Medicinal Cannabis Use Can Help Mitigate Symptoms Of PTSD, Study Says

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Article published in the Globe and Mail by Jessica Leeder.

People who have post-traumatic stress disorder but do not medicate with cannabis are far more likely to suffer from severe depression and have suicidal thoughts than those who use marijuana, new national research says.

Based on cross-country data from Statistics Canada, the observational study by researchers at the British Columbia Centre for Substance Use shows that Canadians with PTSD who use medicinal cannabis are 60 percent to 65 percent less likely to have major depressive episodes or thoughts of suicide compared with those who do not treat their symptoms with medical marijuana. The study is the first national-scale indication of the effectiveness of cannabis in mitigating the hallmark symptoms of PTSD. It was presented on Thursday at the annual conference of the Canadian Public Health Association in Montreal.

The results underscore the need for increased investments in the science of medical cannabis, including randomized controlled studies designed to explore safety, effectiveness and optimal uses, said M-J Milloy, an epidemiologist and the lead author of the study.

“The findings today are not by any means the end of the story,” said Dr. Milloy, who called the prevalence of PTSD in Canada a “pretty substantial public health problem.”

“We haven’t been able to develop any good treatments for people with PTSD,” he said. “There’s talk-therapy and the use of anti-depressants. But by and large, people with PTSD are really suffering alone.”

About 10 per cent of the population has PTSD, which stems from an experience of or exposure to trauma. Symptoms include overwhelming anxiety, fits of extreme anger and aggression, sleeplessness, depression and suicidal thoughts. While it is common among military veterans and first responders, people who come to Canada from countries with civil unrest, for example, can also be diagnosed with it.

No drug is designed specifically to treat PTSD and doctors usually prescribe a cocktail of pills.

Paul Smith, a family physician based in Fredericton, N.B., who treats many veterans with PTSD, recently told The Globe and Mail that pharmaceutical regimens are not effective for more than half of the patients he sees. For others, the side-effects are too much to bear. Many of his patients have turned to medical cannabis.

“It’s not that marijuana is the cure … it’s simply a good option for the guys who have failed on pharmaceuticals,” Dr. Smith said. “It’s a significant stabilizing therapy to allow other therapies to then take place and allow a much better quality of life for the patient.”

Zach Walsh, a clinical psychologist at the University of British Columbia, is leading the country’s first randomized, controlled trial to evaluate the impact of medicinal cannabis on PTSD, in partnership with the marijuana producer Tilray. He said the new research supports the belief that cannabis can help bridge people with PTSD “to that place where they’re ready to take the next step” in their recovery.

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Talk therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy are common treatments. “In order to get to those types of therapy, you have to get past that critical point of suicidality and a really chaotic, agonizing life … to a stability that allows you to engage with those therapies,” he said.

Fabian Henry, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and founder of Veterans For Healing, a national advocacy group that helps vets learn to use cannabis for PTSD, said that while marijuana is not a cure, it is an important step.

“At the end of the day, we want you to get off cannabis. I shouldn’t need it forever,” Mr. Henry said, adding: “I should only need it until I get the tools to manage my illness.”

One comment

  1. What is seldom factored into the conversation around using medicinal cannabis for treatment of mental illness is the subject of Carbon Monoxide exposure from smoking, rather than vaping and the many other modes of dosing or treatment.

    The reason Carbon Monoxide is a critical subject, and likely why many Doctors in support of medicinal, (or even moderate recreational) use of Marijuana do NOT support smoking of it, is likely to be because of the toxic exposure to many compounds, of which Carbon Monoxide is likely the worst, especially if Mental Health co-morbidities are pre-existing.

    There has been research, especially in Australia, regarding links between cannabis use and Schizophrenia, either as a trigger for those already susceptible, or a substance that could make pre-existing occurrence of the disease even worse.

    What hasn’t been considered, at least publicly is the possibility that risk is only present for those smoking cannabis, and that other forms of use do not represent a risk of that specific issue.

    As with most forms of treatment, the dose, and the method can make all the difference.

    And notwithstanding that some Cannabis is toxic, pesticide laden garbage from dubious sources.

    If we, as a community are all motivated to relieve the suffering of many, we owe it to all of them to undertake research with dignity and integrity. Any treatment that provides relief from suffering, without creating other risks and harms ought to be the desire of every person.

    Tomorrow it could be you, wise reader, as none of us are particularly immune from the challenges of trauma.

    My compassionate wish is that you all prevail un-assualted, or that if you are already wounded, something of full healing is your outcome.

I would love to hear from you so please leave a comment. All feedback is much appreciated. Thank you. Erin