Post-traumatic stress disorder, more commonly known as PTSD, is something that most people would have heard of by now. But that doesn’t mean it’s a well-understood condition. In fact, on the contrary, it’s a very much misunderstood disorder. The majority of people relate PTSD to veterans or first-responders. However, in reality, it encompasses so many more people and situations.
PTSD is a very common condition that affects more than 3 million people in the United States every year. It has become a very hot topic, particularly because of its well-known and increasingly-controversial treatment by means of opioids. The problem is that many of these pharmaceuticals come with a long list of side effects.
Fortunately, CBD is making a lot of headway as a promising therapy by medical scientists all across the world. The research done thus far shows that CBD could reduce anxiety, prevent the consolidation of fear memories that are prevalent in PTSD, and improve sleep. Let’s take a closer look at what PTSD is, how CBD could help to treat it, and what medical research says.
Overview of PTSD
PTSD is defined as a psychiatric disorder that could occur in people who have witnessed or experienced traumatic events like natural disasters, terrorist acts, war, rape, or any other act of violent assault. In short, it’s a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event – either experiencing or witnessing it. Symptoms could include severe anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
The majority of people who go through traumatic events could have temporary difficulty coping and adjusting, but with a bit of time and self-care, they normally get better. If symptoms get worse and last for months or even years, even interfering with day-to-day functioning, you might have PTSD.
In the past, PTSD has been known by many names, such as “shell shock” during World War I, and “combat fatigue” after World War Two. However, PTSD doesn’t just happen to veterans. It can occur in all individuals; people of any ethnicity, culture, or nationality, and any age. PTSD affects an estimated 3.5% of American adults, and it’s thought that one in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD once in their lifetime. Women are two times more likely to have PTSD than men.
The symptoms of PTSD may start within a month of a traumatic event, but in other cases, symptoms might not appear until years after the event. These symptoms can cause significant problems in the workplace, or in relationships and social situations. They can affect your doing of normal daily tasks and have a drastic impact on quality of life.
How and Why CBD Could Help in the Treatment of PTSD
Over the years, opioids have readily been prescribed and recommended by doctors to treat PTSD. But as those patients who routinely take these drugs will know, not only can opioids not even be helpful, but they could also be very dangerous.
This is one of the reasons why PTSD patients across the United States have recently become drawn to CBD. For almost a decade now, it has demonstrated to be a potentially effective treatment with exceptionally promising results, and just about no side effects.
CBD may treat PTSD by preventing the long-term formation of fear memories, modulating neurotransmitters levels and improving the quality of life in the form of reduced anxiety and improved sleep.
Fear memories which can be caused by a traumatic event result in fear responses, like anxiety. Thus, disrupting the formation of fear memories is key for PTSD patients. Studies have found that CBD has an encouraging reduction in fear expression. Because of its ability to disrupt fear memory reconsolidation, and increase fear memory extinction, CBD is a promising treatment. These fear memory effects are produced by CBD through CB1 receptors and 5-HT1A receptors, which are both known to have effects on the memory.
The ability that CBD has to treat PTSD is shown to be mediated by the indirect activation that it has on endocannabinoid receptors, and activation of the serotonergic receptor, known as 5-HT1A. Typically, these receptors are activated by their own natural neurotransmitters; serotonin for 5-HT1A receptors and anandamide for endocannabinoid receptors.
In the endocannabinoid system (ECS), low levels of anandamide have been attributed to the development of PTSD, because anandamide is known to have some mood-enhancing properties. CBD has been found to improve levels of anandamide by obstructing the breakdown of it. This allows anandamide to activate the CB1 receptors for longer and improve overall mood.
When it comes to the serotonergic system, serotonin is responsible for regulating sleep, mood, memory, and social behavior. Low serotonin levels can also contribute to PTSD. Essentially, CBD acts like serotonin and activates the 5-HT1A receptor, which could help to impair fear memory, improve mood, and help with sleep.
Medical Findings: Effects of Cannabinoids and CBD on PTSD
A 2017 study – conducted by Brazilian researchers from the University of São Paulo, the Federal University of Santa Catarina, and the Federal University of Parana – looked at the effects that CBD has on fear memory through the ECS using rats. The study found that, when the rats were treated with CBD immediately after acquiring a memory of fear, the consolidation process was disrupted, fear expression was reduced, and resistance to fear memory extinction was lowered.
Another study conducted by the University of São Paulo looked at the effects of CBD on rats who were subject to fear that was induced by the presence of cats – this produces PTSD-like effects. After being exposed to this stress, some rats were given CBD or a placebo, either repeatedly or only once. After a week, results found that the repeated administration of CBD, in fact, prevented anxious behavior. The study found that this effect was produced by CBD through the 5-HT1A receptor, which is a receptor that plays a major part in PTSD development. They suggested that CBD has the potential to treat PTSD and that the 5-HT1A receptors are the potential therapeutic target.
In 2015, a review on scientific literature with regards to the use of cannabis (specifically, cannabinoids) in treating military veterans with PTSD, was compiled by researchers from the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences at Drake University. The review found that military veterans had a positive correlation between the desire to use cannabis and severe PTSD symptoms. Research also reported that cannabis universally relieved PTSD or symptoms such as anxiety and insomnia.
This review did state that more research is needed on the matter of cannabis and PTSD, especially because a significant number of military veterans use the substance to treat PTSD, and the majority of them report benefits.
Medical Benefits of Using CBD to Treat PTSD
We’ve already gone into detail about how and why CBD is a promising treatment for PTSD, but another key aspect is that CBD could help to improve the quality of life of those who suffer from the disorder. Anxiety is a common symptom of PTSD. As with PTSD, endocannabinoid deficiencies and serotonin are thought to be primary contributors for anxiety disorders.
As shown in the above studies, CBD interacts with both the endocannabinoid system and serotonergic system to help balance them, and also provides anxiolytic benefits like preventing anxious behaviors and fear memory disruption.
How to Take CBD for PTSD
The available scientific research doesn’t provide a satisfactory foundation when it comes to a particular dosage of CBD to use. Studies that have been done on epilepsy and dravet syndrome indicate the use of exceptionally high dosages; about 600 mg per day.
However, an interesting finding has been that high doses of CBD aren’t always the most effective in the treatment of anxiety. Most studies have indicated that moderate doses of over 10 mg per kilogram – but less than 100 mg per kilogram – are thought to be most effective.
There isn’t a recommended daily dose for CBD allowance, and while doctors can recommend a dose, they can’t prescribe it. But most experts suggest that you should take about 25 mg of CBD either once or twice per day. Observe the effects for a period of a week, and then increase or decrease as necessary thereafter.
Keep in mind that each and every person is different. What works for one person may not necessarily work for another. There are various ways of taking CBD, and at the end of the day it all comes down to personal preference.
Inhaling CBD delivers the fastest results, so this method may be perfect for if you are having a panic attack. Having a CBD vape pen with you at all times could give you an option for dealing with trigger memories when they occur.
When you ingest CBD by means of capsules, oils, or edibles, it takes longer to produce effects. But, it’s good to know that oral CBD gives longer-lasting effects than inhaling it. Taking it sublingually (drops) also helps it to absorb into the bloodstream quickly. Perhaps you want to try a few different methods to see which works best for you.
Final Thoughts on CBD for PTSD
PTSD is a serious condition that affects many people all around the world, reducing the quality of life and making normal daily tasks difficult to complete. The good news is that cannabinoids like CBD have shown great potential in the treatment of PTSD. CBD can help to promote quality sleep, establish physical and emotional well-being, and prevent traumatic memories from arising. All in all, it’s a very promising treatment that could help patients to regain hold over their lives.