A lot of people associate Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with veterans who have returned home after fighting in a brutal conflict. In reality, a surprising number of people – including average civilians – suffer from this condition.
According to the National Center for PTSD, approximately 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women suffer from trauma at some point in their lives.
Around 10 percent of women experience PTSD during their life, compared to around 4 percent of men. While the number is significantly higher for individuals that served in the military (up to 30 percent of Vietnam veterans suffered from it), PTSD is something that affects many people from all walks of life.
What Is PTSD?
According to the American Psychiatric Association (ACA), PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can happen if you have either witnessed or experienced a traumatic event. Such events include rape, terrorism, witnessing death or a violent assault, or even living through a natural disaster.
Of course, those who work as soldiers, police officers, firefighters, or ambulance operatives are more likely to witness or experience such an event.
PTSD was poorly understood for a very long time, and it has gone by a number of different names over the years. During World War I, for instance, it was called ‘shell shock,’ and afflicted soldiers were simply told to ‘pull themselves together.’
Those who suffer from PTSD may have disturbing feelings and thoughts for a long time after the event. As well as feeling angry, fearful, and alone, they may even experience flashbacks or have nightmares.
It is important to realize that PTSD can happen to absolutely anyone, and it is by no means a sign of weakness. It is more common after specific types of trauma, including sexual assault or combat.
Signs of PTSD
Although it is possible for PTSD to begin immediately after the traumatic event, it is not diagnosed as a disorder unless the symptoms last for at least a month. Also, the symptoms must interfere with home life or work and cause significant distress. In total, there are four distinct PTSD symptom types:
1 – Relieving the Event
Also known as ‘re-experiencing symptoms,’ these symptoms involve reliving the traumatic event. For instance, one could experience upsetting memories of the event.
In other cases, the trauma could be set off by a reminder. Examples include war veterans hearing a car backfire, a rape victim seeing a report of a sexual assault, or an automobile accident victim driving past the scene of an accident.
In these cases, the instant one relives the moment can feel scarily realistic to the point where they believe it is happening all over again. As well as seeing the image in their mind, they could also experience the same physical sensations and emotions as they did when it actually happened; this includes familiar sounds, smells, and even the sensation of pain.
2 – Avoidance & Numbing
This refers to trying to avoid any situation that reminds one of the traumatic event. For example, if someone was sexually assaulted at a train station, they will do what they can to avoid visiting train stations again. They may even avoid sights, sounds, smells, and people that remind them of the event.
In some cases, those with this type of PTSD may even try to block everything out by becoming emotionally numb. After all, many believe it is better to feel nothing at all than to feel angst and fear. As a result, however, they become withdrawn and communicate less with those around them – even their loved ones.
3 – An Increase in Negative Feelings Such as Guilt & Shame
The trauma can cause those with it to think differently about themselves and others. For example, they may have a sense of guilt because they believe it was their fault. This is common among victims of rape. They feel ashamed that they ‘allowed’ the traumatic event to happen, and as a result, can take no pleasure in things they used to enjoy.
4 – Hyperarousal
Another symptom of PTSD is always feeling ‘on edge’ and jittery. Those with hyperarousal believe the world is a dangerous place, and they see potential threats everywhere. As well as always being on the lookout for danger, they can become cranky, irritable, and prone to bouts of sudden anger. In addition, they may also find it extremely difficult to sleep.
Unfortunately, it is common for other conditions to accompany PTSD, such as depression, substance abuse, or anxiety. An estimated 50 percent of men with the condition develop alcohol problems.
The most common conditions among men with PTSD are depression, conduct disorder, and narcotic use (almost 50 percent of women with the condition develop depression as well).
The next most common issues are specific fears, social anxiety, and alcohol abuse. Also, it is common for people with PTSD to have problems readjusting to society. Statistically, one is more likely to get a divorce, become unemployed, or get fired if they have PTSD.
Detailed research involving Vietnam veterans with the disorder discovered that they had trouble forming interpersonal relationships, were prone to violence and found it hard to get a job.
Conventional Medical Treatments
As there are physical and psychological reasons behind PTSD, there are two main types of treatment: psychotherapy and conventional medication.
Also known as counseling, psychotherapy involves discussing your feelings with a therapist. Psychotherapy is unquestionably a difficult experience because, in order for it to be effective, one has to remember what happened as best you can without being overwhelmed by fear or stress.
When a patient remembers the event and analyzes it and makes sense of it, their mind can finally store the memories away and move on to other matters. It is only when one feels safer and in control of their feelings that they can take charge of their memories. Oftentimes, this allows them to abandon the need to keep avoiding them.
There are several types of psychotherapy, including:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is often classified as the most effective form of psychotherapy. The most common forms of CBT are:
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT): In this method, patients learn skills to help them understand how the traumatic event has changed how they think, feel, and act.
Prolonged Exposure (PE): This is a difficult form of therapy because it involves talking about the traumatic event until the memories no longer are upsetting. It helps gain control of thoughts and feelings related to the trauma so patients can stop avoiding certain places or people that remind them of the event.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR involves focusing on hand movements or sounds when you discuss the event. It’s believed to help the brain process flashbacks and make sense of the trauma.
As the name suggests, this form of therapy involves meeting with a group of people who have experienced a similar type of trauma. Patients may find it easier to talk about what happened when surrounded by a sympathetic group that knows what they are going through.
Medication Other than Cannabis
If therapy is not an effective option, there are several types of conventional medications prescribed for PTSD sufferers. These may include:
The purpose of antidepressants is to reduce the strength of PTSD symptoms and also deal with the effects of depression. As well as helping with symptoms of anxiety, antidepressants can help sleep and improve concentration. SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) medications are the most popular, some of which include sertraline and paroxetine.
This form of medication can relieve severe anxiety, but as the most common forms of anti-anxiety drugs have high abuse potential, patients are advised only to take it for a short period.
Medical Marijuana and PTSD
Using marijuana for medicinal purposes is unquestionably, one of the most controversial aspects of the American healthcare system. While most states have a cannabis law of some kind on their books, a variety of legal issues have prevented researchers and doctors from fully examining the impact of marijuana on PTSD sufferers.
Also, major pharmaceutical companies don’t want cannabis used for PTSD relief because it interferes with an industry worth a fortune. While lobbyists for pharmaceutical companies rail against marijuana, they fail to acknowledge the fact that opioid painkillers are responsible for approximately 20,000 overdose deaths a year in the United States. These painkillers are addictive, lead to a slew of unwanted side effects, and don’t address the underlying problem.
An increasing number of war veterans have spoken about how cannabis helps reduce their anxiety and enables them to sleep. In addition, many say it helps to control the symptoms of their PTSD.
Regardless, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I dangerous drug under the Controlled Substances Act of the DEA. This gives it the same classification as heroin, and it is considered more ‘dangerous’ than cocaine!
Medical Marijuana Research and Breakthroughs
Dr. Raphael Mechoulam was the first person to identify THC as marijuana’s psychoactive compound. Nowadays, the Israeli scientist believes the compound’s neuroprotective effects can eventually be used for a variety of psychiatric and neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Mechoulam has also discovered that the brain’s cannabinoid system is related to memory, with an emphasis on the ‘extinction’ of memories. The memory extinction process is a normal one and involves removing associations from stimuli.
This finding is extremely relevant in the field of PTSD study because sufferers often respond to stimuli that provide an unwanted – and unwelcome – memory of a traumatic event.
Anecdotal evidence to date suggests that the best way to use marijuana to treat the anxiety caused by PTSD is to use low to moderate dosages with a stable blood level. In other words, it is not as effective if one uses large doses of cannabis, or if they use it when their blood pressure is too high or too low.
Another fascinating study, this one published by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), found that people with PTSD have lower levels of anandamide compared to people who don’t suffer from the condition. Anandamide is an endogenous cannabinoid compound, and in humans, it triggers the same receptors activated by THC and other marijuana plant components.
One of the issues with PTSD is believed to be a lack of endocannabinoids, wherein the body doesn’t produce enough to fill receptor sites. When a PTSD sufferer uses cannabis, they replenish the all-important endocannabinoids, potentially bringing them relief from their memories without unwanted side effects.
The combination of research and first-hand accounts from people living with PTSD suggests that marijuana can play a pivotal role in preventing unwanted memories from surfacing that are associated with the trauma.
It has taken a very long time, but in 2016, the DEA finally gave formal approval to a controlled clinical study to show the effect of marijuana on veterans with PTSD. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is funding the program by providing MAPS with a $2.156 million grant. It is the first time in American history that any federal agency has approved a clinical trial on marijuana with a view to possibly making it a prescription drug.
While it depends on the results of the study, there’s a possibility that a cannabis-based treatment for PTSD – one that is even covered by health insurance – could be on the market by 2023. Of course, this is still a long time away – especially considering that fewer than half of American states allow PTSD as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the five best marijuana strains for treating PTSD.
5 Marijuana Strains That Treat PTSD
One of the ways that marijuana can help PTSD sufferers is by helping them cope with the nightmares and flashbacks they get that prevent them from sleeping. The research we mentioned above suggests that marijuana helps with memory extinction and reduces anxiety and stress, which triggers panic attacks.
Before we begin with our top 5 strains, though, you need to understand the difference between cannabis strains that are high in THC, and those that are high in CBD.
High-CBD cannabis strains are ideal for daytime usage because of their mood-stabilizing effects, while high-THC marijuana strains are your weapon of choice at night because they help aid in restful sleep.
There are hundreds of available cannabis strains online, so to save you some research, we’ve identified five of the best. (And of course, always remember that the higher the CBD content, the less intense the high will be. In fact, some pure CBD strains with less than 1% THC will not provide any high at all).
1 – Blue Dream Cannabis Strain
This Sativa-dominant cannabis strain is grown in the state of California and is one of the most popular marijuana strains around.
As well as providing you with an element of mental invigoration, it also offers soothing full-body relaxation. Blue Dream is a balanced hybrid with a pleasant Blueberry and Haze aroma. It has an extremely high THC content between 17 and 27 percent, with a minimal CBD content between 0.1 and 0.2 percent.
Blue Dream helps one ease into social interactions and promotes a significant uplifting in mood and general outlook.
2 – OG Kush Cannabis Strain
OG Kush marijuana strain has become immensely popular since its introduction in the 1990s. The exact origin of this cannabis strain is a mystery, although it is possibly a mix between Hindu Kush and Chemdawg. Although not everyone is in agreement, it is likely that ‘OG’ stands for Ocean Grown – a nod towards its Californian heritage.
This strain is ideal for people with PTSD because it provides a pleasant and euphoric effect and does a remarkable job of calming the entire body, which makes it perfect for a relaxing evening. Its THC content is between 20 and 27 percent, with a CBD content of 0.2 percent.
3 – Pineapple Express Cannabis Strain
If you’re reading this page, you’ve probably heard of the movie ‘Pineapple Express,’ which depicts this strain of marijuana as a powerful super bud. In reality, it is smooth and very well-balanced. Users experience a feeling of clear-headedness, which makes it one of the strains of choice for creative individuals.
If you have PTSD and want to go out and about but are feeling anxious, the mollifying effects of Pineapple Express can potentially allay your fears. It can ease anxiety without sacrificing functionality. Its THC content can reach approximately 27 percent, and its CBD content is 0.1 percent.
4 – Master Kush Cannabis Strain
Just to be clear, the Master Kush cannabis strain is probably not ideal for beginners because it is rather potent. Put it this way; this strain is popular in Amsterdam coffee houses, which should give you some idea as to its strength.
However, if you have PTSD, have used cannabis before, and have problems sleeping, Master Kush could be the answer to your prayers. Insomniacs love this strain as it provides a blissful and euphoric sensation as it guides you to sleep. Its THC content is 20 percent, while its CBD content is 1 percent.
5 – Cannatonic Cannabis Strain
This strain is very much a daytime delight due to its exceptionally high CBD content. Cannatonic provides a relaxed and calming sensation, but you may also notice a major improvement in your mood, along with a marked reduction in anxiety.
If PTSD causes you to struggle with anger, Cannatonic may help to calm you down. Its THC content is 6 percent, while its CBD content ranges from 6 to 17 percent, producing a very mild high.
Final Thoughts About Marijuana and PTSD
Those without sufficient knowledge of marijuana believe it is a ‘coping’ drug for those who wish to self-medicate. However, in actuality, there is a growing body of research that suggests it meets a real need among individuals with PTSD.
At present, there is no universally successful treatment for PTSD. While therapy can help, it has a high dropout rate, especially among veterans. Moreover, medications such as opioid painkillers are not particularly effective, and in many instances, they cause more harm than good.
Thankfully, scientists are finally allowed to perform detailed research into the effects of marijuana on PTSD under clinical trial conditions.
If you have never used cannabis before, it is wise to consult with a medical professional. If you are not used to marijuana, strains with a high THC content could increase your level of anxiety. Hopefully, the new research into the drug examining the relationship between THC and CBD will lead to new strains of marijuana for people prone to anxiety.
Of course, the damage caused by PTSD cannot be completely erased or fixed by any form of medication. However, for an increasing number of people, marijuana causes respite when nothing else does. While the industry will doubtless be under scrutiny and face competition from pharmaceutical companies, we hope the results of the forthcoming research will once and for all show a positive outcome among the thousands of people living with PTSD that use marijuana.