PTSD and Cannabis, What do we know?


What comes to mind when seeing those letters? The quick answer when asked will invariably be the same, soldiers and 1st responders.

Many might be very surprised just how prevalent PTSD is in our society.  Would you believe it affects up to 80% of the population, if not more?

How you view that question will be filtered heavily by your interpretation of what PTSD is and any personal experience dealing with it, or lack of same.  But the reality is everyone has met or knows someone who has PTSD to some degree.

That shy kid at school, the nice girl at the office who does not like to make eye contact, the guy who looks at the ground whenever passing by someone on the street, the unusual looking lady who looks almost terrified being on public transit, the healthcare worker in your social group who always drinks a bit more than the rest, the multitude who are introverted and must work from home,  anyone unwilling to talk about a troubled past.

The main reason PTSD is so widely misunderstood, by the public and medical community, is it’s unique to the individual nature. No two sufferers are alike in symptoms, depth of trauma and cause. A soldier doing his duty will not be affected in the same manner as a paramedic, yet it can be equally debilitating, an endless list of comparisons could easily be formed here. Fortunately I am not that cruel.

In reality PTSD has been around always, however recognized as merely expected traits as a result of certain experiences. Great war soldiers who came home and were unwilling to talk about the time spent overseas was common and almost an expected understanding that is just how it was, with no further thought into it. A mole to be left untreated. A mole that looks benign, yet turmoil, grief, rage, regret and so many other dark eddies than ever imagined churn beneath the surface.

What is not yet widely known, or understood, is what exactly causes PTSD in an individual. Strong and horrible to imagine examples would be a dramatic 6 o’clock news way to try and make this next point, I’m going to try and find a way around that. What would you consider a bottom of the barrel traumatic experience? Would that same experience  be more traumatic to say perhaps a child? Or for someone who is experiencing it for the second or multiple times?

The sum of the PTSD experience is the result of a combination of vast possibilities and  the trigger for one does not have to be significant to another. The sound of a very loud firecracker going off at an unexpected moment will for some be a quick adrenaline thrill, for others a strong scare that imprints that time, place, setting and all other factors to create a conditioned response to avoid those combination of factors.

How many have even some mild form of PTSD just from watching the news?

Yet for each brave patriot that had the good fortune to come home and try to live a peaceful long life, the effects were very different.

For the medical community, researchers and caregivers this presents a unique problem. Great strides in medicine has brought us to the point where a great many conditions have a medical fix. Medicine is based around informed logic, just as an auto mechanic, thankfully with very different levels to the education standards. Diagnosing a patient is not vastly different than a technical troubleshooter finding and solving an issue with a vehicle. The main difference being the complexity of the machinery.

As recognition and subsequent methods of treatment were being researched and developed, standard approach methods were being developed that were aimed at being beneficial to a profiled demographic who fit a particular diagnosis requirement. Well intentioned and based on prior, repeatable formulas that have proved so successful for a long time, how and why we get to where we are now is understandable.

Finding help in standard medical avenues can be a very difficult path to navigate, for a number of reasons. While the medical community seeks to try and understand PTSD cause and effect, providing that information can be anything from horrendous to simply impossible. For the PTSD patient conveying to a caregiver the cause or nature of the trauma is like putting themselves back in the moments that caused the illness. Further exacerbating an already spiraling world of despair.

The reality for many of those with PTSD is they find little relief in traditional medicine. That is slowly changing however as old once again becomes new and cannabis medicine is more and more becoming part of the treatment discussion. A discussion that is taking place more and more as word of mouth is a very different beast than it was even 25 years ago. Social media has brought about a means for those finding relief to share their struggles and those seeking relief to see what is working for others.

More and more that discussion revolves around cannabis treatments. Many who found benefit years ago would not share for fear of persecution or worse, prosecution. But as we see the demise of ignorance and fear based legislation attitudes are shifting as well, people are less and less fearful to share how they found relief by breaking the law.

Cannabis as medicine is only possible as a discussion because of one thing. Our endocannabinoid system. Spread throughout or bodies very much like our nervous system and crucial in regulating countless systems. Physical as well as psychological. Cannabinoids are neurotransmitters that function differently than others.
“In general, cannabinoids function like a “dimmer switch” for presynaptic neurons, limiting the amount of neurotransmitter (e.g., dopamine) that gets released, which in turn affects how messages are sent, received, and processed by the cell.” ref*1(
The ability of cannabis to create a strong mood is at the heart of why it is so effective in PTSD treatment, as long as it is the correct type. It is well known different cannabis strains have different affects, for PTSD relaxing non-anxiety strains of Indica will be most effective.

The reason it is effective is due to the neurotransmitter abilities. The same processes that produce fear and anxiety responses are the same ones responsible for producing the emotions that makes us feel good. When consumed cannabinoids take over and chemically tell the brain we are feeling something different. Or prevent or reduce the strong adrenaline based fight or flight response affect when experiencing a triggering event.

There is many end results for those medicating with cannabis, protection mechanisms being told to chill out may allow someone the ability to go out in public, despair being replaced with messages that you are going to be OK. The truth is cannabis medicine and recreational use allows millions to feel better, more content, more social, become less isolated and perhaps even at peace. With the world, with family or with the demons no one can see.

For anyone reading this and wishes to know more, for their own use or as a caregiver or family members, there is links at the bottom of this article to any referenced material as well as PTSD in relation to cannabis information and help resources in the U.S. and Canada.

Here in Canada is an interesting experiment crashing in glorious style, prohibition. Recent legalization is finding that Canadian cannabis users number well into the millions. While there are also several hundred thousand registered medical patients I do not believe that is a fair or true estimate of the actual medical numbers, as black market access and the ability to covertly grow has been a very easy road to walk as a consumer prior to legalization.

So any real numbers are vague at best but it is safe to say an overwhelming number of Canadian like cannabis.

In terms of PTSD self medication with cannabis is nothing new. Many have been perfectly willing to risk sometimes incredibly harsh costs to freedom, family and assets, in order to experience the relief they find only a form of cannabis medicine provides.

How badly would you have to be suffering to do the same? To risk everything for some sense of sanity and peace.

It is odd actually, but cannabis appears to benefit the vast majority of PTSD sufferers in a similar way. Odd in that PTSD is so vast in it’s root causes, yet one plant can provide the same relief.

The last couple of decades have shown a boom in not only information sharing via social media but also a very speedy expansion of the types of cannabis products that are readily available. While it is the same plant, it’s genetic differences are well known even if not as well understood, and adding the combination of different strains and effect to the variety of end user products, well it becomes an extremely large variety pretty quickly.

While precise science, and what busy little molecules and chemical interactions are up to during everything that’s going on is still not clear, the reported effects of cannabis medicine are.

Individuals who have found cannabis effective report an overwhelming majority of common beneficial results. Restoration of healthy sleep patterns, including a drastic reduction of nightmares where applicable, clearly improved sense of well being, more relaxed, less on edge, comfortable, reduced anxiety. Often drastic reductions in anxiety.

It would very much seem that, regardless of how an individuals PTSD was manifested, the desired goal in treatment is common in where to go, and cannabis is the most popular way to get there.


PTSD and Cannabis:

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