Why Cannabis Relieves PTSD Symptoms

Photo Credit: MassRoots

Photo Credit: MassRoots

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder resulting from traumatic experiences. Currently, PTSD patients are prescribed psychiatric medications that can produce negative side effects, but cannabis may be able to help. Neuroimaging studies have suggested the endocannabinoid system plays a key role in managing the central neurobiological pathways, which contributes to the dysregulation of threat-related processing responses to previous traumatic exposure. The endocannabinoid system also plays an important role in the function of the prefrontal cortex, making it key in information processing, subcortical arousal, and the regulation of cholinergic inputs. It may also disrupt conditioned fear and facilitate adaptation to aversive situations. Additionally, the ECS' ability to modulate hippocampal memory and plasticity may be the most important reason for cannabis' ability to treat PTSD. 

When cannabinoids receptors are activated in the prefrontal complex, they could augment serotonergic neurotransmission and elicit antidepressant effects. Researchers believe activation of the CB1 receptor may prevent the alteration of G-proteins in the prefrontal cortex, which in return may reduce suicidal thoughts and behaviors. One study involving patients in New Mexico's Medical Cannabis Program for PTSD found medical cannabis' antidepressant properties reduced the frequency and severity of suicidal behaviors in most participants, and in some cases, it led to the complete cessation of these behaviors. Cannabis may also help PTSD patients manage symptoms and prevent the relapse of symptoms by contributing to the disruption of aversive memories, anxiety, and improving stress-coping behaviors and reactivity to threat signals. 

Research correlates lower levels of anandamide with the occurrence of PTSD, and PTSD has been attributed to a deficiency in endocannabinoids, which regulate mood perceptions, flashback memories, behaviors, metabolism, and digestion. When cannabis activates these cannabinoids receptors, it helps to alleviate PTSD symptoms. One Brazilian study found THC is more potent than CBD in attenuating fear memories, and a combination may relieve symptoms with minimal and tolerable side effects. Other research has found CBD can treat neuropsychiatric disorders by interacting with serotonergic receptors and dopaminergic systems. One induced-fear test in animal models found CBD-treated laboratory animals exhibited less stress when nearing an electric maze in which they had previously been exposed to painful sensations. Lastly, one study found THC's binding to CB1 receptors in the medial prefrontal cortex resulted in memory reactivation and retrieval, but that CBD wa able to counter this as well as other psychotropic effects, leading to an effective way to manage PTSD symptoms. Even sub-effective doses of the two cannabinoids mitigated dysfunctional aversive and fear memories, locomotor activity, and anxiety-related behaviors. 

This information has been provided by MassRoots and approved by our Chief Medical Officer.