Marijuana Use in PTSD


Marijuana Use in PTSD

December 13, 2014

It’s a well-known fact that folks suffering from PTSD use street drugs, especially marijuana. But it’s only in the last few years that scientists have asked the obvious question, “Does it work?”


Dr. Mechoulam in Israel has spent his life researching marijuana. Years ago he identified THC and went on to discover the presence of cannabinoid receptors and anandamide, a natural cannabinoid, in human brains. He also did work in mice with brain damage and found that marijuana was neuroprotective.

Our natural cannabinoid system appears to moderate the ill effects of stress. Dr. Mechoulam studied mice with and without active cannabinoid receptors. After receiving shocks associated with a sound, the ones with an intact cannabinoid system quickly recovered when the sounds were no longer accompanied by a shock. They were able to “forget” that connection. Those without an intact cannabinoid system continued to cringe every time they heard the sound.

It appears that the cannabinoid system in the brain allows mice, and people, to forget. When the cannabinoid system is weak, it’s almost impossible to disconnect the triggers from the traumatic memories. Then the tendency to trigger into nightmares and flashbacks can remain a life-long problem.

Low levels of anandamide, our natural cannabinoid, may be responsible for re-experiencing symptoms. Scans reveal that people with PTSD have lower levels of anandamide than people without. Research in veterans has been slow in coming due to legal concerns about the use of marijuana. Israel has a human study underway, and it now appears that the aborted US study will be sanctioned to proceed.


The pharmaceutical companies are competing to come up with a cannabinoid that helps PTSD symptoms but does not produce a “high.” So far their efforts have been thwarted by the side effect of reduced memory. Apparently cannabinoids encourage forgetting of all kinds. Getting around that disabling side effect requires a more specific medication.

Kadmus Pharmaceuticals have focused their attention on a different approach. They’ve synthesized a chemical that inhibits the breakdown of anandamide by the enzyme FAAH, and they’re currently testing this FAAH inhibitor in humans. By returning anandamide levels back to normal, the new drug not only helps disconnect your triggers, but it also relieves anxiety, pain, and depression without getting you “high”.


Until more sophisticated drugs reach the market, folks currently suffering with PTSD may benefit from medical marijuana. Undocumented research suggests that low to moderate doses work the best. Oral marijuana lasts longer than inhaled, which helps to maintain a steady state. But it can make you sleepy, so oral marijuana is best taken before sleep.

Unfortunately, high doses of THC can cause anxiety, depression, and psychosis, especially in immature brains. So children, teens, and young adults should not use marijuana. (Your brain doesn’t mature until your early twenties.) If MJ makes you feel anxious or depressed, it’s recommended that you REDUCE your dose and quit if those side effects recur.


Marijuana doesn’t cure PTSD, but it does help with re-experiencing symptoms. Taking low-dose marijuana before  exposure therapy, could help you to disconnect your triggers and as a result, have fewer flashbacks.

BUT WE NEED THE GOVERNMENT’S APPROVAL before we can legally use marijuana to treat PTSD. If it works for you, ask the lawmakers in your state to approve medical marijuana and add PTSD to their list of diagnoses.

Oregon medical MJ










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