Mental health issues are often experienced but seldom shared. Unfortunately, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is no different. In 2008, the Journal of CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics estimated that 9.2 per cent of Canadians will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. These staggering numbers result predominately from sexual assault, witnessing injuries or deaths and serving in the armed forces or law enforcement. Given the relatively low rate of violent crime and natural disasters in Canada, we can see how PTSD can affect the average person and doesn’t discriminate by region. Anyone can be affected.
Simply put, the origin of PTSD relates to the over-secretion of stress hormones which can lead to a suppression of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis is necessary in forming appropriate reactions to stress using hormones. PTSD is linked to changes in certain areas of the brain. The prefrontal cortex, the hippocampus (which controls memory) and the amygdala (which controls our response to fear) are different in the brains of someone suffering from PTSD. The changes that occur physically and psychologically demonstrate that the pathology of the condition is very real and can permanently affect the brain and body.
The symptoms of PTSD revolve around hyperarousal and flashbacks. The individual tends to be in a state of anxiety and hyper-vigilance which leads to difficulty concentrating and an increased startle response to even mild stimuli. When the exaggerated startle response occurs, it can be debilitating. Certain stimuli can trigger the patient depending on the nature of the traumatic incident. Even benign or harmless things that can be loosely associated with the incident can lead to a flashback. Sleep disturbance in the form of nightmares is often noted in PTSD patients as well as comorbid substance abuse to dull the pain.
In recent years, the benefits of cannabis use have come to light with respect to PTSD. The UCLA Medical Center Journal of Psychoactive drugs (2014) demonstrated a 75 per cent reduction in the Clinician Administered Post-Traumatic Scale (CAPS) score when treatment with medical cannabis began. The amount of cannabis needed to elicit the positive response was seen in the work of Roltman and Mechaloum in 2014. They demonstrated that a 5mg dose of THC taken twice a day caused a significant decrease in the hyperarousal symptoms that are so prevalent in PTSD.
PTSD can negatively impact all aspects of life it is untreated. Often the patients suffer in silence and even when given drugs such as SSRI’s and benzodiazepines they self-medicate with drugs and alcohol for fear of expressing their needs to their physician or because they have lost hope that anything can help. The scientific and clinic evidence for cannabis helping PTSD is substantial and is increasing rapidly. If you or someone you know is suffering from this terrible condition there is hope and there is help available. On World Mental Health Day, and every day, we at the 420 Clinic are here to support everyone dealing with PTSD and all mental health issues.
Let us know how we can help and be a resource in your road to recovery.
Dr. Ifeoluwa Abiola, B.Sc, MD.
Medical Director – 420 Clinic Ltd.