Marijuana May Do More Harm Than Good for People with PTSD
Many victims of accidents suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in addition to all their physical injuries. For some victims, their PTSD is in response to the trauma of coping with their injuries. For other victims, their PTSD is due to constant rethinking about how the accident occurred.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, flashbacks, deep anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts. When living with the trauma of an accident lasts for months or years to the point of interfering with your daily functioning, you may have PTSD. Other symptoms include intrusive memories, avoidance, negative views, being easily frightened, sleep disorders, difficulty concentrating, and many other complications. Some people with PTSD may even have suicidal thoughts. Medications that may help if prescribed include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and Prazosin.
As many states, including Washington, have legalized some amounts of marijuana for medical and adult recreational purposes, many doctors and patients have begun to question whether marijuana could help treat PTSD. According to a report in MedPage Today, the answer to that question is – NO.
Recent studies on the effectiveness of using marijuana to treat PTSD
As of 2019, the American Psychiatric Association opposes using medical cannabis treatment for PTSD.
Because of the lack of any credible studies demonstrating clinical effectiveness, the APA cannot endorse the use of medical cannabis for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The Council on Addiction Psychiatry, the Council on Research, and the Council on Quality Care reviewed available evidence regarding the use of cannabis in the treatment of PTSD and concluded that no published evidence of sufficient quality exists in the medical literature to support the practice.
The APA does not endorse cannabis for treatment of PTSD at this time, as further study is needed. MedPage Today set out to review the literature regarding marijuana use for PTSD. The author looked at multiple studies conducted by multiple researchers in the US (and one in Canada) and largely found the same outcome: that using marijuana is not helpful.
For example, the report reviewed the relationship between marijuana and PTSD in Colorado. As of February 2023, more than 70,000 patients were registered on Colorado’s medical marijuana state registry, and 10,734 of them indicated that they are using marijuana to treat their PTSD – even though there are no studies showing that marijuana provides long-term PTSD help.
A 2020 Canadian study used a phone app, Strainprint, examined 404 medical cannabis users who were self-identified as having PTSD. The software tracked various symptoms such as intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, irritability, and anxiety. The data included the strain of cannabis and the effects of the cannabis on their symptoms. The results indicated some temporary relief but not long-term relief. The study also found that the dosage amount increased over time, indicating some tolerance to the cannabis.
The effects of marijuana on veterans with PTSD
Some studies show that long-term PTSD use can actually be detrimental.
One NIH study examined 2,276 veterans treated in VA PTSD treatment programs – from when they first began treatment and four months after their discharge. The results were as follows:
- The people who had been using marijuana prior to the program but stopped had the lowest level of PTSD symptoms 4 months after discharge.
- The people who never used marijuana had the second lowest level of PTSD symptoms post-discharge.
- The people who started using marijuana again “after the treatment program had the highest levels of violent behavior, alcohol use, and PTSD symptoms.”
A 2019-2020 National Health and Resilience in Veterans Study (NHRVS) data examined more than 4,000 U.S. military veterans from around the country. This study found that “frequent cannabis use worsens PTSD symptoms in veterans.” The rate of those who screened positive for “co-occurring major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and suicidal ideation” was twice as much for those who used cannabis as those who did not. Those who used cannabis also showed “small-to-moderate decrements in cognitive functioning.”
Another study examining 361 veterans returning from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan found that frequent cannabis use was linked to “greater severity in PTSD-related intrusion symptoms 6 months later and a prospective association from PTSD diagnosis to cannabis use disorder (CUD) diagnosis 1 year later.” There was no evidence that long-term marijuana use improved PTSD-related intrusion symptoms or remission in PTSD diagnosis.
The link between marijuana use and worsening PTSD is concerning because of the increased risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts in veterans. Another study confirmed this frightening link.
A review of literature from the last 45 years revealed similar outcomes
Another study that examined THC or THC and CBD in PTSD from 1974 to 2020 “reported that low doses of THC (7.5 mg THC) can help with fear issues and anxiety responses without ‘inducing a psychotic effect’ but that high doses of THC (greater than or equal to 10% THC), “do not facilitate fear memory extinction and are related to clinically relevant anxiogenic and psychotic effects in healthy volunteers.” Since many of the products available in medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries are more than 15 percent TCH (many are in the 60-90% THC range) finding THC-based products to help with PTSD is very difficult.
The data is pretty clear: marijuana does not seem to be helping, and can in fact cause more harm than good.
Diagnosing and treating PTSD
PTSD is diagnosed through a physical exam, a psychological evaluation, and using the “criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association.”
The treatments for PTSD include cognitive therapy, exposure therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). According to the author of the MedPage Today review – an addiction psychiatrist and a medical director of a 90-day inpatient treatment program – PTSD treatment is less effective when patients are using an addictive substance such as cannabis while attempting to engage in these therapies. The doctor also stated that the use of cannabis by someone in PTSD treatment increased the susceptibility to false memories which are very difficult to treat.
At Philbrook Law Office, our lawyers understand the emotional trauma of car accidents, truck accidents, burn injuries, nursing home abuse and neglect, and other causes of serious injury. We work with your doctors including psychological care doctors to fully understand the scope of your injuries and trauma and the treatments you need. To discuss your rights, at one of our offices in Vancouver or Battle Ground, WA, please call us or complete our contact form to schedule a free consultation. We handle personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis.
Founding Attorney Matthew Philbrook attended Clark College, Washington State University, and Gonzaga University School of Law. He is a member of the Washington State and Oregon State Bar Associations and started Philbrook Law Office in 2005. He specializes in Personal Injury, DUI and Criminal Defense cases. Learn more about Mr. Philbrook.