Medicinal Marijuana as a Potential Method to Treat PTSD

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Our paper for this topic talked a lot about the dysregulation and harm that can come from improperly functioning cannabinoid receptors. But for fun, lets look at one of the ways that cannabis can be used in a medical fashion, specifically PTSD. The two major contributing chemical structures in marijuana are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is responsible for the euphoric effects of marijuana while CBD is generally considered to be medicinal. CB1 receptors play a large role in our response to fear and anxiety, THC is an agonist for the CB1 receptors on GABAergic nerve terminals which actually helps regulate and prevent fear and anxiety which induces stress. Fear, anxiety, and stress are all important and high in those that suffer from PTSD. Additionally, CB1 activation also impairs the ability to retrieve aversive (negative) memories and blocks nightmares. PTSD is associated with flashbacks, nightmare, and the improper retrieval of aversive memories.  This essentially means that marijuana is a very effective method of treating PTSD as a disorder. Additionally, if you give mice (test subjects) marijuana you can prevent PTSD behaviors from ever occurring, meaning that marijuana could be used after a stressful event to prevent PTSD from ever manifesting.

The downside of marijuana in PTSD. Essentially to much THC can actually induce anxiety and psychotic disorders like PTSD. This occurs because marijuana over activates CB1 receptors in glutamatergic rather than GABAergic nerve terminals. This would mean that instead of an influx of inhibitory neurotransmitters, an influx of excitatory neurotransmitters is occurring instead, leading to anxiety and psychotic symptoms. This is especially problematic when you consider the fact that THC concentrations have increased significantly throughout the years. THC in “street marijuana” used to be at 4%, now its more than 15%. Dispensaries sell marijuana with a THC concentration of 22% and people are buying THC concentrate now instead of “normal” marijuana. With increasing THC marijuana might lose its potential to do good instead of bad. It might go from being able to treat PTSD to making PTSD far worse. Researchers are worried that the potential for psychosis and substance abuse might make marijuana a method for treatment that has more concerns and problems than benefits. There is also a potential for the development of comorbidities linked with PTSD, such as depression and anxiety. With improper regulation of THC, CB1 receptors might overstimulate the wrong neurons and lead to a bigger problem than originally was expected. There is also a lot of talk in the provided first reference about the need for increased trials and research on both the positives and negatives of marijuana. It is hard to determine exactly how beneficial something is when it has been an illegal substance for so long and has been limited to studies on lab animals rather than humans due to its illegal nature.



Steenkamp, M. M., Blessing, E. M., Galatzer-Levy, I. R., Hollahan, L. C., & Anderson, W. T. (2017). Marijuana and other cannabinoids as a treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder: a literature review. Depression and Anxiety34(3), 207–216.

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