What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event(s), which results in psychological trauma. Some people develop PTSD after they experience a dangerous event, have a scary experience or suffer a shock. An event can be non-traumatic for one person and yet very traumatic for others. When a person has PTSD, they feel apprehensive, under threat or at risk, even when there is no obvious danger. Some people may develop PTSD right after a trauma, while in others it can take months to even years later for it to develop. The symptoms of the condition are usually grouped into several categories. To be diagnosed with PTSD, you need to experience at least one of each type of symptom and need to have those symptoms for at least a month.
Symptoms of PTSD
The four categories of PTSD symptoms include:
- Re-experiencing/intrusive memories such as:
– Experiencing flashbacks to the triggering event
– Nightmares or recurring dreams about the trauma
– Uncontrollable thoughts about the trauma
- Avoidance behaviors:
– Steering clear of locations, people or thoughts that are connected to the trauma or that can trigger memories or feelings
- Mood or thought changes:
– PTSD can change the way you think or feel about the world
– Struggling to remember the event
– Feeling negative about yourself or the world around you
– Losing interest in activities or things you used to enjoy
- Physical or emotional reactions (also known as arousal symptoms) can lead to changes in your physical or emotional reactions.
– Trouble focusing/poor concentration
– Difficulty sleeping
– Startling easily
– Taking on self-destructive behaviors, such as reckless driving or drinking too much alcohol
– Outbursts or are uncharacteristically aggressive
The symptoms of PTSD are ongoing and can be long-lasting. It is fairly common for people to experience one or more symptoms after a trauma. But if those symptoms fade or resolve after a few weeks, a person is likely to have had acute stress disorder. Symptoms that last for more than a month usually signal PTSD.
RISK FACTORS FOR DEVELOPING PTSD
There are certian risk factors that can increase the likelihood of a person to develop PTSD. They include but are not limited to:- a family history of depression or anxiety
– Increased/sustained life stress or trauma
– Brain chemistry
– A person’s natural temperament
– An increased number of traumatic events a person experiences
– Trauma such as experiencing abuse during childhood, or witnessing combat
– Being a victim of sexual assault or other violence
– Experiencing a natural or human-made disaster
Current Treatments for PTSD
Standard treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder are psychotherapy (which can include cognitive behavior therapy, exposure therapy, or cognitive restructuring), and prescription medication. There are four main types of medications used to treat PTSD — see below.
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): commonly prescribed antidepressants which are designed to relieve moderate depression symptoms. They work by increasing serotonin (a brain chemical that helps balance mood) levels in the brain. Side effects can include: dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, headaches and sexual problems.
- Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs): these antidepressant drugs can treat major depressive disorder, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, chronic neuropathic pain, fibromyalgia syndrome, and menopausal symptoms. They work by increasing serotonin and norepinephine (brain chemicals that helps balance mood) levels in the brain. Side effects can include excessive sweating, appetite loss, insomnia, constipation and others.
- Prazosin. Prazosin is a drug that is designed to help improve sleep and reduce nightmares in patients suffering from PTSD. While there are some minor side effects associated with the medication, such as lightheadedness or dizziness, there are several major ones as well. They can include chest pain, difficulty breathing, loss of bladder control and more.
- Anti-anxiety medicines. Anti-anxiety drugs help to improve relaxation and can help people with PTSD feel more at ease. A major drawback of anti-anxiety medications is they have the potential to become habit-forming or addictive. The longer a person takes medicine, the more of the drug they need to get the same results. They can also make the person feel tired or sleepy and it may interfere with activities of daily living.
Many people benefit from combining treatments such as therapy and medications, while others might see the greatest benefit from therapy or medicine(s) alone. It’s also occasionally the case that standard treatments aren’t sufficient enough to help a patient even after continued attempts to modify/combine standard therapies.
Medical Marijuana for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Although PTSD can be alleviated or eliminated with psychotherapy and/or medications, it is not always successful. For example, prolonged exposure, one form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, often has a 20 percent drop-out rate at Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals.
Medications, which can be used to treat the anxiety, sleep disturbances and depression that accompany PTSD, are not always successful at relieving the symptoms of PTSD. Additionally, many people experience side effects with most of the medicines commonly prescribed.
Medical Cannabis is now available as an alternative or adjunct therapy to current standard treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder, which have been found to be less effective in some people. Studies have shown that medical marijuana can help treat PTSD symptoms, even in treatment-resistant cases. More and more research is being conducted as the anecdotal positive outcomes keep coming in. The FDA most recently approved a study on the effects of medical marijuana on veterans with PTSD in 2017. Depending on the results of the study, a cannabis-based treatment specifically for post-traumatic stress disorder might be available on the market as soon as 2023. The product would be based on the strains of cannabis the researchers include in their study and wouldn’t necessarily impact the type of cannabis sold at dispensaries or change the federal government’s classification of marijuana.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Endocannabinoid receptors are located in various places throughout the body and brain, so both mental and physical symptoms can be altered, alleviated, or lessened with medical marijuana therapy. One study showed that when patients were using cannabis, the majority had more than 75 percent reduction in symptoms compared to when they were not using cannabis. When cannabinoid receptors are activated, they work to help suppress or impair memory and also work to help lower anxiety. In other words, those receptors are there to help you forget the bad and scary things in your life. When they aren’t functioning correctly, your bad, fearful memories linger, and you end up with higher levels of anxiety. Some of the compounds in cannabis can activate the same receptors such as anandamide, acting as a sort of replacement for the neurotransmitter.
So far, some studies have examined how effective cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are at activating the cannabinoid receptors in the brain. One study found that CBD given to rats at the same time as a painful sensation caused the rats to forget the source of the pain. Strains of marijuana that contain both THC and CBD seem particularly helpful in quelling memories and reducing anxiety, while THC on its own, can contribute to increased feelings of anxiety in people, whether they have PTSD or not. There have also been recent findings of people experiencing Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS), due to increased potency from crossbreeding and genetic modification techniques of the plant. CHS is a cannabis-related adverse effect that can affect those with long-term regular use of cannabis and presents with cycles of severe nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. CHS affected patients report prolonged repeated bathing or showering in very HOT water relieves the symptoms. It is believed elevated or chronic levels of cannabinoids activate a receptor in the brain that causes autonomic instability and results in physical manifestations. Recent studies have also found decreased intestinal motility after smoking cannabis, which can make gastrointestinal symptoms worse. The current resolution to this newly diagnosed condition is cessation of cannabis use. The symptoms can dissipate within 12 hours of discontinuation, but can take as long as 3 weeks, and symptoms will return as soon as the person renews cannabis consumption.
Please remember that since cannabis is not currently regulated, you must be very careful to obtain it from legal dispensaries in New Mexico, how much you take (start at very low doses), and what type is right for you. Remember that cannabis is still illegal under federal law. Visit the additional resources available at the bottom of our Canna Card page for more info.