What we Know About Military Veterans with PTSD and CBD

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the active compounds from the cannabis plant. It may help reduce and manage symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Dr. Carlie Bell-Biggins
Written by Dr. Carlie Bell-Biggins, Naturopathic Physician
Last Updated
PTSD and CBD

Anyone who has suffered a traumatic event can develop PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as a result of experiencing one or many traumas in their life. Traumatic events such as car accidents, sexual assault, child abuse and near drownings are a just a few examples of events that can cause PTSD. Witnessing a terrifying event can also bring about a PTSD diagnosis. For example, healthcare workers in New York City that witnessed the devastation of COVID-19 patients dying as hospitals were overwhelmed may experience PTSD symptoms for years to come. The most recognizable group of trauma victims are military Veterans that are often associated with discussions around PTSD symptoms and treatment options.

What is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is defined as a mental health condition where a person has difficulty recovering after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. Several symptoms accompany a PTSD diagnosis including nightmares, extreme anxiety, avoidance of situations that bring back the traumatic memories, heightened reactions, depressed mood, flashbacks, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

While most people will have some trouble coping and adjusting after a trauma, this usually gets better over time. Those who experience symptoms for months or years and have worsening symptoms as time progresses may have PTSD, especially if symptoms are interfering with day to day function and activities.

PTSD and Veterans

Rates of PTSD among military Veterans varies depending on their service area and other traumatic experiences endured while serving. Approximately 30% of Veterans who served in the Vietnam war have had PTSD in their lifetime. Those serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom have rates of PTSD diagnosis at 11-20% in a given year. 12% of Gulf War Veterans are diagnosed with PTSD each year.

Veterans experience trauma in combat which can be exacerbated by their specific job or what they had to do in war, the location of the war, the type of enemy faced during the war, and the politics around the war.

Military Sexual Trauma (MST) is another cause of PTSD that can happen to men or women serving in the armed forces during war, training, or peacetime. MST includes sexual harassment or sexual assault that occurs while serving in the military. 23% of women have reported sexual assault while serving, while 55% of women and 38% of men have experienced sexual harassment while in the military.

CBD and PTSD

To understand how Cannabidiol (CBD) can be effective for PTSD symptoms, you must first know how PTSD affects the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). The ECS is a system of chemical messengers, anandamide and 2-AG, and receptors, CB1 and CB2, found throughout your body that are responsible for maintaining homeostasis, or balance, within the body.

Studies show that those with PTSD have decreased levels of anandamide and increased numbers of CB1 receptors in the brain. Ananda- is Sanskrit for joy or bliss and is an important factor promoting positive mood and good mental health. Lower levels of anandamide are thought to contribute to feelings of anxiety in PTSD patients. The brain will respond to the lower levels of anandamide by increasing the number of CB1 receptors available. This will ensure the brain can use all the anandamide present by supplying extra receptors for the anandamide to stimulate.

Here is where the possible benefits of CBD for PTSD symptoms come in. CBD is known to inhibit an enzyme called Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase (FAAH) that is responsible for breaking down anandamide. This will allow anandamide to hang around longer and its benefits, such as feelings of joy or bliss, may increase, and anxiety may therefore decrease.

Studies have also shown CBD to stimulate serotonin receptors. Serotonin is another compound in the body that helps to regulate mood, happiness, and anxiety. Low levels of serotonin have also been associated with depression. Through the stimulation of serotonin receptors, CBD has been shown to reduce anxiety, mitigate negative stress response, and reduce the response of fear conditioning seen in PTSD patients.

The Bottom Line

Many studies show great promise for the use of CBD in treating PTSD symptoms. CBD had demonstrated the ability to reduce anxiety, improve stress response, reduce fear conditioning response, and alter important aspects of traumatic memories in humans.

Overall, CBD may be a solution in treating PTSD symptoms for our military Veterans and anyone else who is looking for relief from a PTSD diagnosis.

References:

  1. Wisco BE, Marx BP, Wolf EJ, Miller MW, Southwick SM, Pietrzak RH. Posttraumatic stress disorder in the US veteran population: results from the National Health and Resilience in Veterans Study. J Clin Psychiatry. 2014 Dec;75(12):1338-46. doi: 10.4088/JCP.14m09328. PMID: 25551234.
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-
  3. 20355967?utm_source=Google&utm_medium=abstract&utm_content=Posttraumatic-stress-disorder&utm_campaign=Knowledge-panel
  4. https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_veterans.asp
  5. Elms L, Shannon S, Hughes S, Lewis N. Cannabidiol in the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Case Series. J Altern Complement Med. 2019 Apr;25(4):392-397. doi: 10.1089/acm.2018.0437. Epub 2018 Dec 13. PMID: 30543451; PMCID: PMC6482919.
  6. Neumeister A, Normandin MD, Pietrzak RH, et al. Elevated brain cannabinoid CB1 receptor availability in post-traumatic stress disorder: a positron emission tomography study. Mol Psychiatry. 2013;18(9):1034-1040. doi:10.1038/mp.2013.61
  7. Bassir Nia A, Bender R, Harpaz-Rotem I. Endocannabinoid System Alterations in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Review of Developmental and Accumulative Effects of Trauma. Chronic Stress (Thousand Oaks). 2019 Jan 1;3:2470547019864096. doi: 10.1177/2470547019864096. PMID: 31660473; PMCID: PMC6816276.
  8. Bitencourt RM, Takahashi RN. Cannabidiol as a Therapeutic Alternative for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: From Bench Research to Confirmation in Human Trials. Front Neurosci. 2018;12:502. Published 2018 Jul 24. doi:10.3389/fnins.2018.00502
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Dr. Carlie Bell-Biggins
Dr. Carlie Bell-Biggins
Naturopathic Physician
Dr. Carlie Bell-Biggins has over 10 years’ experience in the natural health care industry. As a licensed natural medicine physician she practices holistic medicine at a thriving medical practice in Pearland, TX. She is a guest lecturer at the Houston Academy of Cannabis Science where she presents on a variety of cannabis related topics including the endocannabinoid system and the medicinal benefits of the phytocannabinoids.

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