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PTSD Update

PTSD Update

Jul 2, 2018 Written by Dr D

PTSD is often characterized by anxiety, nightmares, sudden flashbacks. Management includes working with a psychiatrist using conventional medications and a psychologist using behavioral therapy. It is not uncommon for a patient to have to go through many different anti-depressants or anxiolytics before one finds the correct drug and titration. But sometimes even the best medications fail to treat someone with Post-traumatic stress disorder adequately. Psychotherapy may be helpful in some patients depending on the patient. In others, there is less benefit and some dislike the thought of reliving the experience in order to learn coping mechanisms.
Alternatives include non-pharmacologic measures including relaxation techniques such as doing yoga, Tai Chi or meditation. Exercise can often boost the mood and doing enjoyable activities may help alleviate symptoms without the addition of pharmacologic agents.
Medical Marijuana as a solution for symptoms of cognitive impairment in war veterans

In one study, 24 patients were enrolled in a study for executive function and were registered medical marijuana users. After 3 months, 11 patients returned and using the Stroop Color Word Test, were found to have a higher level of executive function and increased speed completing tasks without being inaccurate. Patients reported less insomnia, less depression, better attention, less impulsivity and a better quality of life. There was less use of pharmacologic use and less use of opioid agents by 42% in conjunction with medical marijuana. Larger clinical randomized controlled clinical studies are needed. (Gruber, et al, “Splendor in the Grass? A pilot study assessing the impact of medical marijuana on executive function,” Front. Pharmacology, 2016,. Oct., 13 (7):355.)

Medical Marijuana as a solution for and PTSD symptom in war veterans
Cannabidiol works at the level of the 5HT1 receptor causing patients to feel less anxious and may be used in post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition, it has been found to have a role in modulating memory and instead of the learned fear response and may help with PTSD by modulating the conditioned response to a stimulus that normally begets anxiety and fearfulness. In other words, instead of the heart rate increasing or having flashbacks when a war scene is on TV, medical marijuana can exert its effect by modulating behavior by changing the learned response by not responding the same way and being calm in face of a previously anxiety-inciting war scene. (Uhernik, et al, “Learning and memory are modulated by cannabidiol when administered during trace fear-conditioning,” Neurobiology of Learned Memory, 2018, Feb., 9, 149:58-76. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2018.02.009)

PTSD and traumatic brain injury are real problems faced by war veterans returning with blast injury, blunt-injury or combination type combat-related injuries. Medical marijuana may be an excellent non-intoxicating solution when cannabidiol is taken or combined with low dose tetrahydrocannabinol which can help with depression, anxiety and help modulate responses to post-traumatic stress disorder. Medical marijuana can help with executive function and attention and may be beneficial in treating war veterans suffering from mild traumatic brain injury.

Cannabidiol interacts with the 5-HT1A receptor which is an important receptor in mitigating the symptoms of anxiety. Serotonin works through the 5HT1A receptors. Some anxiolytics and anti-depressants work through an increase in serotonin which boosts the mood. Cannabidiol itself is known to have a calming effect with none of the euphoria found in THC alone. Cannabidiol is non-intoxicating and when combined with low dose tetrahydrocannabinol has great medical effects. Lee, et al, “Cannabidiol regulation of emotion and emotional memory processing: relevance for treating anxiety-related and substance abuse disorder,” British Journal of Pharmacology, 2017, Oct., 174 (19): 3242-3256. doi: 10.1111/bph.13724. (Epub. 2017 Mar. 9.)

In summary, when medications and therapy are found to be ineffective for post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression, cannabidiol which is non-intoxicating may be an effective therapeutic option alone or in conjunction with low dose THC and should be considered.

References
Uhernik, et al, “Learning and memory are modulated by cannabidiol when administered during trace fear-conditioning,” Neurobiology of Learned Memory, 2018, Feb., 9, 149:58-76. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2018.02.009 (Epub ahead of print)
Lee, et al, “Cannabidiol regulation of emotion and emotional memory processing: relevance for treating anxiety-related and substance abuse disorder,” British Journal of Pharmacology, 2017, Oct., 174 (19): 3242-3256. doi: 10.1111/bph.13724. (Epub. 2017 Mar. 9.)