A Washington State University study suggests that cannabis reduces the severity of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in the short term by more than half. The study, led by WSU Assistant Professor of Psychology Carrie Cuttler, analyzed data of more than 400 people who tracked changes in their PTSD symptoms with Strainprint, an app designed to help users determine what type of medical cannabis works best for their symptoms.
The study participants used the app more than 11,000 times over a 31-month period.
The study found that cannabis reduced irritability by 67 percent, the severity of intrusions – returning thoughts of a traumatic event – by about 62 percent, anxiety by 57 percent, and flashbacks by 51 percent.
Cuttler said the results purport that while “cannabis does reduce symptoms of PTSD acutely … it might not have longer term beneficial effects on the underlying condition.”
“Working with this model, it seems that cannabis will temporarily mask symptoms, acting as a bit of a band aid, but once the period of intoxication wears off, the symptoms can return.” – Cuttler in a statement
PTSD affects women at about twice the rate of men, with a 9.7 percent to 3.6 percent lifetime prevalence, respectively, the researchers note.
The researchers looked at a variety of variables but found no difference in the effect of cannabis with differing levels of THC and CBD, implying that the efficacy could be due to combinations of the cannabinoids along with other molecules – what’s known as the entourage effect.
“We need more studies that look at whole plant cannabis because this is what people are using much more than the synthetic cannabinoids,” Cuttler said in a press release. “It is difficult to do good placebo-controlled trials with whole plant cannabis, but they’re still really needed.” She added that a lot of people suffering from PTSD self-medicate with cannabis “but the literature on its efficacy for managing symptoms is a little sparse.”
A study published last year in the Journal of Psychopharmacology concluded that “cannabis use may contribute to reducing the association between post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depressive and suicidal states.” That study was based on data from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey on Mental Health.
A 2019 survey conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health found a “clinically meaningful” – 70 percent – reduction of PTSD symptoms in medical cannabis patients enrolled in the program for the condition.
In all, 26 states allow medical cannabis access for PTSD patients.
The WSU study is published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.
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