Medical Marijuana – A Magic Bullet for Treating PTSD?

A new battle has been waged on Capitol Hill surrounding the much-debated legalization of medical marijuana. As research continues solidifying the positive effects of using cannabis to treat certain clinical symptoms, some research is focusing on the possible effects it may have on treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Since the 1990s, organizations including the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) have attempted to further the development of research protocols surrounding the use of medical marijuana.

It was not until March 2011 that the National Cancer Institute acknowledged the viability of using marijuana in various treatment protocols. MAPS has continued its work to initiate further research and legislation requiring the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Drug Enforcement Administration to loosen its reins and allow scientific organizations to grow their own cannabis for research purposes.

Viable research continues to evidence the positive impact medical marijuana has had on the lives of those suffering from cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, and other symptomatic disorders and diseases. It is also widely recognized that some individuals suffering from PTSD already use recreational drugs, including the illegal use of marijuana, to offset symptoms of the disorder. A 2012 case study focusing on a male patient with a variety of PTSD symptoms, severe in nature, revealed some symptoms were significantly reduced “by smoking cannabis resin.”

Further studies have focused on the molecular etiology of PTSD in reference to elevated brain cannabinoid CB1 receptors, along with endocannabinoid signaling systems. Research implies that the increased CB1 receptor-mediated anandamide signaling may play a role in some PTSD symptoms. As such, this research may provide evidence-based opportunities for drug therapies by utilizing a neurobiological model as presented in positron emission tomography studies.

The field of psychiatric medicine recognizes the distinct commonality of specific symptoms associated with PTSD, including severe flashbacks as well as uncontrollable panic attacks. How and why do memories of traumatic events affect the biological nature of the brain with such intensity? Evidence continues to support the theory that the endocannabinoid system holds primary influence over the regulation of memory and emotional behavior. Therefore it is reasoned that the evidence-based research focusing on the affects that THC and medical marijuana have had in other case studies may provide the same results with some symptoms exhibited in patients suffering from the PTSD.

Many social and political barriers continue to plague the future of not only the research of possible treatment options for medical marijuana, but also the legalization and use of its byproducts. It is difficult for society to erase the visual memories of soldiers smoking marijuana depicted through media sources throughout the Vietnam War. Vivid memories of young “hippie-garbed” individuals dancing in the rain while listening to rock-and-roll music and smoking “reefer” often wash over the eyes of many Americans who struggle with the concept of legalizing medical marijuana. Many politicians recognize the possible fall-out that may occur in supporting the legalization of medical marijuana, along with the difficulties involved in management of the sale and use of a perceived controlled substance.

There is no cut and dried solution to overcoming the possible negative implications of complete legalization of a product, such as marijuana, for medical purposes. Many government agencies are cautious of approving less restrictive regulations surrounding prescribed treatments using cannabis.

Yet, the number of individuals suffering from PTSD continues to grow. Many of these people maintain an active search for treatments that provide even the slightest bit of relief from often debilitating symptoms. The addition of military personnel suffering from PTSD is likely to lend greater support for continued research and legalization of medical marijuana as a viable treatment option.


Akirav I. (2013). Targeting the endocannaabinoid system to treat haunting traumatic memories. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience 7: 124. PMCID: PMC3776936

Neumeister A, Normandin MD, Pietrzak RH, Piomelli D, Zheng MQ, Gujarro-Anton A, Potenza MN, Bailey CR, Lin SF, Najafzadeh S, Ropchan J, Henry S, Corsi-Travali S, Carson RE, & Huang Y (2013). Elevated brain cannabinoid CB1 receptor availability in post-traumatic stress disorder: a positron emission tomography study. Molecular psychiatry, 18 (9), 1034-40. PMID: 23670490

Passie T, Emrich HM, Karst M, Brandt SD, & Halpern JH (2012). Mitigation of post-traumatic stress symptoms by Cannabis resin: a review of the clinical and neurobiological evidence. Drug testing and analysis, 4 (7-8), 649-59 PMID: 22736575

Image via Yarygin / Shutterstock.

  • onergk69

    I served during the Vietnam Conflict as an Air Force medic. Back then we had grave concerns about those in direct combat units using a host of psychoactive agents in addition to MJ.

    MJ is a very complex agent when biotransformed, binds readily to fat, & many of its metabolites evidence psychoactive properties. Despite its known therapeutic benefits, and as a clinician, I never recommend its recreational use. It maybe used adjunctively to group & individual psychotherapy for those serving multiple combat tours. And we need to use it quite carefully.

    BTW, 2 years ago, research done by the VA, indicated that most PTSD in soldiers, resolves on its own within a year or so???!!!


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  • Women’s Health

    Making marijuana as medicine legal in all over US seems very possible thing, But there are a lot of western world countries that will never take marijuana as remedy for ill people. Sad, but the costs of regulation and administration of this mean will be very high, and this is the most important reason.

  • Anonymous

    The legalization of marijuana has been one of the best measure taken by govt. for the development of people as now patients with diseases like PTSD,cancer,glaucoma etc could be treated. At last govt. understands medical marijuana uses and its benefits.

  • Everyday we receive personal stories of how medical marijuana has helped a variety of patients. A common theme veterans dealing with PTSD. Many personal stories shared with us speak highly of using marijuana to treat PTSD. We need to de-regulate this “drug”.

  • Brynedward

    The legalization of marijuana will definitely have the positive impacts on people’s health and it helps to cure the disease like PTSD,cancer,glaucoma etc..

  • This is indeed great. This will truly give happiness to all those who are suffering with PTSD.

  • After all, what is the point of allowing a citizen to buy a bottle of alcohol and avoid him to buy marijuana. It’s been demonstrated that marijuana has benefical effects and side effect as any other drug. Instead, let’s focus on what we can do to improve the healthcare system. We can make this a better world.

  • Moipone

    Though Marijuana is said to be a bullet in treating PSTD, does it not have some negative effects to the human brain? Considering the fact that it is illegal in some countries,then is it not risky for people to use it? As it my lead them behind bars? One other thing, is it true that Marijuana increase and individual’s intelligence?

  • 13168252

    As a student hoping to become a doctor hopefully in the near future, I think there is a fine line in prescribing Marijuana as treatment of any illness and especially for PTSD or other psychological disorders.

    If one looks at the hallucinatory effects of marijuana I greatly wonder how beneficial it would be for a person with PTSD. Even though the effect of Marijuana is initially an “upper” as they call it after the worn out effect it causes depression ( Thus I do not understand why or how it could be beneficial to give this to someone that already has depression, and how can the use of the marijuana really be monitored. Marijuana has a numbing effect on one’s nervous-system and I can see the use for it in terminally ill patients for whom no other treatment is possible to be used as pain measurement treatment.

    Drug miss-use is such a big issue in the USA and in the rest of the world that trying to find all the benefits of a drug that can cause other psychological problems and unfortunately so many doctors or other physicians in the power of authority to prescribe these drug, have missed use this power and prescribed it unlawfully and without the proper follow up and monitoring of the use.

Brenda Walker, MA

Brenda Walker, MA, holds a Master of Arts Degree in Health Care Administration from Ashford University, a Bachelor of Science Degree in Health Care Management from Anthem College, and an Associates in Applied Science, priority focus in Limited Scope X-Ray. She had over 10 years of experience and a member of the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors. Her primary focus, recently, has been on the continued roll-out of the ACA, Medicare, and Strategic Planning and Implementation for small and private health care entities.

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