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How marijuana tackles the main symptoms of PTSD

Cannabis has become a saving grace for many who suffer with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The herb is extremely popular thanks to its natural healing properties and limited side effects. In this piece, we will investigate how marijuana helps with PTSD symptoms, focusing specifically on flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, self-harm and agitation.

Cannabis and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Medical marijuana is being used to treat more ailments with every passing year. While the science has been slow to catch up (mainly due to federal restrictions), the American public have demonstrated a keen desire to find natural alternatives to addictive, prescription medications. Yet, in the case of PTSD, the argument for marijuana is very strong – researchers have identified the therapeutic qualities of cannabinoids such as CBD and THC for treating PTSD symptoms. In fact, many scientists hold the view that cannabinoid medicine is superior to any other for tackling the disorder.

There’s still work to do, and before medical marijuana can be fully accepted as treatment, successive and consistent clinical studies in humans are required. But there’s a wealth of anecdotal evidence out there supportive of the herb. Let’s look at some of the most pertinent PTSD symptoms and identify how marijuana could help.

Dealing with PTSD symptoms


Flashbacks are often considered one of the toughest and most damaging PTSD symptoms, as it puts the body back through the same frightening pain experienced when the traumatic event occurred. The body’s stress responses are the same as if you were going through the experience all over again.

Marijuana helps to calm fear and these same qualities promote PTSD flashback reduction – it’s thought that the psychoactive THC cannabinoid can remove negative, harmful memories altogether. “Foot shock” experiments in mice have shown that the body’s natural endocannabinoid system can delete “aversive memories.”

Moreover, lower endocannabinoid levels are found in PTSD sufferers, which explains why it’s more difficult for the body to naturally eliminate these thoughts. But by intaking marijuana cannabinoids like CBD and THC into your system, the body may be able to restore a healthy balance.

A 2012 story further indicated the astonishing potential of marijuana as a potential PTSD treatment. The patient had experienced repeated sexual abuse from young childhood to the age of 15 and constantly had intense, damaging flashbacks of the events. While psychiatric care only led to flashbacks, the patient found a way to utilize marijuana resin to positive effect.

He found that smoking marijuana enabled him to prevent or control the intensity of flashbacks when they occurred. Cannabis may not have eliminated symptoms, but it gave him crucial cognitive control when he needed it most. The traumatic images experienced from flashbacks could be viewed, as he put it, “from a distance.”


Insomnia and nightmares from PTSD cause severe stress and anxiety and can seriously affect your sleep cycle, making it harder to function generally – they also increase the likelihood of going through the same symptoms again the following day.

Indica strains are known to help with promoting good sleep patterns, increasing the amount of time spent in deep sleep and allowing you to formulate a more regulated sleep cycle. More time in deep sleep also means less time in rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep where dreaming – and therefore nightmares – occur.

The synthetic cannabinoid Nabilone was found to be useful for reducing nightmares in PTSD patients by a team of Canadian researchers in 2009. Others who have just consumed the natural plant have also pointed to improved sleep as being a key benefit of consumption.

Panic attacks and PTSD-caused fear

Marijuana reacts differently from person to person, and high-THC strains can cause anxiety and panic attacks in some people. For that reason, cannabis has a bad name in some circles, making some people skeptical about treating themselves with the herb. But thankfully, there are many wonderful strains out there with much lower concentrations of THC that are more suitable to everybody.

For PTSD sufferers, however, marijuana (and even high-THC marijuana) might rid the body of its conditioned fear response.

Because the body remembers traumatic events and responds physiologically to them, this can become learned behavior over time. Therefore, the smallest of incidents can trigger an intense fear response or panic attack.

CBD is a known anti-anxiety molecule, and a 2009 study confirmed this by showing that it made the body less anxious about fearful faces. Further endocannabinoid research has uncovered how the system helps to modulate fear response.

Per a study on mice, when the CB1 receptors are blocked (a receptor that THC binds to), the rodents couldn’t forget the emotional response triggered by a foot shock. However, mice whose CB1 receptors were functioning as normal were able to cancel out the memory, and what’s more, the research found that endocannabinoid levels increased during the forgetting phase.

All of this is encouraging for medical marijuana as PTSD medication. Charlotte’s Web and other CBD-dominant strains are probably the most effectively in tackling panic attacks and irrational fear.


The patient who used marijuana to cope with flashbacks also found the herb useful in reducing the urge to self-harm. PTSD-sufferers who do not treat their condition are more likely to want to self-harm or commit suicide, particularly after flashbacks. By smoking cannabis straight after a flashback, the desire to self-mutilate diminished in the patient concerned.

Suicide rates have fallen by 5% in states with medical marijuana legislation, and by more than 10% in young males, per a 2014 study. Veterans with PTSD are common users of marijuana, and those fortunate enough to live in states with expansive medical laws have benefitted from the more relaxed approach to the plant.

Self-harm influenced by other disorders can also be better managed through marijuana use. Some with severe Autism and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are finding success through cannabis. With these conditions and disorders so different to PTSD, it just goes to show the wide-ranging medical possibilities of the plant.

A joint or a bowl is preferable to some users, but for those who want to go easier on their lungs, CBD e-liquid, edibles, oils and other non-smoking products, such as those on sale here at can offer similarly effective relief.

Consider this anecdotal story of a marijuana user, paraphrased from the forum, who manages their self-harm urges through the herb.

Before cannabis, they were prone to cutting and giving themselves cigarette burns. Their alcohol usage had also shot up. All of that changed after being introduced to marijuana.

The concept of self-harm is that physical pain is easier to bear than emotional pain, and that by inflicting physical pain on yourself, the endorphins released make you feel less bad.

There’s also a view that self-harm makes emotional pain visible, and therefore easier to understand than heal. Ultimately, the wounds, scarring or bruises from physical harm will probably mend and that creates a sense of healing.

But this doesn’t address the problem and the real emotional wounds remain in place. Self-harm is a way to temporarily alter your mood – it’s not an actual fix. Nor will all wounds heal.

Therefore, the potential damage of self-harm is huge, and if marijuana can banish the urge to do so, it must be a treatment worth considering.


Heightened agitation or “over-arousal” are symptoms experienced by some PTSD patients. The brain can become irritated, restless and amped up, inhibiting your ability to go about life. But medical marijuana may be effective here as well.

One study suggested that through reducing over-arousal, marijuana enables patients to get to sleep. By calming over-activity in the brain, cannabis allows the user to feel more at ease and relaxed. For those experiencing racing thoughts or violent mood swings, the depressant properties of the herb can be very beneficial.

This isn’t the case for everybody, however, and marijuana does induce agitation in some users. In this case, the plant may not be for you, although check out CBD-dominant strains or CBD products if you’ve only previously experimented with high-THC strains. Also, consult your physician about your choices and whether marijuana would affect any medication you’re currently on.

Final thoughts

With its therapeutic abilities, marijuana is certainly a godsend for many experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. However, it’s vital to remember that cannabis is only an agent for change and no substitute to psychiatric treatment. Explore cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness and talking therapy to give you a better understanding of your symptoms and an idea of the best route forward.

Yet if you’ve previously been doubtful about marijuana, give it another chance. Many have found the plant to be life-changing, and if it could help to reduce symptoms by only a little, it’s surely worth trying some CBD products. They are non-addictive and impossible to overdose on – compare that to prescription meds! Maybe cannabis could better your sleep cycle, reduce the intensity of flashbacks or free you from nightmares.

Have you found PTSD relief through marijuana or know somebody that has? Do share your experiences in the comments section – we’d love to hear from you!

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