CBD Oil For PTSD: Can It Help?
Diagnosis and cultural understanding of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is undergoing more than just-a-bit of transformation. In the not-so-distant past, a PTSD diagnosis was designated solely for combat troops returning from the front lines. Even then, a diagnosis came unwillingly in many cases and the disorder was rarely treated adequately, if at all.
Now, PTSD is a household word. It’s applied much more broadly and to a much wider sector of society than previously thought possible. Yes, it’s still very much applicable for post-combat soldiers, but war zones are no longer considered the sole trigger. Trauma, in many different forms, can trigger the eventual onset of PTSD. The disorder doesn’t discriminate against men, women, adults or children. It’s now rearing its ugly head in the lives of more and more families.
Proper treatment of PTSD has historically relied on a combination of psychotherapy and mood altering medicines such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). While anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants can often provide short-term relief for these individuals swimming in the depths of PTSD, they are difficult to maintain dosage for the long-term. They have multiple severe side effects which are challenging to manage. Plus, they are often prohibitively difficult for use in therapy for children.
As we collectively develop a deeper understanding of the many nuances of this disruptive disorder, it’s clear that traditional treatments just aren’t cutting it. Many families are looking for answers and turning to alternative therapies. Medical marijuana and its non-psychoactive cannabinoids, like cannabidiol (CBD), are increasingly seen as a viable and effective alternative option.
Here, we will explore the recent revelations of CBD and PTSD. There is a surprisingly long history of research into the subject, although still somewhat preliminary. However, this body of research does demonstrate that significant positive results are possible.
Before exploring the use of CBD to treat PTSD, let’s first understand the basics about the psychological disorder. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is essentially the re-experiencing of trauma, years or decades after the actual event. It often includes personal avoidance of similar circumstances or stimulations. It is associated with adverse changes in mood and patterns of thought. It’s also related to outbursts of anger, depression, sleep problems, and also a more general feeling of emotional numbness and increased isolation.
Although many of us still associate PTSD with soldiers’ experiences, it can be triggered by any traumatic historical event, fearful experience, or compromise of emotional or physical well being. Modern day examples include witnessing or experiencing a car accident, exposure to sexual assault, experiencing violence, and any many other possible triggers. Even non-traumatic experiences like divorces can potentially cause PTSD.
Case Studies of CBD and PTSD
Research on CBD oil for the treatment of PTSD is already in the preliminary stages of clinical trials. Medical marijuana is also of interest as a potential mediator for PTSD, and sometimes its legal status gets wrapped up in the study of CBD. To be clear, for the purposes of this article, CBD is a non-psychoactive compound from the cannabis plant. It is derived legally from hemp plants.
As new clinical trials get underway, we can turn to information presented through case studies for a more in-depth understanding of the experience. Case studies allow us to see CBD in action and while they look only at one individual person in isolation, they often present valuable information for further analysis. Here are a few stories about people using CBD to treat the symptoms of PTSD.
1. Using CBD to Feel ‘Normal’
Barbara Harris, RT, CMT reported regarding one of her patients turning to CBD for treatment of PTSD. According to her notes, her patient reported experiencing trauma as a child and, decades later as a 61-year-old, decided to seek treatment. At the time of reporting, she was undergoing therapy, practicing meditation, exercising and receiving weekly massages. Despite all of this, she still reported never feeling “normal.” She explained that she felt like she was walking on eggshells all the time.
Once she heard about CBD as a possible alternative treatment option, she reported having that “normal” feeling back again. In fact, she named CBD to be the missing link between her and a continued recovery.
2. CBD for PTSD in Children
Often the SSRIs typically prescribed to treat disorders such as PTSD are incredibly problematic, if not impossible for use in child therapy. However, CBD may prove to be a safe alternative as it has so far shown impressively safe results even when used for some kids.
A 2016 case study presented by Scott Shannon, a doctor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine provided a young girl CBD to treat her PTSD. In particular, the researchers sought to reduce her sleep disturbances, decrease her anxiety, and mitigate emotional outbursts at school. Before starting CBD oil therapy, the ten-year-old child underwent a Sleep Disturbance Scale for Children and the Screen for Anxiety Related Disorders to provide a baseline of measurement.
She took CBD oil sublingually before bed. After five months, the researchers reported that the girl was sleeping much better throughout the night and usually in her own room. She also had decreased anxiety. Her emotional outbursts at school had also seemingly gone away. The researchers did not discover any significantly measurable side effects.
How Does CBD Help PTSD?
Both of these case studies are compelling. They suggest that the future of PTSD therapy may also include a powerful CBD component. But what does the preliminary research show thus far?
Regulating the “Fear Memory”
One incapacitating effect of PTSD is the prevalence of Fear Memory. This is also known as fear conditioning. One stimulus is associated with other apparently different stimuli. The result is often an aversion to several in tandem. For example, some soldiers return home with an overwhelming fear of loud noises. Their fear conditioning through repeated exposure to bombs, artillery and other noises often came with negative consequences. Therefore, even a benign loud sound like fireworks may trigger an unmanageable emotional or physical outburst.
Targeting this particular symptom, researchers at the University of Western Ontario explored how CBD treatment might regulate this learned fear response in mice. Researchers conditioned mice using a typical PTSD-inducing model. After seven days of CBD treatment, the mice demonstrated remarkably reduced fear memory symptoms during testing. Basically, after presenting a predator (cat) to the mice, the mice did not show the usual conditioned fear response (freezing). The study concluded that “CBD may regulate mesolimbic [reward pathway] activity and modulate the formation of associative emotional memories.”
Treatment of Insomnia
As in the case study of the ten-year-old girl, CBD is apparently useful for the treatment of insomnia. Bedtime appears to be one of the more difficult times of day for people with PTSD, as they often experience difficulty sleeping and traumatic nightmares.
Unlike other sleep aids, CBD has no sedative qualities. In fact, some research links it to increased alertness during daylight hours.
But for the treatment of insomnia, a study from 2011 discovered that CBD helped to balance the sleep-wake cycle in lab rats. According to the reported findings, rodents were measured to have increased dopamine levels. It's thought that this regulates a proper sleep/wake cycle.
Finally, CBD is well known for its anti-anxiety characteristics. Through the continued study of CBD and the consequently expanded understanding of the endocannabinoid system, researchers believe it could be an exciting new area for anxiety symptom research.
Cannabidiol continues to demonstrate anti-anxiety effects, both in small human trials on people with social anxiety disorders as well as throughout many animal trials. It has proven time and time again to reduce daily underlying stressors. To take the edge off, as it were. Researchers believe it does so by targeting the activity of certain endocannabinoid receptors, like the CB1 receptor within the brain.
To learn more about the anti-anxiety properties of CBD, read more here.
As PTSD is better understood, it is also more frequently diagnosed. In the beginning, it was simply left untreated. After this approach, it was then dosed with SSRIs. But these days, people are increasingly rejecting these problematic options. Instead, folks are searching out alternative medicine like CBD for the treatment of their PTSD. It seems that people don’t want to feel like zombies and suffer the questionable consequences of traditional pharmaceutical drugs.
Reviewing the hundreds of case studies regarding people using CBD and marijuana to treat their PTSD leads even the most prudent person to wonder if cannabinoids are the way of the future. Even the American Legion with 2.2 million members is pushing for the federal government to open up the further study of marijuana and PTSD. The Legion recognizes the benefits its members are already witnessing through the use of this powerful plant.
If these people have found relief when all else has failed, more research is obviously needed to discover why. Thankfully, many medical research centers around the world are currently looking deeply at CBD for the treatment of PTSD, even if The United States of America is slow to the draw. The science is apparently continuing to prove the way CBD reduces anxiety, inhibits traumatic nightmares, and increases the quality of life.