannon, Scott, and Janet Opila-Lehman. “Effectiveness of Cannabidiol Oil for Pediatric Anxiety and Insomnia as Part of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Case Report.” The Permanente journal vol. 20,4 (2016): 16-005. doi:10.7812/TPP/16-005
- Orsolini, Laura et al. “Use of Medicinal Cannabis and Synthetic Cannabinoids in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): A Systematic Review.” Medicina (Kaunas, Lithuania) vol. 55,9 525. 23 Aug. 2019, doi:10.3390/medicina55090525
- Sales, Amanda J et al. “Antidepressant-like effect induced by Cannabidiol is dependent on brain serotonin levels.” Progress in neuro-psychopharmacology & biological psychiatry vol. 86 (2018): 255-261. doi:10.1016/j.pnpbp.2018.06.002
- Beale, Camilla et al. “Prolonged Cannabidiol Treatment Effects on Hippocampal Subfield Volumes in Current Cannabis Users.” Cannabis and cannabinoid research vol. 3,1 94-107. 1 Apr. 2018, doi:10.1089/can.2017.0047
- Elms, Lucas et al. “Cannabidiol in the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Case Series.” Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.) vol. 25,4 (2019): 392-397. doi:10.1089/acm.2018.0437
- Shannon, Scott, and Janet Opila-Lehman. op. cit.
- Bitencourt, Rafael M, and Reinaldo N Takahashi. op. cit.
Nina created CFAH.org following the birth of her second child. She was a science and math teacher for 6 years prior to becoming a parent — teaching in schools in White Plains, New York and later in Paterson, New Jersey.
New Research Reveals Why Cannabis Helps PTSD Sufferers
Amy Rising, an Air Force veteran, smokes medical marijuana. Rising has been working on legislation . [+] for veterans’ freedom to treat PTSD with medical cannabis. (Photo by Kevin Cook for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
The Washington Post via Getty Images
PTSD patients have been saying for years that cannabis helps with their PTSD. This debilitating condition causes chronic problems like nightmares, panic attacks, hypervigilance, detachment from others, overwhelming emotions, and self-destructive behavior. In some cases, these overwhelming symptoms can even lead to suicide. And while research on the topic has been somewhat inconclusive, many PTSD patients continue to report that cannabis does help.
Now, new research suggests the biological mechanisms behind this therapeutic effect.
Two recent studies point to the way that cannabinoids may help treat PTSD. One shows how cannabis can reduce activity in the amygdala – a part of the brain associated with fear responses to threats. Meanwhile, another suggests that the plant’s cannabinoids could play a role in extinguishing traumatic memories. Both effects could be therapeutic for those suffering from PTSD – according to recent studies.
One study, from researchers at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI, looked at how cannabis use impacts the amygdala response of those dealing with trauma related anxiety, such as PTSD. Previous research has shown that cannabis has the potential to reduce anxiety, or even prevent heightened anxiety in threatening situations. But up to this point, no studies had investigated this response in adults dealing with trauma – such as those with PTSD.
The Wayne State University study took on this challenge, and studied the amygdala responses in three groups of participants – healthy controls who had not been exposed to trauma, trauma exposed adults without PTSD and trauma exposed adults with PTSD. Using a randomized, double-blind procedure, the 71 participants were either given a low dose of THC or a placebo. Then they were exposed to threatening stimuli and their amygdala responses were recorded.
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Those exposed to THC had lowered threat-related amygdala reactivity.
This means that those who took low doses of THC showed measurable signs of reduced fear and anxiety in situations designed to trigger fear. Since these results were found in all three groups, it suggests that even those with PTSD were able to experience less fear with THC in their system.
DENVER, CO – JULY 15: The Colorado Board of Health had a rule making hearing about people with . [+] PTSD qualifying for medical marijuana at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment offices in Denver. Christopher Latona, center, and his dad Mike Latona, left, both testified in support of approving medical marijuana for PTSD which Christopher has suffered from since returning from his US. Army service in Afghanistan. They were photographed on Wednesday July 15, 2015. The board voted 6-2 not to approve the change. (Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post via Getty Images )
Denver Post via Getty Images
The authors conclude that the research suggests “that THC modulates threat-related processing in trauma-exposed individuals with PTSD” and add that the drug “may prove advantageous as a pharmacological approach to treating stress- and trauma-related psychopathology.”
A second study, from researchers at Brazil’s Federal University of Parana, explored another potential way that cannabis could help those with PTSD – extinguishing the intensity associated with memories of their trauma. This mode of treating PTSD was first hypothesized by Yale associate professor of psychiatry R. Andrew Sewell who suggested that cannabis may be able to help PTSD patients “overwrite” traumatic memories with new memories in a process called ‘extinction learning’.
In an interview with East Bay Express, Sewell explained that the extinction learning process usually helps trauma resolve on its own. He gave the example of an Iraq War Veteran who gets PTSD symptoms while driving under bridges – after dodging explosives thrown down from bridges during the war. “Suppose some part of your reptile brain thinks if you walk under a bridge you’re going to die,” Sewell explained “life becomes very hard.”
Army veteran Kevin Grimsinger 42 and other vet’s and supporters from Sensible Colorado submit a . [+] petition to add PTSD to the list of conditions approved for the use of medical marijuana to Mark Salley the communications director for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Wednesday July 7th, 2010. Joe Amon, The Denver Post (Photo By Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Denver Post via Getty Images
For most who experience traumatic incidents, these fears subside after 6 months or so because of the extinction learning process. New memories of the traumatic trigger form and override the old. Someone with a traumatic experience of explosives being dropped from bridges, may at first feel terrified as they approach any bridge – with traumatic memories flooding their mind. But after months of nothing bad happening around bridges, most will begin to feel bridges are less dangerous, as many memories of driving under bridges safely accumulate. The old memories still linger, but they don’t cause the increase in fear when the trigger (like the bridge) is present. So while most with trauma remember the traumatic incidents, those memories no longer trigger intense fear.
But for those with PTSD, extinction learning doesn’t happen. The trauma attached to the old memories continues to cause problems.
Still, Sewell believed that cannabis could help. Cannabis stimulates CB1 – a receptor in the endocannabinoid system that Sewell says has improved extinction learning in animal studies. Interestingly, those with PTSD show impaired functioning of the endocannabinoid system – which may be why they are unable to go through the normal extinction learning process.
Sewell theorized that cannabis might be able to jump start this process – allowing those with PTSD to access extinction learning like their healthy counterparts, and curing the PTSD by helping them to move on from their trauma. Unfortunately, he was unable to complete his research before he unexpectedly passed away in 2013.
study from Brazil’s Federal University of Parana looks deeper into the question. These researchers conducted a thorough review of the cannabis literature from 1974-2020 looking for evidence from controlled human trials to support or refute the theory that cannabis helps with ‘extinction’ of traumatic memories.
The researchers found that cannabis could help. Low doses of the cannabinoid THC or THC combined with another cannabinoid CBD were both able to enhance the extinction rate for challenging memories – and reduce overall anxiety responses. From their study, it seems that THC drives the extinction rate improvements, while CBD can help alleviate potential side effects from higher doses of THC.
The authors conclude that the current evidence from both healthy humans and PTSD patients suggests that these forms of cannabis “suppress anxiety and aversive memory expression without producing significant adverse effects.”
These studies provide some answers about why cannabis is helping PTSD patients feel better – both immediately and in the long run. Still, future studies may help clarify a range of questions about how and when to use cannabis effectively for PTSD, and whether there are risk factors associated with using the drug for this condition.