Research shows that the suicide rate among veterans continues to rise. It's about 1.5 times higher than for non-veteran adults, with about 20 veterans taking their own lives every day. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a large contributor to this epidemic. PTSD is one of the most common health conditions among veterans. Treatments range from some form of therapy modality to pharmaceutical medication.
Even with current treatments, the suicide rate among veterans hasn't been significantly affected. But this could change with many veterans starting to find relief using cannabis. There is a lot of emerging research on cannabinoids and other organic molecules within the cannabis plant. Not too long ago it was hard to find credible sources on medicinal uses for cannabis. Now an internet search returns dozens of articles on how cannabis can help a variety of ailments.
Therapeutic Benefits of Cannabis for PTSD
Preliminary research studies suggest that the cannabinoids in the plant decrease PTSD symptoms. The patients can experience an improvement in quality of sleep through decreased frequency of nightmares and hyperarousal. The cannabinoids have an anti-anxiety effect that helps prevent the effects of stress and facilitate fear extinction. Even further, evidence suggests that the use of cannabinoids shortly after a traumatic event helps to prevent the development of PTSD.
Cannabidiol (CBD) as a Treatment for PTSD
There has been a surge in the research and the interest in CBD in the treatment of PTSD. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD is non-psychoactive while still providing pharmacological benefits. In a recent study, 91% of patients experienced decreased PTSD symptom severity using oral CBD, including improvements in nightmares. The oral CBD was well-tolerated, and no patients discontinued use due to any side effects.
The Efficacy of Medical Marijuana for PTSD
Within the past year, data emerged from the first FDA-regulated, placebo-controlled, double-blind study on smoked cannabis for PTSD in veterans. The study showed that patients who received treatment of THC+CBD reported the greatest reduction in PTSD symptoms – higher than patients who only received CBD. Patients treated with cannabis compared to patients who did not use cannabis were 2.5x more likely to no longer meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD.
Prior to this randomized controlled study, there were numerous smaller studies. The primary outcome of all studies was reduction in PTSD symptoms – particularly sleep disturbances and nightmares.
Studies show a link between the use of this plant and the potential to slow the veteran suicide epidemic. But current data hasn't proven to what extent it can be impactful. Unfortunately, the V.A. (which is slow to adopt new practices) does not recognize medical marijuana as an approved treatment modality. This means the V.A. does not cover this treatment method for veterans. Additionally, the V.A. can drop coverage of other treatments if it's discovered that a patient is using cannabis.
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Mizrachi Zer-Aviv T, Segev A, Akirav I. Cannabinoids and post-traumatic stress disorder: clinical and preclinical evidence for treatment and prevention.
Bonn-Miller MO, Sisley S, Riggs P, Yazar-Klosinski B, Wang JB, et al. The short-term impact of 3 smoked cannabis preparations versus placebo on PTSD symptoms: A randomized cross-over clinical trial.
Elms L, Shannon S, Hughes S, Lewis N. Cannabidiol in the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Case Series.
Hindocha C, Cousijn J, Rall M, Bloomfield MAP. The Effectiveness of Cannabinoids in the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): A Systematic Review.