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5 ways Marijuana can help with Symptoms of PTSD

by in Medical Marijuana March 9, 2021

Roughly 3.5% of adults in the United States live with symptoms of PTSD, according to the American Psychiatric Association. As a cannabis medicine physician, I get an insider’s glimpse into how patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder present at their first consultation for medical marijuana, as well as getting to monitor their progress with cannabis medicines and consult them on dosing and lifestyle coping strategies along the way.

This has given me a unique perspective on how medical marijuana can help ease some of the symptoms of PTSD.

Patients suffering from various symptoms of PTSD report a wide variety of symptom presentations, which often converge on the underlying endocannabinoid deficiency. On close inspection, research has pointed to the signaling cascade engaged by medical marijuana forming the basis of altered brain neurotransmitter levels. 

1. Marijuana for one of the most troubling signs of PTSD: Insomnia

Insomnia is one of the most frequently reported signs of PTSD. Nighttime can be a frightening and lonely time for some people. While some people seamlessly drift into a lullaby slumber, others can be overcome with anxiety of re-experiencing frightening memories.

Insomnia is one of the signs of PTSD that are most enduring and tormenting. The mere thought of another sleepless night can reinforce a vicious cycle. Frankly, it’s maddening living a life with poor sleep. It wreaks havoc on your emotions and adds friction to close relationships. Sleeping in a bed with someone with night terrors can quickly devolve into bedlam.

I’ll just shoot straight from the hip; weed was made for this challenge, folks. If there’s one solidly established symptom of PTSD that marijuana does handle extremely well, it’s the ability to bring internal quiet in a storm of inner tumult  and allow the mind to rest easily in the dreamworld.

Patients frequently report ditching their prescription sleeping pills in favor of a more natural alternative such as marijuana. Strains high in the terpenes myrcene and linalool are favored very highly for their sedative properties.

Patients should take careful note that marijuana is not a substitute for healthy sleep hygiene habits such as abstaining from late caffeine intake and limiting screen exposure in the hour preceding bedtime. Intense social media arguments should also be limited to, well, never actually.

2. Cannabinoids enable users to engage in social settings more comfortably

Many PTSD patients report difficulty with large crowds and often have preoccupations with exits. Physical proximity to other people often causes exaggerated fight-or flight responses.

For these and a myriad of other reasons, PTSD survivors avoid social settings and can develop disabling panic attacks when forced suddenly into an unfamiliar situation.

drowning person's hand above water

Marijuana effectively addresses the epinephrine surge driving the physical and emotional reactions to aversive memories. By reversing the adrenaline drive with a rebalancing of dopamine and serotonin, patients are able to regain control over how they perceive their surroundings.

Through balanced dosing and directed practical coping strategies, patients are able to form an adaptive routine to deal with everyday stressors and not feel like they are missing out on crucial human interactions.

3. Patients develop confidence in regaining self control over their emotions

PTSD is treated with a variety of antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and sleeping aids. Over time, these medications can cause an array of side effects and will have decreasing effectiveness. Furthermore, patients are growing increasingly weary of taking powerful prescription chemicals.

Frankly, patients are fearful of collateral damage from decades of swallowing thousands of pills. Marijuana offers a natural alternative favored by patients for a variety of reasons. The critical insight afforded through weed’s introspective nature enables safer processing of trauma than prescription pills. 

PTSD affects the area of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex which is responsible for experiencing and controlling emotions. Along with the amygdala, the VPC is part of the limbic system that experiences an endocannabinoid deficiency that underlies the signs of PTSD.

Accordingly, careful administration of microdose quantities can restore this endocannabinoid deficit to empower patients to regain more emotional control. Regaining this control is crucial in developing confidence in our ability to experience real hope for the future.

4. Marijuana acts quickly and predictable to abate the Adrenaline-driven fight-or-flight response

Triggers can come out of nowhere at the most unexpected times. To make matters worse, the massive flood of epinephrine and cortisol make gaining conscious control of our emotions even more difficult. Panic sets in and breathing becomes rapid and uncontrolled along with our sense of control over the situation.

This can all happen in a wide public view and can deteriorate rapidly. People with a history of PTSD never know when one of these attacks might happen. 

helping hand to a ptsd patient

Luckily, marijuana acts in a predictable dose-response manner, with indica hybrids being especially favored for this acute panic situation. Even microdoses of 2.5 mg of full-spectrum THC have been reported as being effective at mitigating the symptoms of PTSD that come without warning. The caveat to this is that patients must be cognizant of local regulations that might limit public use of legal medical marijuana.

5. CBD can promote the extinction of intrusive memories that typify PTSD

The vast potential for cannabidiol is only just being realized. As much as marijuana is vilified for interfering with short term memory, the long term extinguishing of nightmarish memories presents a beneficial paradox. The adrenaline overload associated with intrusive memories stamps the memory pathway for emotional memories from the  limbic system errantly communicating with our cortical forebrain which directs our conscious executive daily awareness.

CBD addresses the endocannabinoid deficit that permits this pathological awareness of memories that would better serve us by keeping quietly in the background. CBD also assists with desensitization from reminders that would trigger unwanted physical and emotional reactions.

The promise of a natural alternative is very attractive to patients, however  all PTSD patients must approach any treatment plan with great care and caution. High THC strains can aggravate anxiety so this must be taken into special care in dosing.

Proper coping strategies and adaptive techniques must continually be practiced and honed. Sometimes patients cannot be managed with marijuana alone and patients and doctors should have frequent discussions about what medication combination works best for them.

Unfortunately, for some patients, marijuana is simply not a responsible choice. Ultimately patients are encouraged to be active participants in developing confidence to gain control over their happiness in life.

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