New Study Finds THC May Ease PTSD
Veterans, who are twice as likely to die from opioid overdose than non-veterans, are especially interested in cannabis treatments for PTSD and chronic pain.
Millions of people suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), many of them U.S. veterans who experienced combat and served on other missions where they had life-threatening experiences. For years, veterans have argued for the right to use cannabis to treat PTSD symptoms, which include recurring nightmares about past events, an inability to sleep, and a frequent feeling of being on edge.
A new study shows that veterans who have advocated cannabis use may be onto something. Researchers have found that cannabis can modulate PTSD symptoms by tamping down the fear and anxiety at the root of the issue.
The study focused on treating excessive fear and anxiety.
Researchers from Wayne State University in Michigan conducted the study, publishing it in the peer-reviewed Journal of Psychopharmacology. The researchers note from the outset that the “core features” of PTSD are excessive fear and anxiety, coupled with dysfunction in the corticolimbic system that includes many behavioral and cognitive functions such as motor control, decision making, and emotional regulation.
Further, the researchers noted that a low dose of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, can reduce activation of the part of the brain that responds to threats and helps the brain better process threats. However, they wanted to test THC’s impact on the corticolimbic system functioning in adults with PTSD.
In the randomized, double-blind placebo study, 71 patients received either a low dose of THC or a placebo. Researchers then put them through a threat-processing paradigm while having an MRI scan of their brain.
They found that in adults with PTSD, THC lowered threat-related reactivity in the amygdala and helped better connect parts of the brain to process fear. They concluded: “These preliminary data suggest that THC modulates threat-related processing in trauma-exposed individuals with PTSD, which may prove advantageous as a pharmacological approach to treating stress- and trauma-related psychopathology.”
Veterans have been pioneers in supporting cannabis use.
The results, while preliminary, are good news for veterans. According to a survey of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of American members, 83 percent believe cannabis should be legal for medical use and 55 percent think it should be legal for recreational use.
Another 85 percent believe that the Veteran’s Administration should allow research into cannabis as a treatment option. While only 20 percent of veterans said they had used cannabis, 84 percent said they would if medical marijuana were made available to them.
Meanwhile, many veterans suffer from PTSD. The Veteran’s Administration estimates that about 15 percent of Vietnam War veterans, 12 percent of Gulf War Veterans, and between 11 percent and 20 percent of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom veterans experience PTSD.
The pandemic has worsened the situation, making the need for potential treatment more critical. The VA reports that for those with PTSD, the pandemic may trigger symptoms, leaving people feeling more unguarded and unsafe and also experiencing an increase in negative thoughts and feelings.