Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition that affects 8 million Americans or 3.5% of the population in a given year. PTSD, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, is a condition that may develop in people who have had a “shocking, scary, or dangerous event.” While many people have experienced trauma and symptoms have manifested afterwards, those symptoms usually go away over time. People with PTSD will not only continue to experience certain symptoms, but these symptoms may also manifest whether or not they’re in danger. People can even develop PTSD if someone close to them has been in danger. PTSD affects the quality of life of many people. One way people have chosen to treat their PTSD is by using cannabis, but does it really work? Here is what the scientific research says. 

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Can weed help with PTSD?

There are many ways PTSD can be treated. For example, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, people treat PTSD with therapy, medication or both. It’s known that people have been self-medicating with weed as well. Recently, scientific research has shown that marijuana really does help with PTSD symptoms. 

The research, which was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders late last year, found promising results. The study got its results from 404 medical cannabis users via the self-reporting app Strainprint®. This app, which we’ve mentioned before in other studies, is an App where people can track and report symptoms in relation to different strains of marijuana and different doses of weed over time. 

Even though only 404 people were used for the study, the group used the app 11,797 times over 31 months to track their PTSD-related symptoms namely intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, irritability, and/or anxiety. They made a note both before and after cannabis use. The study specifically used data from participants who indicated they inhaled cannabis. The study accepted smoking, vaping or dabbing. Submissions that included other ways of using cannabis such as consuming edibles were not included. Finally, since the effects of inhalation peak around 10-30 minutes and go away after about 4 hours, only those who reported back their symptoms after four hours were used. 

Results of the study

According to the study, all of the symptoms were reduced by more than 50% directly after cannabis use. The study also found that “time predicted larger decreases in intrusions and irritability, with later cannabis use sessions predicting greater symptom relief than earlier sessions.” The dose required to treat anxiety increased over time. Higher doses in general reduced anxiety symptoms. Higher doses were also beneficial for intrusive thoughts as they resulted in a larger reduction of symptoms. The baseline severity of all symptoms explored remained constant across time. The table below is pulled directly from the study and it shows the symptoms experienced, whether or not the symptoms changed in severity after cannabis use as well as how the symptoms were rated before and after using weed.

Symptom% Sessions Symptom Reduction% Sessions SymptomExacerbation% Sessions No Symptom ChangeRating Before UseM (SD)Rating After UseM (SD)% Reduction in Rating
Intrusions97.82%0.27%1.91%6.93 (1.48)2.60 (1.73)62.48%
Flashbacks91.84%2.93%5.24%6.34 (1.74)3.12 (1.98)50.79%
Irritability97.06%0.68%2.27%6.90 (1.85)2.31 (1.92)66.52%
Anxiety93.46%1.98%4.56%6.19 (1.95)2.65 (1.88)57.19%
Table showing changes in symptom severity.

Further analysis of results 

In some instances, there were different results for men and women. For example, women reported more sessions with a reduction in flashback severity than men. The study said, “Women reported a greater percentage of sessions during which flashback severity was reduced than did men.

In terms of irritability, the results were opposite to that of flashback intensity. The study stated, “men reported significantly more sessions involving reductions in irritability than did women”. However, there was no real difference between how men and women rated irritability after cannabis use. 

Limitations of the study 

There a number of limitations of the study, some of them include:

  1. The results were self-reported so there was no way to really verify if the participants actually had PTSD
  2. There was no control group used
  3. The study did not look at all symptoms of PTSD
  4. Overrepresented those who would find cannabis helpful and underrepresented those who wouldn’t

Can cannabis replace other treatments for PTSD?

Probably not. The researchers raised some interesting points. 

As mentioned before, higher doses of cannabis seem to be the most helpful with anxiety. However, the researchers are worried that this may cause cannabis dependence. The study says, “The escalations in dose for anxiety adds credence to concerns of individuals with PTSD developing cannabis dependence”. The study also stated that there are negative long term outcomes that plague those with PTSD who use cannabis excessively. In addition to that, the fact that people have to use higher doses to control anxiety may indicate some sort of tolerance to cannabis. 

In addition to that, as we’ve said before, the baseline symptom severity did not change over time. That means cannabis didn’t “fix” PTSD, it just reduced the symptoms for the period of intoxication. The study said, “….while cannabis intoxication can provide transient relief from PTSD symptoms, long-term cannabis use may not ultimately improve the severity of this disorder.” This indicated that if you’re trying to get rid of PTSD, seeing a professional to discuss medication or therapy options may be your best bet. However, if you’re looking for temporary relief from your symptoms, weed seems to do the trick. 

The study did mention that the baseline severity of symptoms may not have changed because maybe those using cannabis waited until their symptoms got to a specific threshold before self-medicating. 

What other studies say

One study, published last month actually reported that PTSD symptoms for those who use cannabis decreased over time. This study lasted for a year and consisted of 150 participants who were mostly male. According to the study, “Participants who used cannabis were 2.57 times more likely to no longer meet DSM-5 criteria for PTSD at the end of the study observation period compared to participants who did not use cannabis.” This study, therefore, indicates that cannabis may be able to treat PTSD in the long-term.

Conclusion

Based on the first study, cannabis seems to be effective in reducing some PTSD symptoms while the user is intoxicated but doesn’t provide long-term relief. The second study, however, shows that weed may actually improve PTSD symptoms over time. More research will be needed in this area to explore how different types of cannabis work with the reduction of symptoms.

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