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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Cannabis

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Posted By: Dr. Singh

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder affects seven to eight percent of the population at some point in their lives and Canada has one of the highest incidence rates at 9.2%. Women are also twice as likely to be affected by the disorder and it can develop at any age.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is often associated with soldiers who have served in combat and involves a physiological reaction to a witnessed or experienced threat. For instance, a soldier may develop PTSD after witnessing his friend killed in combat or being involved in an IED explosion.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder may produce flashbacks, intense thoughts about the event, and a constant re-living of the memory. If left untreated it can become a debilitating disorder and impact everyday life.

Cannabis has been shown to improve symptoms of PTSD and help users cope with flashbacks and intense thoughts. Many patients claim that it relaxes them and reduces symptoms of hyper-awareness.


What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is caused by exposure to a traumatic event or perceived threat. PTSD is common in cases of child abuse, sexual violence and combat. Not everyone who experiences these types of events develops PTSD and symptoms vary greatly between individuals.

PTSD is caused by hyperarousal and long-term stress of the primitive brain which causes chemical changes to occur. Individuals with PTSD suffer from a state of constant hyperarousal and are extremely sensitive to events or situations that trigger negative memories. People with PTSD may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares and experience intense feelings such as guilt, anger, fear and sadness.

When left untreated Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can cause individuals to become withdrawn and avoid social situations. It can also lead to depression and feelings of hopelessness.


Traditional PTSD Treatment

Conventional treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder often involves the use of serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) to help with regulating mood. Serotonin is a chemical produced in the body and central nervous system that regulates a number of systems including mood. Serotonin deficiency is often associated with depression and low mood and is caused by a tryptophan deficiency in the body.

Tryptophan is consumed through an individual’s diet and is found in foods such as turkey, nuts, cheese and red meat. If there is insufficient tryptophan consumed through diet individuals will demonstrate low serotonin levels.  

Traditional treatments may also include behavioral therapies, anger management and counseling to deal with the actual traumatic event that was experienced. It is crucial for individuals with PTSD to work through the event that triggered the disorder. If this trigger is not dealt with and worked through people often will continue to struggle.

One of the biggest issues patients have with serotonin reuptake inhibitors is their effect on arousal. It is common for people who take SSRI’s to have difficulties becoming and staying aroused regardless of their environment. For many individuals, this side effect makes the medication difficult to consume on a long term basis.


Cannabis and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

There are numerous subjective reports that cannabis has a significant role to play in the treatment of PTSD, but further research is needed to determine exactly how cannabinoids can manage symptoms and help treat the disease.

A 2013 study in Drug and Alcohol Dependence looked at the prevalence of substance use among patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. The study found that motivation for substance use was frequently attributed to sleep difficulties. Researchers found that participants with higher PTSD scores were significantly more likely to consume cannabis to help them sleep. The study concluded that cannabis was an effective coping mechanism for subjects looking to improve their sleep patterns, although further research is warranted to determine how cannabis acts on a physiological level.

Another study published in the Journal of psychoactive Drugs looked at reports of patients with PTSD who used cannabis to manage their symptoms. The study found that patient scores on the Clinician Administered Posttraumatic Scale for DSM-IV (CAPS) were reduced by 75% in individuals who used medical cannabis. The results found that “cannabis is associated with reductions in PTSD symptoms in some patients, and prospective, placebo-controlled study is needed to determine efficacy of cannabis and its constituents in treating PTSD”.

Apollo is also studying the effects of medical cannabis & PTSD.


Veterans with PTSD

After the drawn out conflict in Afghanistan, many Canadian soldiers are returning to Canada with symptoms of PTSD. Statistics indicate that up to 10% of all Canadian soldiers returning from combat will experience PTSD and it is the second leading cause of disability among military members.

Many members of the military have reported that services available to help soldiers are not adequate and often fall short of helping soldiers regain normal lives. Continued cuts to federal funding are also working against those suffering with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: there is no money available to improve mental health services for military personnel.

Between April 1 and July 31, 2017, the Ministry of Veterans Affairs reimbursed 5,190 veterans for medical cannabis. The Canadian Forces began to realize that cannabis use was a growing trend and was beneficial in treating symptoms of PTSD in soldiers returning from combat and put a policy in place to reimburse members for medical cannabis medication.

A retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Canadian Army reported that after two tours in Afghanistan he came home and began having difficulties. Retired Lt. Col. Robert Martin stated “I came back in February of 2009 and my wife at the time realized that something was drastically wrong, but I wouldn’t listen. I’d failed a Canadian Forces physical fitness test for the first time in my 34-year career. I felt that my career was over because of that”.

Martin stated that medical cannabis was crucial to his recovery and “within two days I was off my highly-addictive chemical sleep sedative”. His improved sleep patterns helped him return to normal functioning and daily activities as he was finally getting the rest his body and brain needed.


How Can Apollo Cannabis Clinics Help?

If you are suffering from symptoms of PTSD and would like to find out more about how cannabis may benefit you, visit apollocannabis.ca and fill out an intake form. Once this form has been completed a patient care specialist will call you to schedule an appointment with one of our doctors. During this appointment you will discuss your medical history and learn how using cannabis may benefit your condition or symptoms.

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