Because of its potent neurological interactions via the brain’s CB1 cannabinoid receptors, CBD is seeing growing interest in its applications in helping with PTSD. It is effective in mitigating symptoms of many mental disorders, including epilepsy and anxiety, due to its powerful calming properties. CBD, or cannabidiol, is a non-intoxicating compound derived from the cannabis plant that has gained substantial attention for its potential therapeutic benefits. More people are now enquiring as to whether its anxiolytic abilities, which help individuals relax while normalising neurotransmitter levels, might assist with stress disorders like PTSD. PTSD is a debilitating disorder that causes intrusive thoughts, nightmares, flashbacks, and intense anxiety. Traditional treatment options for PTSD have included therapy and medications like SSRIs. However, CBD and other cannabis medications may be well positioned to provide a natural alternative to more potent, more side effect-prone pharmaceutical treatments. Let’s explore whether CBD can help with PTSD, how to use it and what risks to know before trying it.
- 1 What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
- 2 What is CBD?
- 3 Can CBD Help with PTSD?
- 4 CBD vs Cannabis for PTSD
- 5 Evidence for CBD’s Benefits in Mitigating PTSD
- 6 How to Use CBD for PTSD
- 7 Risks and Side Effects
- 8 FAQs
- 9 Conclusion
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
Before delving into the benefits of CBD in mitigating the symptoms of PTSD, it’s essential to understand the nature of the disorder. PTSD occurs as a result of experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. It’s a form of acute anxiety that stress or reminders of a traumatic event can trigger. PTSD can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 4-5% of adults in Australia have been diagnosed with PTSD.
Symptoms of PTSD
While the disorder presents differently for each person, there are common symptoms of PTSD. These include hypervigilance and excessive alertness, having flashbacks or reliving their trauma, suffering from emotional dysregulation or depression, in addition to experiencing night terrors. Those who have PTSD are also susceptible to co-morbid mental disorders such as anxiety and panic disorders. Unfortunately, the symptoms of these co-morbid conditions can be exacerbated by the individual’s PTSD symptoms, causing feedback loops that worsen mental distress substantially. It can cause cycles of panic and fear, which are triggered by memories or flashbacks.
Detrimental Impacts of PTSD
The symptoms of PTSD can be both distressing and debilitating. Intrusive thoughts or memories of the traumatic event can haunt those with the condition, making it difficult for them to focus on daily tasks or enjoy life’s simple pleasures. It can make it challenging for survivors or witnesses of traumatic events to move forward and regain a sense of normalcy. Relationships can suffer as a result of the emotional and psychological damage caused by PTSD. The constant state of hypervigilance and emotional distress can strain an individual’s ability to socialise or maintain normal relationships with loved ones. As a result of these symptoms, individuals with PTSD may begin to avoid situations, places, or people that remind them of the trauma. This avoidance behaviour can lead to social isolation and disruption of everyday life. Frequent flashbacks and bouts of panic can also cause overactive nervousness, leading to chronic stress. This is why PTSD is often also accompanied by poor sleep patterns and insomnia.
What is CBD?
CBD is a cannabinoid. These are naturally produced chemicals found in the cannabis plant. Unlike its counterpart cannabinoid, THC, CBD does not have psychoactive effects. It can’t get you ‘high’ and is very safe. This is important for those suffering from PTSD. Because CBD isn’t psychoactive, it won’t exacerbate or worsen symptoms of anxiety, stress or PTSD itself, which can occur with THC.
In contrast, CBD helps the mind stay calm, plus infrequent side effects. CBD interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS regulates various psychological functions, including mood, stress, sleep and memory. CBD and other cannabinoids agonise cannabinoid receptors of the ECS, binding to them to unlock their effects. In response to this interaction, the receptors release endocannabinoids like 2-AG and anandamide, which have powerful anxiolytic and anti-inflammatory properties.
CBD’s Neurological Interactions
CBD’s unique interactions with CB1 cannabinoid receptors in the brain and CNS are the most relevant for its potential to aid with PTSD symptoms. By interacting with these receptors, CBD produces calming endocannabinoids such as anandamide, which modulate the stress response, helping to downregulate its sensitivity. CBD can also alter the production of neurotransmitters, including serotonin, GABA and glycine. In particular, its GABA receptor agonism helps lower excitatory activity in neurons. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that suppresses other neurotransmitters and brain functions. Increasing its levels in the brain helps to calm anxiety, lower inhibition, and prevent intrusive memories. All of these effects are helpful when it comes to PTSD.
Can CBD Help with PTSD?
CBD’s therapeutic properties for the mind make it well-positioned as a natural support to help mitigate PTSD symptoms and comorbidities. In particular, it can help those with PTSD to avoid intrusive thoughts or flashbacks, re-consolidate memories to improve symptoms, normalise mood to counteract depression, plus aid with sleep while mitigating night terrors.
It’s widespread for those with PTSD to suffer from sleep disorders. This results from the condition worsening anxiety at night and causing hypervigilance, which disrupts standard sleep patterns. Night terrors or flashbacks during sleep can cause intermittent waking and insomnia. CBD helps with these issues in several ways. Its calming effects at night can help those with PTSD to calm down before bed and get to sleep more easily. Promoting better sleep quality with more REM is another area the cannabinoid might assist.
Endocannabinoid activity stimulated by CBD at night supports a more regular, consistent circadian rhythm. For those with PTSD, it can be helpful in counteracting insomnia symptoms, sleeping on time more regularly and getting deeper sleep. In turn, neurotransmitter levels and mood become more stable due to sleep’s therapeutic benefits for the mind. These effects were demonstrated in a 2016 study, which explored how CBD’s anxiolytic effects can help prevent insomnia in those with PTSD. A young girl with PTSD was given CBD over a series of months and displayed substantial improvements in insomnia symptoms. The study concluded CBD’s properties helped it block insomnia that resulted from PTSD’s secondary anxiety and stress symptoms.
Anxiety is also a common comorbidity experienced by individuals with PTSD. CBD’s anxiety-reducing properties are very useful in combating this problem. It does this by interacting with receptors in the brain responsible for regulating fear and anxiety within the hypothalamus. Through this pathway, CBD aids in lowering stress response activity and reduces sensitivity to stressors that can trigger PTSD symptoms. This can help prevent the hypervigilance that many with PTSD fall into due to their stress response becoming hyper-sensitive.
Significantly, it also modulates the GABA receptors. Boosting GABA helps suppress stress. By modulating these receptors, CBD may help individuals with PTSD feel calmer and more at ease. It supports breaking the cycle of reliving stress-inducing memories that cause acute anxiety. This carries benefits for both helping with rebuilding normal relationships and socialisation, getting better sleep, plus aiding with mental state amongst people living with PTSD.
In people with PTSD, memories can become a source of trauma, anxiety and fear. Trauma experienced by those with PTSD can become ‘burned’ into memory. The disorder turns memories into painful flashbacks that trigger panic attacks. Flashbacks from PTSD can be involuntary and occur at any time. CBD’s ability to influence memory consolidation may help with these symptoms. Research suggests it may help to ‘rewire’ neural pathways responsible for storing and retrieving memories, assisting individuals to manage them better. Correspondingly, the cannabinoid can lower incidences of intrusive flashbacks and nightmares. The mechanism for these effects isn’t fully understood. It could be the result of CBD’s serotonin receptor agonism. Serotonin controls memory formation and learning, meaning altering its activity in brain receptors benefits memory consolidation.
In particular, CBD could help individuals to ‘discard’ memories that cause fear. Studies into CBD for PTSD have indicated it helps to block out memories that trigger flashbacks of trauma, helping to condition the mind to prevent adverse responses. This is known as extinction learning, where we ‘learn’ to gradually lower our reaction or response to a particular stimulus and prevent it from affecting our mental state. Correspondingly, the stressors that trigger panic attacks and PTSD symptoms become much less impacting and easily ignored. A 2020 study demonstrated this effect with CBD, indicating it lowered stress reactions from the brain’s amygdala and downregulated fear symptoms in the presence of stressors.
Mood and Emotion Improvement
CBD has mood-stabilising properties that help manage emotions, stay calm, and even feel happier. Those with PTSD are more likely to suffer from depression, irritability and mood disorders. The disorder can lead to dysregulation in emotional states, stimulating bouts of anger or sadness, plus large mood swings. Bringing mood back into balance is an essential way that CBD can assist in PTSD’s comorbidities. One way it achieves this is through endocannabinoids like anandamide. This endocannabinoid is known for its calming feelings of ‘bliss’ it causes in users. These feelings help to prevent depressive mood states while aiding with day-to-day emotional regulation.
CBD also helps in preventing irritability and mood swings through its neurotransmitter-modulating properties. It helps reinforce the normal functioning and production of glycine, GABA, and serotonin, which all contribute to controlling emotion and mood. Keeping these critical neurochemicals in harmony helps avoid the bouts of rage or low moods, which can be frequent with PTSD. In some, CBD even exhibits antidepressant qualities that make it well-suited to counteracting depression symptoms. It functions along some of the same pathways as SSRIs, providing serotonergic benefits without the issues these compounds occur in long-term reliance. Overall, it holistically offers a more grounded, relaxed mental state in users that forms the basis of healthy emotions and resistance to PTSD symptoms.
CBD vs Cannabis for PTSD
Both CBD and THC have therapeutic properties. In some cases, the two cannabinoids are used together and have synergistic effects in treating certain conditions. Frequently, this is the case for cannabis medications which are sourced from medical cannabis. Some users may find that THC helps with anxiety, sleep and mood despite it being psychoactive.
CBD (Cannabidiol) is better suited to calming the overactive stress response associated with PTSD. In addition, it can help with:
- Anxiety and Depression: CBD has been studied for its anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) and antidepressant effects. It interacts with serotonin receptors, which play a role in mood regulation. Some studies suggest that CBD may help reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression, which often coexist with PTSD. THC tends to worsen these conditions and can directly cause anxiety or depression in many people, so it is only suited for very short-term use in a narrow range of individuals with PTSD.
- Sleep Disturbances: CBD might help improve sleep by addressing underlying factors contributing to insomnia. It has shown a potential to regulate sleep patterns by interacting with receptors related to the sleep-wake cycle. While THC also has some benefits for sleep in treating insomnia, it can reduce REM cycle sleep and overall sleep quality, so it can’t be used for long periods.
- Hyperarousal and Panic Responses: CBD’s calming effects might help mitigate hyperarousal and panic responses commonly seen in PTSD. It could reduce some users’ sensitive “fight or flight” responses. In contrast, THC doesn’t assist here. It is not anxiolytic and can worsen symptoms of panic or anxiousness.
Cannabis medications containing THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) are not suitable for most people with PTSD because of its psychoactivity. In many, it will substantially worsen symptoms of anxiety or panic that PTSD is associated with. It can be used, however, as a more potent treatment for issues related to PTSD, like insomnia in some instances. This needs to be assessed by your doctor or psychiatrist and shouldn’t be self-diagnosed. THC can assist some individuals who have PTSD with:
- Relaxation: Low doses of THC might induce a sense of relaxation and calm because of the cannabinoid’s euphoric effects. However, higher doses of THC can risk increasing anxiety and paranoia, which might not be suitable for individuals with PTSD, especially considering their heightened state of fear.
- Sleep: THC has been reported to help some individuals with sleep disorders, but it can also disrupt the sleep cycle and lead to grogginess the next day. This effect may vary from person to person. Most people report it helps them sleep more quickly, but their sleep isn’t as restful or restorative. In those with PTSD, this could have some usefulness where insomnia is acute and causing more systemic mental problems.
- Emotional Regulation: THC might affect emotional processing and memory consolidation, which could be relevant for managing traumatic memories associated with PTSD. However, this effect is complex and might not always be beneficial, as it could intensify negative emotions. Individual experiences with this effect are highly variable, and it appears unreliable.
There are also significant limitations in how THC can be used for PTSD. CBD is safe to use daily at high doses because it’s not psychoactive. Most people don’t report any side effects from doing this, and it can assist in accelerating its benefits. THC, on the other hand, carries a much higher risk of side effects and mental harm if used daily. It also can’t be used at high doses or may trigger psychosis. You’ll need to weigh your options when it comes to CBD vs. THC for PTSD, but it’s wise to be very cautious with THC and consult with your doctor first.
Evidence for CBD’s Benefits in Mitigating PTSD
Several clinical studies have investigated the effects of CBD in both human and animal models of PTSD. These studies have shown that CBD administration may reduce fear and anxiety-related behaviours in subjects, suggesting it has potential as a treatment option. However, further research involving human participants is necessary to validate these findings. Studies are often performed in combination with traditional therapy approaches like CBT, which amplify the reduction in PTSD symptoms.
For example, a 2019 analysis highlighted the positive effects of CBD on PTSD symptoms. In one study, 12 to 37mg of oral CBD daily was provided to patients with PTSD who reported consistently lower anxiety and better sleep. A separate 2018 study showed CBD offered therapeutic benefits in blocking intrusive thoughts and unwanted memories associated with trauma. This study also noted the cannabinoid’s ability to reduce physiological stress symptoms such as heart rate increases, sweating or difficulty breathing.
A 2013 review of 48 patients proved that CBD was able to help in promoting extinction learning or the removal of traumatic memories that worsened PTSD symptoms. These patients were given 32mg of CBD daily and studied to understand how their fear influenced memory formation. Researchers showed that cannabinoids helped in reconditioning memory, reducing fear responses to trauma stimuli and aiding with PTSD symptoms.
Testimonies from individuals with PTSD who have used CBD as a treatment can provide valuable insights. Many individuals with PTSD, like veterans, have incorporated CBD into their treatment regimens and achieved positive outcomes. These individuals have reported a reduction in anxiety, improved sleep quality, and better ability to manage troublesome memories. Most state that it has provided them with a sense of calm, improved their sleep patterns, and reduced the frequency and intensity of intrusive flashbacks.
How to Use CBD for PTSD
When it comes to CBD dosages for PTSD, you should start at low doses. Only use several drops of CBD oil per day initially. Around 10-20 mg of CBD per day is a suitable initial dose. This can be divided into multiple smaller doses throughout the day. Follow this protocol for several weeks before increasing the doses to a level that suits your individual needs. Finding the lowest amount of CBD you can use while obtaining a benefit is the best approach to minimise side effect risks.
Dosing for PTSD is significantly individualised, as everyone has differing symptoms of this disorder. Multiple health factors affect how doses benefit you, including body weight, metabolism, sensitivity to cannabinoids, and the severity of your symptoms. It’s essential to try different dosage ranges to find what works for you. There isn’t a prescriptive approach that works for everyone’s PTSD symptoms. Some people won’t see any benefit or may find traditional treatments more efficacious. You’ll need to find this out for yourself by trying it.
Timing of Doses
While it’s possible to take CBD at any time for PTSD, many find the best results using it by timing their doses at particular times. For example, those with insomnia or who experience nightmares from PTSD may find using CBD before bedtime helps the most with these issues. In others, daytime flashbacks can be problematic or be triggered by stressors occurring during the day. Dosing in the morning or before these periods might better assist in preventing the occurrence of flashbacks and related issues. In addition, it helps with mood stability, focus and relaxation throughout the day.
Any CBD product, including oils, tinctures, gummies, capsules, or vapes, can be effective in dosing. Most find CBD oil preferable because it can be quickly taken, accurately measured, and titrated up in dose over time in a measurable way. In others, more rapidly absorbed ingestion methods are needed for acute symptoms, best done through sprays or inhaled products quickly infused into the bloodstream. Each method has benefits and drawbacks, but your product choice should mostly come down to your tastes and preferences. Providing you’re using a high-quality product, there is little difference in achieving results through any particular ingestion method.
Whichever product you choose, ensure you remain consistent and follow the product’s recommended dose guidelines. To get the best results, you need to be methodical. Monitor your experiences and effects over time, including any side effects. You should see improvements in mood, anxiety levels, sleep quality, and overall well-being with sustained use of CBD. If not, revisit your approach in dosage or product. In addition, you should speak with your physician, who can provide an optimised dosage plan for your needs, considering any related health conditions or risk factors.
Is CBD an Alternative to PTSD Medications?
Like other medications, CBD often isn’t a complete treatment for PTSD symptoms and is best used with other therapies or treatment options. It can be a natural alternative to some pharmaceutical medications in some people, but in others, it won’t work effectively. Pharmacological medications for PTSD, such as SSRIs or SNRIs, are more potent than CBD plus help in directly counteracting comorbidities like depression or anxiety. But they also have more severe side effects such as mood problems, insomnia, irritability, suicidal thoughts or worsening of symptoms in many. It isn’t easy to know how someone will respond to any medication until they have experimented with it. CBD shouldn’t be viewed as a reliable alternative to psychiatrist-prescribed medicines but may be helpful for some, mainly as it is milder.
Combining CBD with Therapy
Using multiple treatment methods simultaneously is often the best method to maximise their combined effects in those with mental disorders like PTSD. Therapy methods such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Exposure Therapy are often employed by clinical psychologists seeking to assist patients suffering from PTSD. These techniques aid the subject in reprocessing and managing their trauma. For example, exposure therapy aids some in lowering their reaction to PTSD stimuli, preventing its symptoms from occurring through Pavlovian conditioning. Combined with CBD’s mentally calming and mood-improving effects, the benefits of therapies like these can often be amplified.
Risks and Side Effects
CBD has some side effects, such as dry mouth, lethargy or drowsiness, dizziness and stomach irritation. These can occur but are relatively rare and generally will pass in hours. More significant side effect risks exist when using cannabis medicines that contain THC for PTSD because it acts more powerfully on CB1 brain receptors. THC has risks in stimulating paranoia, anxiety, depression, mood changes, lethargy and even psychosis in some individuals. It’s not advisable to use it for anyone who has an underlying mental illness or a genetic history of neurological disorders, as it can trigger these disorders.
Minimising side effect risk is straightforward with CBD. You must use a high-quality product and follow the correct dosage approach. Most people only see side effects when they use too much CBD or opt for a cheap product that contains additives they’re allergic to. Use it responsibly, and you’ll see better effects while avoiding adverse symptoms. Additionally, it would be best if you didn’t mix it with existing medications due to its ability to cause adverse reactions with some pharmaceutical drugs like blood thinners. Ensure you check with your doctor before trying it.
Research on the use of CBD for PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is still in its early stages but has displayed therapeutic benefits in many studies. CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system, which plays a role in regulating stress responses, anxiety, mood and memory. Studies have indicated that CBD’s anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) and serotonergic properties have made it applicable as a treatment method for PTSD. This includes its ability to alter memory consolidation, helping users eliminate traumatic memories and reduce their reaction to PTSD stressors or flashbacks. It additionally supports mood and mental calmness that helps sufferers with day-to-day life quality.
The term “strain” is commonly associated with cannabis plants that contain varying ratios of CBD and THC. However, CBD-dominant strains with minimal or no THC content are typically recommended for individuals with PTSD. This is because THC can worsen symptoms of PTSD or exacerbate anxiety in many cases. CBD produced from industrial hemp containing no THC is ideal for avoiding these issues while retaining the therapeutic mental benefits the cannabinoid offers.
Managing PTSD-related anxiety can require a multifaceted approach. Some strategies include:
Therapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy can be effective in addressing PTSD-related anxiety and helping patients build resilience against stressors that trigger symptoms.
Medications: Antidepressants like SSRIs, anti-anxiety medications, or other prescribed medications may be recommended by doctors to help with PTSD if appropriate. Natural products like CBD can also assist many individuals, particularly those who are sensitive to pharmaceutical treatments and desire less side effect-prone alternatives.
Lifestyle Changes: Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and healthy sleep patterns can positively impact overall mental well-being, lowering the frequency and impact of PTSD symptoms.
Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation can help manage anxiety symptoms. Using calming activities such as yoga, as well as seeking therapy if required, can equally benefit those who have anxiety from PTSD.
CBD holds immense promise as an alternative treatment option for individuals with PTSD. While research is still early, preliminary evidence suggests it may help reduce the disorder’s associated symptoms. In particular, its ability to reduce anxiety, promote more restful sleep, and alleviate intrusive memories and flashbacks while aiding with mood regulation makes it useful for individuals with PTSD. In addition, it is robust in assisting with the various comorbidities and mental issues that accompany the disorder, like depression or insomnia. It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional before incorporating CBD into a treatment plan, as individual responses to CBD may vary.