Testing Marijuana for PTSD

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Almost 8 million people in the United States have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While it is most commonly associated with veterans returning from war, those who have witnessed crimes and natural disasters, first responders and abuse survivors also have a high risk of developing PTSD. Symptoms of PTSD include:

    • Flashbacks and nightmares
    • Emotional numbness
    • Avoidance of places, people or situations that act as reminders of the event
    • Difficulty sleeping
    • Feeling as if on edge constantly
    • Easily agitated
    • Irritability or anger

    The symptoms can be severe enough to cause debilitation.

    Medical Marijuana

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    Currently, there are 20 states that allow medical marijuana. This means that people can use medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. It is still illegal under federal law, however, the U.S. Justice Department has indicated it will not interfere with a state’s marijuana laws - as long as it is used in conjunction with federal enforcement priorities, such as not recommending use for minors. States have a list of accepted conditions marijuana can be recommended for. It is most often used for chronic pain sufferers. In most states where it is allowed, doctors can only recommend it; patients must then buy it through a government-approved dispensary.

    Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I substance by the federal government. That means it it has no medical use and has a high potential for abuse. Organizations that want to study possible medical uses are prevented from doing so because of federal laws either for research or for purchasing the drug for testing.

    Marijuana and PTSD

    Some research has been conducted on using marijuana for PTSD, mostly in other countries, and some of this research has shown that it can help. Veterans, and others with PTSD, however, have been using the drug illegally to treat the anxiety disorder, and for some, it helps. According to an article on Vice.com, one veteran explained, “When I smoke, it makes my brain slow down enough to deal...it helps me reach a balancing point. I’ve been on every drug they have out there and none of them did what marijuana has done for me.”

    Our Health Expert, Jerry Kennard, wrote about a study that showed, “THC (the active ingredient in marijuana), reduced the brain’s response to threatening images whilst leaving other areas of the brain unaffected.” In another post, Merely Me explains that there are mixed results from studies when it comes to treating anxiety with marijuana. Some people found it helped to reduce anxiety, while others found that it increased feelings of paranoia and caused panic attacks. Clearly, research is needed to determine if, and why, this drug can help those with PTSD.

    The Problems with Researching Marijuana for Health Conditions

    Years ago, the University of Arizona submitted a proposal to research marijuana for the treatment of PTSD. It was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. However, to date, the University has not been able to complete the research because, although approved for research, they have not been approved to purchase the drug in order to complete the research.

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    The National Institute on Drug Abuse has a farm in Mississippi where they grow marijuana for research. It is the only federally-sanctioned place to purchase marijuana for research purposes. But the plants grown there are usually used for research into addiction and drug abuse. Requests to purchase it for use in studies looking at medical uses have been denied. The Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), has been working for years to purchase marijuana for medical research. They were just granted permission and plan to move ahead with their study of marijuana for PTSD. The next step is to get permission from the Drug Enforcement Agency, although their request is expected to be approved.

    The Future

    The effects of marijuana on various medical conditions is still unknown. Some say it might be helpful for epilepsy, PTSD and other forms of anxiety among other medical conditions. Several organizations are working to have the drug’s classification changed to make it easier for research facilities to obtain and test the drug for different medical conditions.


    “Government Approves Study of Marijuana Smoking to Treat PTSD in Military Veterans,” 2014, March 18, CBS News

    “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Symptoms,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Anxiety and Depression Association of America

Published On: March 24, 2014