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How Cannabis Can Help PTSD

PTSD is a term that we all hear, but do we all understand what it is? It’s not limited to military personal or first responders, it’s something that affects many people for many reasons, where an emotional trauma leaves a lasting effect. The symptoms are varied, but all have a serious effect on the individual’s ability to enjoy life. Fortunately, PTSD is treatable, and one option for treatment is medical cannabis.

Cannabis has been found, both in controlled studies and anecdotally, to help control or alleviate some symptoms of PTSD. This article will look at how cannabis can help those affected by this traumatic condition.

What is PTSD?

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a disorder that occurs after a trauma or series of traumas and is characterized by a persistent re-experiencing of the traumatic event. After an acutely-traumatic event, a part of the brain is activated that controls fear and emotion and the event is re-experienced over and over in response to everyday events and stimuli. Related cue triggers (i.e. fireworks that could sound like gun fire) reactivate the traumatic memories and increase anxiety.

The effects of PTSD display in the following ways:

  • Hypervigilance
  • Exaggerated startle
  • Inability to control emotional reactions
  • Viewing the world from a very negative perspective
  • Being emotionally numb
  • Detachment
  • Substance abuse disorder
  • Poor control of anger
  • Distressing memories
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Recurrent nightmares

What are the long-term effects for those with PTSD?

Most PTSD patients are unable to rid themselves of the conditioned fear response (feeling anxious even when things are normal), even with repeated exposure to neutral cues with no adverse consequences. This means that even after they experienced a situation that made them fearful and nothing happened, the fear remains.

PTSD symptoms frequently overwhelm patients, causing them to suffer from diminished well-being, physical limitations and compromised health (including cardiovascular, neurological and chronic physical symptoms).

The worst effect of PTSD is suicide, for which suffers of this order have an increased risk. A recent landmark study found that in the U.S., 22 veterans committed suicide each day. Conventional treatments just weren’t working for them (and possibly the many others who suffer from this disorder).

Who does it affect?

Sufferers of PTSD can be of any age or sex. The diagnosis of PTSD usually comes after a witnessing or experiencing a fairly traumatic event, which can include:

  • War
  • Hurricane
  • Accidents
  • Assault or sexual assault
  • Death of someone else
  • Violent crime

There is also a correlation to substance abuse, where 42.5% of inpatient substance abuse patients also report a diagnosis of PTSD. Substance abuse disorder is two to three times more like to occur in those with PTSD, which means that substance abuse can both be a precursor to suffering a traumatic event or be the result of suffering a traumatic event.

How can cannabis help PTSD patients?

Two recent studies found that using a synthetic cannabinoid provided a significant relief for military personnel with PTSD who were previously non-responsive to treatment. One study found that 70% of patients with recurrent PTSD nightmares scored as very much improved or much improved at the end of the study, compared to only 20% of placebo users. This also led to an increased well-being in the patients. The other study found that an orally absorbable THC as a treatment for PTSD gave a statistically significant improvement in all symptom severity, including hyperarousal, sleep quality and frequency of nightmares.

There have been a number of studies done on the relationship between PTSD and cannabis, and more are in the works. Studies have (anecdotally) found that PTSD symptoms were reduced among Vietnam veterans who used cannabis. Because of the anecdotal evidence that medical marijuana can alleviate PTSD symptoms, a new study has been approved in the U.S., focusing on veterans who have PTSD. Of note is that for the first time ever the Drug Enforcement Agency has given its blessing for a study on Cannabis as medicine. Results are expected within three years

At CanniMed we’ve heard from a number of our patients that suffer from PTSD that medical cannabis is very effective at helping find relief. It helps to relieve anxiety and allows for them to sleep, among other benefits, and allows the individual to take some control of their life.


More and larger studies need to be done on the effects of cannabis on treating PTSD, although recent studies are showing that there is much promise in this form of treatment.


CanniMed has a Veterans Program? Canadian veterans don’t have to go through the Veterans Affairs Canada waiting period with us, we finance your first month of medical cannabis to help provide relief immediately. And veterans benefit from a unique rewards program. Contact us for more details.

Jetly et al. 2014.The efficacy of nabilone, a synthetic cannabinoid, in the treatment of PTSD-associated nightmares: A preliminary randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled cross-over design study
Roitman et al. 2014. Preliminary, Open-Label, Pilot Study of Add-On Oral D9 -Tetrahydrocannabinol in Chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Shorter et al. 2015. Pharmaco logic management of comorbid post-traumatic stress disorder and addictions