More and more veterans in the USA put aside their psychiatric medications that are supposed to help them with post-traumatic stress disorder and switch to cannabis. A new study conducted in Ontario, Canada, may explain what kind of benefits cannabis has compared to the conventional treatment.
PTSD is diagnosed in nearly 8 million Americans annually. These are not only war veterans but also victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, natural disasters, car accidents, and even people who were diagnosed with serious, life-threatening illnesses. The symptoms may reveal as nightmares, flashbacks associated with negative emotions (mostly fear), and emotional instability.
Unfortunately, there is no single pharmacological treatment that has been developed to treat specifically PTSD; in most cases, for this condition doctors prescribe the same drugs as for treating depression or anxiety, which have a very little effect. That is why a great number of patients decided to switch to marijuana, even though cannabis was not studied enough to determine its efficacy.
However, psychiatrists and neuroscientists decided to find out what benefits cannabis use can provide to patients with PTSD. The latest study shows that cannabidiol (CBD) interacts with the serotonin system in our body and enables the disruption of the formation of memories that are connected with negative emotions.
The study was conducted on rats that were trained to associate pain with a certain smell. The rats from the control group that did not receive a CBD injection froze every time they smelled the odor, afraid of getting a potential electric shock. Meanwhile, the rats that got CBD injected directly into their brains during the painful sensation showed less to no fear, which could mean that they stopped associating pain with the smell.
Another study conducted last year in Brazil showed that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) could disrupt bad memories associated with the sensation of fear even better than CBD. Only 0.3-10 mg/kg of THC was able to reduce conditioned freezing expression for over 22 days.
Since THC is responsible for psychotropic effects, and CBD is known for counteracting them and acting like a reconsolidation blocker, the researchers tried to find the right ratio of these two compounds that would be equally effective as THC alone but would not have the “high” side-effect.
But the serotonin system is not the only part of the body that is affected by PTSD. Several studies show that this disorder may also influence the endocannabinoid system. This system is a diffuse network of signaling pathways, chemicals, and receptors throughout the whole body; it is responsible for human metabolism, digestion, memory, and mood.
A study conducted at the New York University (this time on humans) showed a connection between the number of endocannabinoid receptors (CB1 receptors) and post-traumatic stress disorder. The researchers found out that people suffering from PTSD had a lower level of endocannabinoids in their body which was compensated by a larger quantity of cannabinoid receptors.
Once CB1 receptors are activated, they can reduce anxiety and impair memory. Cannabinoids, whether they are produced within the body or have another origin (in this case, cannabis-based) can activate the endocannabinoid receptors and provide the desirable result in relieving the symptoms of PTSD.
Of course, this data is not enough to obtain the FDA approval for cannabis-based remedies as a treatment for PTSD; this issue requires more clinical trials. However, cannabis is becoming more and more popular among people with this disorder, and that means only one thing: cannabis is effective and gives results.
It is only a matter of time before doctors and psychiatrists begin to accept the fact that cannabis can be prescribed to treat PTSD besides other pharmaceuticals.