Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is an often-severe mental health condition.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is an often-severe mental health condition that affects as many as 6% of Australians. But while it may feel extreme at times, it can be treated with the right combination of medication, therapy and lifestyle changes. And, preliminary evidence suggests medicinal cannabis may also provide further relief.
School counselor talking to depressed teenager during group therapy

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a condition that affects individuals who have suffered or witnessed an extreme event that involved serious harm or the threat of serious harm.

Of these, war and combat are the most widely recognised, however sexual assault, natural disasters, assault, suffering an accident, working as a police officer or firefighter, and other traumatic experiences can also cause PTSD.

Of course, it is perfectly natural to feel an anxiety response – fight or flight, for instance – after a serious event. There is nothing wrong with feeling afraid. It is when these feelings do not go away that you may be diagnosed with PTSD.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

PTSD can affect people in different ways, and is often triggered by something that resembles the extreme event (for example a sudden loud noise) which caused the condition in the first place. Symptoms of PTSD include:
  • Intense flashbacks, sometimes reliving the event as though it were real.
  • Trouble sleeping, including nightmares.
  • Extreme anxiety, with the brain in a constant fight or flight mode.
  • Feeling disconnected or distant from other people.
  • Difficulties concentrating and remembering, less focus.
  • Avoiding certain people and/or places, in case they trigger an episode.
Caucasian male veteran squeezes camouflage uniform hat during counseling session. Close up is of the man holding the hat.

How does PTSD impact a person’s life?

Given its often intense nature, PTSD can make a person feel withdrawn and isolated from the people around them, even those they care about.

The fear of an episode, the extreme anxiety, the difficulties with focus, all of these may contribute to an individual feeling like they can’t participate in certain activities, and they may lose enjoyment in things they previously liked. They may struggle to concentrate or hold a conversation and seem tired all the time from the loss of sleep.

Given the wide-reaching nature of each of these symptoms and their consequences, PTSD is a condition that can impact nearly all aspects of a person’s life – which makes seekingtreatment so important.

How is PTSD commonly treated?

As a serious mental health condition, PTSD is generally treated with a variety of personalised methods.

This can include medication, but talking to others and working on changing your lifestyle can also contribute to overcoming PTSD. Common treatments include:

  1. Learning to talk in a safe environment (one-on-one or group counselling sessions) so that you can get your feelings out of your head and hear impartial advice and thoughts from others.
  2. Exposure therapy, which is where you are gradually exposed to the trauma in a safe manner to help you learn to cope with the feelings.
  3. Medication, such as antidepressants, are used to treat the symptoms of PTSD to lower anxiety or improve sleep, helping you tackle the other aspects of therapy required.
  4. Diet and exercise, both of which play key roles in keeping our bodies and our minds healthy.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder - Qualifying Condition for a Medical Marijuana.

Treating PTSD with medicinal cannabis

Cannabis has been used by many cultures to treat anxiety and related symptoms for thousands of years, but recently medicinal cannabis has been gaining traction as a potential treatment in the world of modern medicine.

In a study by the Candian Forces Health Services Group, a synthetic cannabis compound was administered to military service personnel with trauma-related nightmares (that had resisted other treatments) to determine its efficacy. This sample data suggested that medicinal cannabis provided “significant relief” to the patients via a reduction in nightmares. Source

Another paper, this one from Israel, used 5 mg of delta-9 THC (a cannabis compound) as an add-on treatment for patients with chronic PTSD. They noted in their results that the intervention had caused a “statistically significant” improvement in their patients’ symptoms, including their severity as well as improved sleep, reduced frequency of nightmares, and reduced PTSD hyperarousal symptoms. Source

Canadian researchers also surveyed users of medicinal cannabis who were diagnosed with various anxiety conditions to find out if cannabis helped them. 92% of respondents reported that it improved their symptoms, and 49% replaced prescribed medication from their GP with medicinal cannabis. Source

A focus group was held in the Netherlands on a similar topic, but in this case for PTSD specifically. Those who used medicinal cannabis reported they felt a number of therapeutic effects, most notably improved quality of sleep, reduced anger and a reduction in taking other medications. These particular patients also stated that they had felt overmedicated prior to taking medicinal cannabis – a relatively common feeling among mental health patients on antidepressants which they feel aren’t working. Source

Limitations of medicinal cannabis research

At the time of writing, research on medicinal cannabis is in its early stages. In medicine, we like to see a large number of studies conducted over long periods of time (with large numbers of participants) to make definitive statements about the efficacy of certain treatments. As yet, medicinal cannabis has not reached this stage, although there is a significant amount of preliminary research coming out that warrants more large-scale study. Patients should always talk to a health professional for advice on their unique requirements before making any decisions about their treatment options.

Who to talk to next

Wondering where to turn to next? If you’d like to speak with a medical professional who knows the research on medicinal cannabis and can offer you guidance on whether it’s right for your needs, consider booking a digital GP appointment using our telehealth service today.