PTSD is very difficult for affected individuals to live with. It doesn’t help that so many misconceptions persist about the disorder, leading many to live with shame or feel that others do not understand what they are going through.
About half of Americans will experience at least one traumatic event in their lives. Of those, a percentage will go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
So, What are the benefits of using CBD to treat PTSD? How does CBD affect the brain and body, and is it safe to use? In this guide, we answer these questions and more.
PTSD: Symptoms, diagnosis and treatment
PTSD is especially common in veterans of war and sexual assault survivors, but it can affect anyone who has experienced a traumatic event. Traumatic events may include abuse, domestic violence, car or workplace accidents, physical or sexual assault, natural disasters, military combat, natural disasters, or the death of a loved one. Trauma can be physical or psychological, and it’s often both.
After a trauma occurs, it is common for the affected individual to become disoriented or anxious, or to experience mood swings or nightmares. When these symptoms persist and worsen over a period of months, it can develop into PTSD.
To be officially diagnosed with PTSD, the individual must experience all four of the below criteria for a period of at least one month:
- Re-experiencing events, where the individual re-experiences the trauma, as through a flashback or nightmare. These can be so realistic and disturbing as to disrupt the person’s daily quality of life. Re-experiencing events may be triggered by particular words, sounds, images or something else.
- Avoidance symptoms, where the individual begins to avoid certain people, places, or activities that remind them of the trauma—even if they had no problem with these situations before. Like re-experiencing events, avoidance symptoms can also interfere with their daily life. For example, a person who experienced a workplace shooting may refuse to go back to work.
- Two or more arousal and activity symptoms, which persist outside of any triggers or re-experiencing events. On a more general basis, the individual may have trouble sleeping, or be more irritable or on edge.
- Two or more mood and cognition symptoms, which persist outside of any triggers or re-experiencing events. The individual may have trouble remembering the event, or they may develop feelings of guilt, self-directed negativity, or detachment from things they previously enjoyed.
In addition to the above symptoms, individuals with PTSD may develop depression, substance abuse, sleep issues, and other mental health disorders.
Increasingly, recent research suggests CBD may be another way to treat PTSD and other anxiety disorders. In particular, CBD appears to have a positive effect on several of the core symptoms of PTSD, including the re-experiencing events, avoidance symptoms, and arousal symptoms.
CBD can significantly affect how we retain memories, which is why researchers have looked into it as a potential treatment for PTSD and other disorders that center around negative memories.
How CBD affects PTSD-related memories
When cannabidiol (CBD) gets introduced into the body—through inhalation, oral ingestion, or transdermally (through the skin)—it activates CB1 and CB2, two cannabinoid receptors in the endocannabinoid system. This has ripple effects throughout the central nervous system, such as increasing pleasure and altering memory processing. Meanwhile, the cannabinoids block the retrieval of the traumatic memory.
In other words, the body experiences a pleasure boost while the traumatic memory is blocked, enabling the person to feel less anxiety about the trauma during a re-experiencing event. Since they have less of a negative emotional experience with the memory, this in turn helps reduce their avoidance and arousal symptoms.
Over time, eCB enhancers like CBD work together to block the continuous retrieval of the memory, enabling the memory to lessen in intensity and detail, while also reducing the anxiety associated with it. In this way, CBD may be especially effective as a treatment for PTSD because it addresses both the cognitive and emotional aspects of the disorder.
Plus, CBD boasts the additional benefit of having fewer side effects than the medications typically used to treat PTSD. SSRIs and antidepressants can affect libido, cause nausea or headaches, and create sleep problems like insomnia. In rare cases, they can even increase risk of depression or suicide. CBD offers similar therapeutic benefits as these drugs, but with fewer side effects, which is why many are touting CBD as a suitable replacement for treating PTSD.