Virginia Thornley, M.D., Neurologist, Epileptologist
March 20, 2018
Post-traumatic stress disorder is the silent disorder that could be affecting the co-worker who sits one cubicle over from you. When one hears of post-traumatic stress disorder, one thinks of traumatizing incidents such as war, abuse or some other devastating event but can occur even in situations such as car accidents or a spouse of many decades suddenly leaving. It is the quiet disorder that if you do not expound on it, nobody really knows about it. Because of the stigma surrounding psychological disorders, often times, help is not sought in a timely manner.
It is often characterized by nightmares waking someone up in the middle of the night or sudden flashbacks when placed in a situation similar to the traumatic event. 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. Doing something one enjoys or taking joy in the simple activities in life such as writing poetry, art therapy, taking up a sport may help alleviate some of the stress. Great tips can be found on Psychiatrist, Dr. Welby’s site found here: https://drmelissawelby.com/exercise-depression-get-started-want-stay-bed/
More and more patients are turning towards alternative measures, finding that conventional medications are not always optimal. Cannabidiol works through the endocannabinoid pathway and modulates its effect through the CB1 receptor which is predominantly found in the nervous system. The CB2 receptor is found mostly in the immune system. In some studies, it was found that cannabidiol may help reduce fearful memory if taken in the conditioning phase so that rather than reacting to the stimulus with fear, the stimulus is then associated with a different reaction and may help mitigate the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder through this mechanism (1). In another study, it was found to influence synaptic dendrites and may contribute towards learned memory in the hippocampus.
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. One category of medical marijuana known as Sativa is known to help with mood alleviating anxiety and insomnia.
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.
- 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.)