Cannabis Use and PTSD

January 18, 2023
Weed and PTSD
Weed and PTSD

If you or a loved one are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and you have done some research, it would be normal to ask, “What about weed for PTSD?” If you google something about PTSD treatments or look at boards online, you will see how cannabis for PTSD has helped relieve somebody’s psychological and/or emotional suffering. 

In this post, we will describe PTSD: what it is, its causes, and its symptoms. Then we will introduce the science of medical marijuana for PTSD and its symptoms.

This post is intended as information and for general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is recommended that you talk to a healthcare professional about this before introducing cannabinoids into your daily routine (especially if you have been diagnosed with any medical conditions or are under any medication). It is not recommended to drive or operate any machinery. Use responsibly!

What Is PTSD?

PTSD is a psychiatric disorder occurring in some people who experience and/or witness single or multiple traumatic events. It has really been become accepted as a medical condition since 1980 when it was included by the American Psychiatric Association in the DSM III (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 3rd edition) as a defined disorder. The American psychiatric community had become immersed in PTSD since the Vietnam War had brought so many soldiers and their suffering upon return to the US to the forefront of American culture.


The range of such potential trauma is broad and includes viewing or experiencing:

  • rape, sexual violence, and threats;
  • combat and wars;
  • serious accidents/disasters;
  • physical and psychological violence and threats;
  • shocking/dangerous events and traumas;
  • exposure to horrible details of the trauma.

It is important to know that in 1980 it was not generally believed that PTSD was a common condition, but newer data shows that it is much more of a common problem, with the lifetime risk of diagnosis being 11%. Everybody is potentially at risk irrelevant of ethnicity, age, or nationality. Females, though, are three times more at risk of being exposed to traumatic events leading to PTSD.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Those with PTSD continue to have intense psychological effects long after the trauma itself. While not all people who suffer the same trauma develop PTSD but those that do have similar symptoms that fall into four categories, and the diagnosis of PTSD in an adult requires that they experience ALL of the following for a minimum of 1 month:

  • At least one re-experiencing symptom, e.g., intrusive memories, flashbacks, and/or nightmares.
  • At least one avoidance symptom of reminders, such as places, events, or objects related to the trauma.
  • At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms, including increased irritability, anger, trouble sleeping, and concentration.
  • At least two cognition and mood symptoms, e.g., detachment from friends, family, and society, loss of interest.

Diagnosis of PTSD is typically made by a healthcare professional, such as a psychiatrist. They will conduct a thorough assessment that includes a medical history, physical examination, and psychological evaluation. They may also use diagnostic tools such as the PTSD Checklist (PCL) or the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS) to evaluate the person’s symptoms.

Treatment of PTSD

PTSD can be treated with different types of psychotherapy or medication. Trauma-focused psychotherapies are the most highly recommended type of treatment for PTSD, as determined by the National Center for PTSD, which focuses on the memory of the traumatic event and its meaning. There are several types, including EMDR and CRT (cognitive processing therapy).

Anti-depressant medications have been shown to be effective in PTSD for the treatment of anxiety and depression. SSRIs such as Zoloft (sertraline) and Paxil (paroxetine) are common, as well as SNRIs such as Effexor (venlafaxine). Other classes of medications, such as MAOIs like Nardil (phenelzine) and older tricyclic anti-depressants, such as Tofranil (imipramine), also have shown efficacy.

More treatments, such as meditation, acupuncture, and transcranial magnetic stimulation, are in the process of investigation. Treating PTSD with medical marijuana is also under research.

Marijuana’s Effects on the Mind and Emotions

When marijuana is consumed, it affects the brain by binding to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and throughout the body. This binding can lead to a variety of effects on the mind and emotions, including:

  • Mood changes. Marijuana can cause changes in mood, such as feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and happiness. It can also cause feelings of anxiety, paranoia, and depression in some individuals.
  • Perception changes. Marijuana can cause changes in perception, such as altered time perception, increased sensitivity to light and sound, and changes in visual and auditory perception.
  • Cognitive changes. Marijuana can cause changes in cognitive function, such as difficulty with memory, attention, and decision-making. It can also cause changes in the way information is processed and understood.
  • Emotion changes. Marijuana can cause changes in emotions, such as increased empathy, increased creativity, and increased sociability.

It is important to note that marijuana can have different effects on different individuals, and the effects can vary depending on the dose, the method of consumption, and the individual’s unique physiology. Also, marijuana use can lead to addiction for some individuals, and prolonged use can lead to the development of a substance use disorder.

Cannabis for PTSD Treatment

So, does weed help PTSD? Due to the federal illegality of cannabis, the studies which should have been done to give us better scientific evidence and data for the potential benefits of cannabis for PTSD have been woefully inadequate. And like many other purported benefits of marijuana, much of the evidence supporting the benefits of cannabis in humans is anecdotal, with the few studies done being observational. Furthermore, we know that many of those suffering from PTSD who use cannabis to self-medicate report improvement in sleep, anxiety, and the hyperarousal state.

In one small study of ten people with PTSD, a dose of 5mg of THC taken twice daily in addition to their normal treatments showed an improvement in sleep quality and decreased nightmares and other symptoms of PTSD, such as hyperarousal. Synthetic THC analogs have shown similar improvements.

Much research is still required to properly assess the efficacy and safety of weed for PTSD and related disorders (e.g., anxiety disorders). Many questions remain, including dosing, rates of tolerance and addiction, effects on mood, and the longevity of any potential benefits.