Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Cannabis

A Case for Symptomological Relief

Among the most commonly cited uses for cannabis in the U.S. are for the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Cannabis is finding its place in mainstream medicine. However, the role of the plant in the treatment of PTSD remains a controversial topic.

What is PTSD and who is at Risk?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), PTSD is defined as a disorder that stems from shocking, scary or dangerous events. It’s natural to feel afraid after a traumatic event as our body’s fight or flight response kicks in.

“Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people recover from initial symptoms naturally,” found the NIMH. Everyone’s threshold is different; those who experience long-term problems may be diagnosed with PTSD. “People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger,” the NIMH stated. Causes and symptoms of trauma or PTSD varying significantly: it can come on gradually or suddenly and symptoms range in severity. Some sufferers experience nightmares, avoidance behavior, insomnia, and flashbacks.

Millions of Americans will experience PTSD in their lifetimes. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD, it is not rare to experience trauma. In fact, 60 percent of men, and 40 percent of women will experience at least one traumatic event in their lives. While women are more likely to experience sexual assault and child abuse, men are more likely to experience accidents, physical assault, combat, disaster, or to witness death or injury, stated the center. “About seven or eight out of every 100 people will have PTSD at some point in their lives.”

Altogether, there are 8 million adults living with PTSD every year in the U.S., which the National Center for PTSD noted, “is only a small portion of those who have gone through a trauma.”

Auto accidents are a leading cause of PTSD. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), which estimates that nine percent “of survivors of serious accidents develop significant post-traumatic stress symptoms and that many other survivors have PTSD-like reactions.”

Among veterans, this number is even higher. The Department of Veterans of Affairs estimates that more 30 percent of Vietnam vets, 10 percent of Gulf War vets, and more than 30 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan vets experience PTSD.

The epidemic goes far beyond battlefields. While women are less likely to experience combat (although the amount of females in the armed forced is on the rise), they face a higher risk of sexual assault, which is more likely to cause PTSD than other events, reported the Center for PTSD. For this reason and more, women are twice a likely to develop the disorder.

Treatment Options and the Need for Alternatives:

The fact is, though, nobody is immune to trauma or it’s lasting effects. Though the rate of PTSD is rising, suffers have limited treatment options. Some include cognitive behavioral therapy, or medications such as antidepressants or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRIs).

This August reported a 20 percent dropout rate among vets who enroll in therapy programs. Such programs include “treatment with a variety of psychiatric medications, many of which have a high potential for abuse.”

Some of the most devastating and most frequently cited symptoms of PTSD are substance abuse issues (one reason being PTSD sufferers are at higher risks of experiencing chronic pain). Addictions to legal and illegal drugs have become an epidemic in North America. Prescription opioid overdoses have tripled in the past decade alone; there are no known overdoses from cannabis use.

As overdose rates from pharmaceuticals continue to rise — despite the introduction of addiction and treatment centers across the country — many are pointing to cannabis as a solution. But,why?

In the study, “Rationale for Cannabis-based Interventions in the Opioids Overdose Crisis,” author Philippe Lucas notes that in the U.S. states that have legalized medical cannabis, overdose rates have dramatically decreased — a fact that can’t be ignored.

While Lucas recognizes that cannabis is not the ultimate panacea, it has an undeniable role to play in curbing opioid addiction because of the “substitution effect.”

Cannabis is more therapeutic, has less side effects, and is less addictive than alternative substances when used to treat the same disorder (such as pain). Therefore, substituting cannabis for opioids minimizes harm.

This is why many PTSD sufferers have found hope in cannabis.

The Cannabis Project is one testament to this. Many organizations, including Weed for Warriors, and Project CBD, highlight the profound difference cannabis makes in the lives of millions – particularly those who experience trauma and its lasting effects.

Could Cannabis be the key to Treating PTSD Symptoms?

Though there is little actual evidence to prove cannabis treats PTSD successfully (due to its federal scheduling), there is plenty of research that suggests it is therapeutic.

One U.S. based organization has finally taken the critical first steps in further understanding the effects of cannabis on PTSD. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies — or MAPS — received the approval required to examine cannabis for symptoms of PTSD in U.S. veterans. The study launched in January 2017 with the full approval of the DEA and FDA. Results are expected to take years and will potentially open the door to medical access for PTSD patients.   

In the meantime there are countless other studies, which show cannabis to be successful in curbing PTSD’s most serious symptoms: anxiety, stress, sleeplessness, and substance abuse.

The study, “Blunted Stress Reactivity in Chronic Cannabis Users,” compared cortisol — the “stress hormone” — levels in the saliva of daily users and non users, and found chronic users to have more “blunted responses to acute stress” (lower levels of cortisol directly after a stress-inducing experience).

Results showed cannabis to be more effective, and safer, at treating anxiety than anti-anxiety medications because of this blunted response, and lack of side effects, brought on by cannabinoids. More specifically, researchers found that CBD enhances GABA transmitters, which are responsible for repressing excitable feelings. In other words, these neurotransmitters regulate homeostasis in the body, creating balance. Anti-anxiety medications target these same transmitters, but come with a host of side effects, which include: disorientation, suicidal thoughts, chemical dependency and overdose.

This is not to say cannabis will cure, but rather, relieve symptoms of anxiety and or mood related disorders.  

Doctor Raphael Mechoulam — the Israeli Scientist who first discovered THC — points to cannabis’ neuroprotective properties for more evidence.

In his report, titled “General Use of Cannabis for PTSD Symptoms,” Dr. Mechoulam noted the cannabinoid system’s link to memory, especially the extinction of memories, could have implications for PTSD. In other words, cannabis might help reduce associations between triggers and trauma.


At the very least, Dr. Mechoulam stated, the plant is therapeutic, and valuable in treating symptom of PTSD, “there is nothing wrong with symptomological relief. That’s what taking aspirin for a headache, a diuretic for high blood pressure […] is all about.”

Dr. Mechoulam believes that we’ve got the potential to cure PTSD. However, he added, whether or not we understand or are taking full advantage of the effects of cannabis – its use is proven to significantly improve the quality of life for sufferers of PTSD and their family and friends.

Tell us about how cannabis has helped you battle PTSD by visiting our social media pages or website at

For more information about PTSD and cannabis, visit the sites below: — Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies — Weed For Warriors — The Veteran’s Cannabis Project — Grow for Vets


Leading causes of PTSD:

  • Serious auto accidents
  • Violent assaults
  • Sexual assault
  • Combat
  • Natural disasters
  • Diagnosis of life-threatening condition
  • Sudden loss of a friend or family member

Did You know?

  •       More than 8 million people per year suffer from PTSD in the U.S.
  •       60 percent of men and 40 percent of women will experience a traumatic event in their lifetimes.
  •       Sexual trauma is more likely to cause PTSD than any other event, and women are most likely to experience such sexual abuse as adults and in childhood. For this reason, women are at higher risks of developing PTSD.
  •       There are different degrees of PTSD, some more severe than others.
  •       Exercise may help to manage characteristics of PTSD, such as stress and depression.
  •       The amount of people who suffer from the disorder is on the rise, especially among veterans.

Common Symptoms of Trauma,  As Reported by the American Psychological Association (APA):

  • Intense or unpredictable feelings: You may be anxious, nervous, overwhelmed or grief-stricken. You may also feel more irritable or moody than usual.
  • Changes to thoughts and behavior patterns. You might have repeated and vivid memories of the event. These memories may occur for no apparent reason and may lead to physical reactions such as rapid heartbeat or sweating. It may be difficult to concentrate or make decisions. Sleep and eating patterns also can be disrupted — some people may overeat and oversleep, while others experience a loss of sleep and loss of appetite.
  • Sensitivity to environmental factors. Sirens, loud noises, burning smells or other environmental sensations may stimulate memories of the disaster creating heightened anxiety. These “triggers” may be accompanied by fears that the stressful event will be repeated.
  • Strained interpersonal relationships. Increased conflict, such as more frequent disagreements with family members and coworkers, can occur. You might also become withdrawn, isolated or disengaged from your usual social activities.
  • Stress-related physical symptoms. Headaches, nausea and chest pain may occur and could require medical attention. Preexisting medical conditions could be affected by disaster-related stress.


Emerald contributor since February 2016


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