Medical Marijuana Research: PTSD

Beginning January 1, 2014 the Oregon medical marijuana program (OMMP) will add PTSD to the other nine qualifying medical conditions the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) states may allow a person to obtain a medical marijuana card.

But the questions arises: does cannabis really help patients who suffer PTSD?

Here’s some evidence people suffering from PTSD might find interesting.

There are currently medical studies underway designed to study the relationship between cannabis use and the relief of symptoms of PTSD. One such study, performed in New York, looked at 60 patients with PTSD in an attempt to determine a connection between PTSD and the number receptors in the brain that respond to cannabinoids.

There exists certain receptors in the brain – called CB1 receptors – that are activated when a person uses cannabis. Researchers found that people who suffer PTSD have higher levels of these CB1 receptors in parts of the brain that are associated with fear and anxiety than people who did not have PTSD. They also found that such people with elevated numbers of CB1 receptors also had lower levels of the brain chemical (anandamide) that binds to the CB one receptors. They found that when a person has lower levels of this binding chemical (anandamide) the brain compensates by increasing the number of CB one receptors. This may be associated with the fear and anxiety symptomology seen in people with the PTSD condition.

Another interesting study looked at memory and a very special type of memory suppression called memory extinction. These researchers wanted to determine if memory extinction (ridding from memory the recall of events that lead to PTSD symptoms) as caused by cannabis use had anything to do with the relief of PTSD symptoms. These researchers found that marijuana could reduce the association between anxiety producing stimuli (for example loud noises that might resemble a gun firing) and the traumatic situation in their past – such as fighting in a combat zone. Memory extinction is a normal healthy process by which people deal emotionally with troublesome events in their past in that it removes the association between stimuli and recall of the emotionally disturbing event. Cannabis may improve this ability of a PTSD sufferer to use memory extinction more effectively.

Many persons who suffer PTSD have discovered on their own that their PTSD symptoms improve when they use cannabis. Many also say that marijuana works better for them than any other legal medications they have tried or been prescribed.

So what is the take home message?

There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence that the therapeutic use of cannabis provides significant improvement in the quality of life for both those suffering with PTSD and their family and friends. Sufferers of PTSD who wish to use cannabis for their condition should attempt to use low to moderate doses and strive to establish a blood level that is stable enough to control their symptoms. Oral cannabis (ingesting rather than smoking) produces much more stable blood vessels than smoking and should be considered the best way to use medical marijuana. If the goal of the PTSD sufferer is to use cannabis to facilitate memory extension of the PTS triggers, then a small to moderate dose of the cannabis should be used shortly before planned exposure to the trigger. This can be done, much in the way desensitization therapy is done in phobia sufferers, with a series of planned regular extinction sessions using small amounts of cannabis prior to exposure to a known stimulus, and can be very effective in reducing PTSD symptomatology.

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