Post-traumatic stress disorder is characterized by the development of specific symptoms following exposure to an event of extreme traumatic stress. The event usually involves personal experiences of actual or threatened death, serious harm or injury of another person, which is often a family member or close friend.
There are many symptoms that define PTSD, including persistent recollections or re-experiences of the original event (ie. nightmares and flashbacks), numbing and avoidance, and increased agitation. The experience of these symptoms leads to a disruption in daily functioning.
While the underlying causes of PTSD are unknown, experts believe that PTSD results from a complicated set of factors. PTSD causes a change in the body’s natural response to stress and affects the stress hormones and chemicals that carry information throughout the nervous system.
A wide array of medications are commonly prescribed for the treatment of PTSD and it is usual for patients to be on a treatment regime involving numerous pharmaceuticals. However, recent studies conducted by the American Medical Association and the National Academies have found that the vast majority of currently prescribed medications provide little to no benefit for patients.
How Can Marijuana Help?
Anecdotal reports of medical marijuana providing relief for patients with PTSD have led researchers to investigate the endocannabinoid system as a therapeutic target for the treatment of this disorder. The endocannabinoid system appears to be a promising target due to evidence of its role in the regulation of sleep, pain, anxiety, and stress.
A review of the medical literature surrounding PTSD and medical marijuana reveals only 2 previous studies. In 2009, Canadian researchers found that administration of nabilone (synthetic THC) was able to either abolish or greatly reduce the nightmares experienced by patients with PTSD that persisted despite the use of conventional treatments.
Another study published in 2011 by researchers in Israel showed that administration of the synthetic cannabinoid WIN552212-2 was able to reverse the behavioral and neurological abnormalities that resulted from stress exposure in rat models of PTSD. The researchers found that, after exposure to a stressful event, the group of rats that received the cannabinoid treatments did not develop symptoms of PTSD, whereas the group of rats that were left untreated did.