CBD In the Treatment of PTSD
PTSD is the acronym for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The term is used to describe a psychiatric disorder that develops in the aftermath of an extremely disturbing or life-threatening experience.
There is preclinical evidence to support CBD as a legitimate treatment for anxiety disorders and PTSD. Endocannabinoid deficits (specifically low serum levels of anandamide), can result in impaired fear extinction, aversive memory consolidation, and chronic anxiety, all hallmarks of PTSD. Scientists have determined that CBD may deactivate traumatic memories.
Experiences associated with PTSD are often war exposure, rape, childhood physical abuse, sexual molestation, physical attack, and threat with a weapon.
Under normal circumstances, individuals manage to fully recover from trauma and return to a normal state after a period of time. However, some people actually get worse as time passes, often reliving the unpleasant experience through flashbacks and recurring nightmares. Moreover, individuals who have those symptoms can become aggressive towards their immediate environment and loved ones.
People who suffer from PTSD experience three major symptoms:
- Reliving the trauma after being exposed to certain cues
- Estranging from people that they have associated with a certain experience and feelings of numbness
- Increased irritability or aggressiveness
PTSD does not only include psychological symptoms. Often, people develop disorders like depression, anxiety, or addiction that can severely impair the body as well. Also, dysfunctionality within a family environment may cause irreparable damage and lead to multiple problems.
How Many People Suffer From PTSD
Not all people that live unpleasant experiences develop PTSD. Situations like divorce or losing a job are not associated with that level of trauma. The NHS reports that PTSD develops in around 33% of people who experience severe traumatic experiences. Some people are more prone than others, however, there is no set of definite factors.
According to the Nebraska Department of Veteran Affairs, an estimated 7.8% of all US citizens will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. The disorder is twice as likely to affect women as men (10.4% to 5%) and about 3.6% of U.S. adults between 18 and 54 years – about 5.2 million people – have PTSD during the course of a year.
These numbers reflect upon a group of people who have experienced at least one traumatic event. 60.7% of men and 51.2% of women reported at least one disturbing experience during a year.
About 30% of men and women who have spent time in service experience PTSD, with an additional 20-25% suffering from partial PTSD. The disorder is much more prevalent among Vietnam veterans. More than 50% of all male Vietnam vets have experienced PTSD. Estimates from the Afghanistan war suggest that between 6-12% of veterans suffer from PTSD, while percentages for military personnel in Iraq hover around 15-20%.
What Causes PTSD
According to the UK National Healthcare System, PTSD can develop after very frightening, distressing, or prolonged traumatic experience.
Some types of events that can lead to the development of PTSD are:
- Violent personal assaults (sexual assault, mugging, or robbery)
- Exposure to violence as a spectator
- Serious accidents
- Exposure to combat
- Being involved in a hostage situation
- Prolonged sexual abuse and violence
- Severe neglect
- Surviving a terrorist attack
- Natural disasters, such as severe floods, earthquakes, or tsunamis
- A diagnosis of a life-threatening condition
- An unexpected severe injury or death of a close family member or friend
People who have had depression or anxiety disorder in the past or are estranged from their immediate social circle, are more likely to develop PTSD. Genetic factors are a possibility, but they are not fully explored.
Symptoms of PTSD
According to the Nebraska Department for Veteran Affairs, PTSD symptoms can begin immediately after a traumatic event. However, the disorder can not be diagnosed unless the symptoms persevere for at least one month and escalate to a distressing level.
As stated above, there are three major types of symptoms associated with PTSD:
Re-experiencing The Traumatic Event
Flashbacks, nightmares, or sensory cues that are associated with the event cause the patient to re-live a painful experience. Usually, the experience is so real that people develop intense feelings of fear and horror that are similar to those they had when the trauma originally occurred.
Avoidance and Numbing
People with PTSD may try to avoid getting near places or situations that remind them of the traumatic event. Also, numbing the symptoms is another way individuals try to alleviate the traumatic experience. This emotional detachment can lead to estrangement, disinterest in activities they once enjoyed, or forgetfulness.
Disruption of sleep patterns, violent outbursts, and irritability are all parts of PTSD. Individuals who suffer from the disorder are constantly on the edge and overreact to any sign of unexpected stimulus.
How is PTSD Diagnosed
In an interview with the BBC, Neil Greenberg, a defense professor of mental health at the King’s College London said that PTSD is fairly easy to diagnose once the symptoms are showing.
“With properly skilled doctors it can be very easy to diagnose, it could take a few hours,” says Prof Greenberg, “But, doctors must have a good suspicion of PTSD before starting to diagnose someone, as patients may not bring up their trauma history.”
As PTSD is not a physical condition, there are no blood tests to be conducted. The diagnosis relies on the doctor’s better judgment and must fit a set of criteria:
- Re-experiencing the events – flashbacks and nightmares
- Avoidance and numbing
- Irregular sleep patterns
- Extreme mood swings
How Harmful Is PTSD
PTSD in itself has no physical effects, however, it can lead to severe impairment of the patient’s day-to-day life. There has been research that proves the devastating toll that PTSD takes on families. People who suffer from the disorder can become hard to live with.
Research has shown that Vietnam vets have more problems with family violence and intimacy, while their partners suffer significant distress. Children are also affected, while the study has shown that veterans with the most severe symptoms had the most dysfunctional families.
People suffering from PTSD find it hard to deal with emotion and their detachment has a negative effect on their families and leads to lower satisfaction in parenting.
How Is PTSD Treated
There are many options for treatment of PTSD. Usually, a combination of counseling and medicines works best, leading to better control of emotions and fewer symptoms. Counseling can be performed individually or in a group. The therapist guides patients through their emotional responses and gives them helpful advice on how to deal with painful feelings.
There are certain types of counseling for PTSD including:
- Cognitive therapy
- Exposure therapy
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are types of antidepressants commonly used in PTSD. Some of the most recognizable include fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft).
How Does CBD Help Treat PTSD
A 2015 study found that there is enough preclinical evidence to support CBD as a legitimate treatment for anxiety disorders and PTSD when administered securely.
Researchers claim that CBD has a lot of potential as a treatment for mental disorders, however, more research will be needed regarding its effectiveness in humans.
Martin Lee is an affiliate of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and a director of the portal ProjectCBD. He has been closely studying the association between CBD and anxiety disorders, such as PTSD.
“Researchers found that people with PTSD had lower levels of anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid compound, compared to those who did not show signs of PTSD,” Lee wrote, “Innate to all mammals, anandamide (our inner cannabis, so to speak) triggers the same receptors that are activated by THC and other components of the marijuana plant.”
Lee claims that PTSD also has roots in the endocannabinoid system, as the body stops producing enough anandamide, the neurotransmitter responsible for the release of serotonin. This is where cannabis comes in: CBD can trigger the endocannabinoid receptors and actively help with the unpleasant symptoms caused by PTSD.
“Scientists have determined that normal CB-1 receptor signaling deactivates traumatic memories and endows it with the gift of forgetting,” Lee said, “But skewed CB-1 signaling, due to endocannabinoid deficits (low serum levels of anandamide), results in impaired fear extinction, aversive memory consolidation, and chronic anxiety, the hallmarks of PTSD.”
Studies on CBD and PTSD
- NCBI: Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders
- Project CBD: PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome)
Additional Sources of Information
- VA: Marijuana Use and PTSD among Veterans
- CBD International: Cannabis Oil Helps PTSD
- Herb: Cannabis Combats PTSD
- Leafly: Cannabis and PTSD
- SOL CBD: How CBD Oil Helps Deal With PTSD
The research and talent that went into this article and infographic was made possible by a grant from High Country Group, LLC. Visit High Country’s CBD website for top-quality CBD products.
The statements in this document have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Consult your physician before beginning any treatment regimen.
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