Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a chronic psychiatric condition that takes place after exposure to a traumatic event. The trauma must involve the threat of death, sexual violence or severe injury. A person can also develop PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event themselves or seeing something extremely disturbing happen to another person. Some examples of traumatic events include being sexually assaulted, witnessing another person's murder or being involved in a terrifying car crash.
PTSD has an enormous emotional, social and economic impact on sufferers. The main symptoms include re-experiencing the traumatic event through repeated flashbacks, nightmares or distressing memories of the event.
Another core symptom of PTSD is emotional numbness and avoidance of places, people and things that remind the person of the event. They might also experience hyperarousal, which is extreme sensitivity even when there is no danger present. Hyperarousal is similar to being on high alert all the time. The person may startle easily and constantly feel on edge or restless.
The person may also have sleep disturbances, trouble concentrating, irritability and mood disturbances. These symptoms cause intense and prolonged emotional distress. They often interfere with work, school and relationships.
Veterans and PTSD
The risk of developing PTSD is just under 10 percent in the general population. Not surprisingly, veterans are at a higher risk of developing PTSD. Estimates of PTSD among veterans vary across wars. One major study found that 13.5 percent of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. Other studies show the rates to be as high as 30 percent.
Veterans have higher rates of other co-occurring medical and psychiatric conditions, including anxiety, depression, musculoskeletal problems, and chronic pain. For veterans returning from Afganistan and Iraq, pain is one of the most commonly reported symptoms. PTSD is highly correlated with chronic pain. Up to 35 percent of veterans with chronic pain also have PTSD.
Studies suggest that veterans with co-occurring issues are more challenging to treat than those with a single disorder because of worse treatment adherence, poor social functioning, and other issues.
Current Treatments for PTSD
The current FDA-approved treatments for PTSD include anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications. Approximately 89 percent of veterans seen by the Department of Veterans Affairs physicians for PTSD are treated with SSRI anti-depressants. These medications have considerable side effects and are not very effective overall. One study found that anti-depressants are effective for less than 20 percent of veterans with PTSD. Aside from the lack of effectiveness for PTSD, anti-depressants can cause a variety of adverse and troubling side effects including
- Weight gain
- Sleep disturbances
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Sexual dysfunction
Anti-anxiety medications that are used to treat PTSD also have some severe side effects, and they can be habit-forming, as well.
Fortunately, there is a better-tolerated and more efficient alternative to the standard treatments for PTSD. One of those treatments is Cannabidiol or CBD.
What Is Cannabidiol?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a cannabinoid that comes from two different cannabis plants — the marijuana sativa plant and the hemp plant. Unlike the other main ingredient in the marijuana sativa plant, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD is non-intoxicating and does not produce a high. CBD's pharmacological effects are opposite to those of THC.
The compound is so beneficial in the treatment of rare seizure disorders that it is approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for this purpose. The FDA recently approved the CBD drug Epidiolex to treat Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. The drug is approved for patients two years of age and older. The DEA placed it in the "least restrictive" category of controlled substances — the same category as the cough medicine Robitussin AC.
FDA Commissioner said in a statement that the approval of Epidiolex serves as a reminder that adequately evaluating the active ingredients contained in the marijuana plant can lead to critical medical treatments.
Cannabidiol for PTSD
So, how does it work? CBD influences the body's endocannabinoid (eCB) system. The eCB system plays a vital role in regulating emotional responses, learning, and behavior.
PTSD and other trauma-related disorders involve dysregulation of the learning processes related to aversive memories. This dysregulation is damaging to mental health and causes many of the symptoms of PTSD. CBD is especially active in regulating memories related to traumatic experiences. Pre-clinical rodent studies have found that CBD can help block and minimize aversive memories.
CBD acts on other pathways in the brain aside from the eCB system. The compound is also a powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant. It increases gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a neurotransmitter that produces a calming effect when increased. CBD also targets and increases serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood. It is associated with feelings of well-being. These actions also likely play a part in relieving users' anxiety and improve mood.
CBD not only has enormous therapeutic potential, but it could be a much safer alternative to what is currently available. CBD is well tolerated in humans and has far fewer side effects.
CBD Versus THC
The other main ingredient in the marijuana sativa plant is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This compound is responsible for the high that users experience when using marijuana. In states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal, patients tend to gravitate towards marijuana products with high THC levels. However, THC is likely to worsen PTSD symptoms over time, according to researchers. Most of the evidence points towards CBD being the treatment of choice when it comes to relieving symptoms of PTSD.
Studies have found that it helps with several significant symptoms of PTSD, including avoidance, hyperarousal, re-experiencing the traumatic event and sleep problems. Plus, CBD has far fewer side effects compared to other treatments.