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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Medicinal Cannabis

Post traumatic stress disorder, more commonly known as PTSD is a long-lasting psychological condition that impacts around 10% of people world wide.

PTSD occurs after the sufferer experiences or witnesses a traumatic event, which includes but is not limited to; natural disaster, military combat, abuse (physical, sexual or emotional), and accident or injury. 

Although defined as one condition, PTSD can be broken down into types depending on the person’s symptoms - these are known as condition specifiers and they make it easier to diagnose and treat the illness. Types of PTSD include:

  • Acute stress disorder (ASD): Usually develops within a month after the traumatic event and includes several symptoms including anxiety and avoidance. Many people who develop ASD go on to develop PTSD.
  • Dissociative PTSD: When the person detached emotionally and mentally from the trauma.
  • Uncomplicated PTSD: When PTSD symptoms are experienced without other mental conditions present (eg. depression).
  • Comorbid PTSD: When PTSD is experienced alongside other mental health conditions such as depression or panic disorders.

Complex PTSD: Refers to the PTSD experienced after prolonged or repeated trauma (eg. continual abuse, human trafficking) - can have more severe psychological implications than a once-off traumatic experience. 

What are the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder?

PTSD symptoms can be triggered by noises, situations, words or people that remind someone of the traumatic event. Post traumatic stress disorder symptoms can be divided into four groups:

  • Intrusion:
    • Reliving the incident via flashbacks
    • Vivid memories of the event
    • Recurring nightmares about the event 
    • Emotional and/or physical distress when thinking about the event 
  • Avoidance: 
    • Avoiding people, places and situations that serve as a reminder for the event
  • Arousal and reactivity:
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Being easily startled
    • Constant feeling of being on edge
    • Irritability and angry outbursts
  • Cognition and mood:
    • Negative thoughts about yourself 
    • Overwhelming feelings of guilt or blame
    • Difficulty remembering important parts of the event
    • Reduced interest in activities you once enjoyed

Post traumatic stress disorder also presents differently in men and women. Women are twice as likely as men to experience PTSD and wait on average 3 years longer than men to seek help. Women are more likely to:

  • Feel numb and emotionless
  • Experience anxiety or depression
  • Be easily startled
  • Be sensitive to reminders of the trauma

Men are more likely to experience the typical symptoms of PTSD such as re-experiencing, avoidance and arousal concerns.

PTSD affects every individual differently and is dependent on the trauma type, how long the trauma lasted and individual biology.

How can medicinal cannabis help with post traumatic stress disorder?

PTSD’s symptoms can make life very difficult, and in extreme cases may lead to self harm and/or suicide if the symptoms become too overwhelming. Cannabis provides a natural remedy for PTSD by lessening the severity of the anxiety-adjacent symptoms. PTSD and generalised anxiety disorder share most of their physical symptoms, and can therefore share treatments as well. Despite being a mental condition, anxiety presents itself physically through a variety of symptoms, such as elevated heart rate and tense muscles. 

Cannabis (specifically the CBD compound) slows the body’s communication with the central nervous system, resulting in slower breathing and heart rate, as well as a more relaxed muscle state - making it a suitable treatment for symptoms of both anxiety and PTSD. All research has supported that medicinal cannabis as a treatment for PTSD is most effective when administered in conjunction with talk therapy, so it’s important to consult a healthcare professional to determine what is the best solution for you and your condition. 

If you or a loved one are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and are considering medicinal cannabis as a potential treatment, please speak to your GP or to one of our SAS accredited doctors here.