Anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are the most frequent mental health illnesses in the world. Research indicates that most cannabis consumers use the plant and its derivatives to treat the symptoms of these conditions. So, is cannabis a viable treatment option for some individuals?
PTSD and Cannabis
PTSD is a life-changing condition that can arise after a traumatic experience, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). People who suffer from PTSD have flashbacks and nightmares, triggering panic strikes, overpowering emotions, detachments from their friends and relatives, and at times even self-destructive behavior.
This condition is not easy to treat or live with. And it is not all the time tied up with some dangerous event. Some experiences, such as the abrupt and unexpected loss of a friend or a family member, can also trigger PTSD.
According to the NIMH, the symptoms after such events generally start to show up early, in the first couple months, but sometimes they can appear in a few years. Symptoms that continue longer than a month might become severe and start interfering with relationships or jobs.
The development of the disorder is different. Some people might recover in about six months; others could have long-lasting problems, and for a few the condition becomes chronic.
Doctor about PTSD
“I encounter patients with PTSD every day in my practice,” says Dr. Richard Carlton, a psychiatrist affiliated with Cannabis Doctors of New York.
“A typical example of what I’ve been seeing since it became legal to prescribe medical cannabis in New York state: the guy is a former U.S. marine who had three or four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he explains. “He had head injuries from concussion blasts, terrible [traumatic brain injury] (TBI) from seeing his best buddy blown up in front of him; an explosive device blew up the jeep just in front of them. Just horrible things that no human being should ever have to see, those poor people see it.”
“So, he came back to the States and was drinking heavily, became addicted to opioids, as well as alcohol. Sleeping on the streets, homeless. A real mess. And this is going on for a couple of years, and then a former Marine buddy of his gave him a cannabis joint to smoke. The guy said: ‘I don’t smoke,’ and his friend said: ‘Shut up and just inhale.’ And it ruined his anxiety. It stopped the perpetual, endless repetition of those things that he was seeing in his mind’s eye, all the flashbacks in other words. And within a couple of months, he was off of alcohol and off of opioids. And I was really astounded that he didn’t have withdrawal symptoms.”
Additionally, Carlton adds, his patient also stopped smoking cigarettes. “The people who were addicted to heroin and opioids will tell you that getting off of cigarettes is more difficult than getting off from the opioids.”
So, his patient was clean. “He got a job and he came to see a doctor like me because he wanted to do it the legal way. He didn’t want to buy it on the street anymore — he reclaimed his life.”
Carlton says that cannabis was unquestionably an essential part of this. “And I’ve seen that in dozens and dozens of other patients since then,” adds Carlton.
PTSD sufferers report that cannabis helps them treat their symptoms. Research supports this. However, However, no clinical studies have been completed on the topic. And the only minimal research on human observations of cannabis used for PTSD we have is somewhat antithetical, according to the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
However, a study funded by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment finds that cannabis can benefit those with PTSD. Specifically, the researchers discovered that patients who used cannabis had more improvements than those who did not use it.
Specifically, cannabis users had a reduction in general symptoms. While the control group saw some decreases over time, cannabis users had a far faster decrease in symptoms. They also found that participants were 2.57 times more likely to recover from PTSD during the study than non-cannabis users.
According to the study’s authors, given the growing use of cannabis for PTSD, especially in places where it is legal, it is crucial to start offering medical cannabis to PTSD patients.
Unfortunately, present regulatory constraints limit researchers from administering cannabis to research subjects unless they obtain it from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). But the NIDA-supplied cannabis differs significantly from the cannabis that is legally available, reports the Nature journal. When compared to what is available in state-legal marketplaces, NIDA provided-cannabis contains only 27 % THC and up to 11–23 times the Cannabinol (CBN) concentration. If the research wasn’t limited, it could have provided insights into the chemical, biological, and pharmacological characteristics, as well as the medicinal potential of cannabis accessible in state markets.
These limitations have recently started to ease, reports NPR. In May 2021, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) revealed that they will register several American firms to supply cannabis for medicinal and research uses.
OCD and Cannabis
According to the NIHM, obsessive-compulsive disorder is a chronic mental condition. Continuous intrusive thoughts about what might go wrong as well as impulses and compulsions are distinguishing factors of OCD. For example, sufferers are inclined to constantly check locks or repeat something over and over. Also, people with OCD tend to have higher levels of anxiety.
A study conducted by Washington State University compiled data from more than 87 people over a 31-month period. Participants of the study tracked their use via an app (Strainprint), which included more than 1,800 sessions. Researchers set this long-time frame to examine whether or not users developed a tolerance to cannabis As participants continued to use cannabis, results indicated that they developed a tolerance. But the reductions in compulsions and anxiety remained relatively consistent.
Another study, this one from the Journal of Affective Disorders, also discovered that cannabis with higher CBD concentrations stimulated reductions in compulsions. It was accomplished by increasing CBD levels. Also, there was a greater decrease in symptoms with more cannabis usage over time.
General Anxiety and Cannabis
General anxiety is a condition characterized by excessive concern about a variety of topics, such as personal health, relationships, social interactions and jobs, according to the NIHM. It might greatly interfere with education, relationships and work.
An estimated 31% of individuals in the U.S. suffer from an anxiety disorder at some point in their life, according to the NIMH.
Anxiety symptoms include: impatience, constant concern, a sense of being on edge, insomnia, and difficulties focusing. Anxiety also causes physical symptoms such as elevated heart rate, chest tightness, nausea, a sense of weakness, dizziness, and heartburn.
“There is circuitry in the brain that perpetuates an endless loop of anxiety and doubt and fear, and it’s very hard for people to just disconnect that loop. Cannabis helps to disconnect it,” says Dr. Carlton, psychiatrist with Cannabis Doctors of New York.
Research from the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2018 indicated that medicinal cannabis users saw a 58% decrease in anxiety.
Also, surveys suggest that in the case of anxiety, CBD oil proved most beneficial when compared to other forms of cannabis.
According to one 2010 study, CBD oil decreased anxiety symptoms in patients suffering from social anxiety disorder. Researchers scanned participants’ brains, and discovered that CBD oil caused alterations in blood flow to areas of the brain associated with anxiety. This study is especially vital because, besides showing that CBD oil is good in treating anxiety, it also illustrates the process through which CBD interacts with the brain to do so.
But besides all this great research, individuals should be careful with their cannabis dosages.
“You want to start on low potency,” says Carlton. “That is to say, not a lot of THC, because THC can induce anxiety. People can become more anxious, freak out and become horrified.”
For this reason, Carlton advises patients to start with a ratio of “one to one, meaning equal parts of THC and CBD, one to 20, one to 10.”
Carlton also gave a great example of why users should do so. “One of my patients […], a former army sergeant, had broken her neck in an army accident; the truck flipped over,” he explains. “So, she was in a lot of pain for many years. She wanted to do cannabis to relieve the pain.”
“She had never done a joint of cannabis in her entire life,” he adds. “So I started her with one to 20, one to 10, because she did not want to have any psychedelic experience. Cannabis started really relieving the pain […].”
Carlton continues, “in the fourth month, […] she said she freaked out on the grass. It was a horrible experience, she will never do cannabis again for the rest of her life. I said, “what happened?” She decided she wanted to get stoned,” he adds. “So she got a hold of 20 to one, and I told her not to do that.”
But she did. As a result, the patient said she saw her dead grandparents. Additionally, she had suicidal thoughts.
“I said, OK, wait one month, don’t do any cannabis,” Carlton explains. “Then start again with a one to 20 – just for your pain, don’t do any experiments for staying stoned. So, she did […] and it was fine.”
So, analyzing the anecdotal evidence and existing studies, we can trace the evidence that shows us the effectiveness of cannabis in treating anxiety disorders. Of course, dozens of vital research projects haven’t been done yet. This owes to the fact that laws are not fully eased to the needed level.
In the meantime, cannabis remains a schedule I substance, meaning it has no medical applications. This leaves sufferers waiting for Congress to reschedule in order for it to become medicinally federally in any sense.