By Paul Lewin
As epidemic rates of opioid addiction and overdose suicides rise to unprecedented levels in the United States, medical researchers are scrambling to find safer alternatives to hydrocodone (Vicodin) and oxycodone (Percocet), the two most prevalently-prescribed opioids in the country.
Reports from healthcare information technology companies like IQVIA show that these dangerous drugs are prescribed for anything from chronic pain issues to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), causing widespread dependency and addiction among particularly vulnerable members of society.
Why is there a lack of information on the effectiveness of CBD for PTSD? Until recently, government regulations made it too difficult to test cannabinoids in the lab with people, and it was not widely available for purchase by consumers. That’s changed, as many researchers are on the case. Still, it will take more time for a more thorough investigation of a substance that shows such very high promise as an alternative for stress and, specifically, PTSD.
The prescription rates of opioids for PTSD are particularly unsettling given the disorder is manifested by various psychological symptoms, as opposed to somatic symptoms which could benefit from opioids and their morphine-like effects. Conversely, related studies have shown that the hemp and cannabis compound cannabidiol (CBD) can safely ameliorate symptoms of a number of PTSD’s related disorders without risks associated with strong, prescription drugs.
To understand this incongruous gap in current medical research, it’s important to understand the distinctive characteristics of post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as how existing research into CBD is used to determine its potential in treating a range of physical, developmental and psychiatric disorders.
What is PTSD in a nutshell, and what makes it unique?
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a fairly common psychiatric condition characterized by a variety of symptoms; most commonly the reliving of past traumatic events through recurringly intrusive memories, so-called “flashbacks” and nightmares. This constant agitation ultimately extends into any of several behavioral symptoms, such as aversion to specific settings or environments believed to cause distress, affected cognition, erratic changes in demeanor and sexual dysfunction.
The majority of individuals suffering from PTSD exhibit multiple behavioral symptoms from related disorders. The markedly nebulous nature of PTSD is what makes it difficult for medical professionals to prescribe specific drugs for treatment, instead deferring to relief medication — such as opioids — with the aim of reducing pain and suffering.
It’s worth noting that it isn’t just combat veterans who can suffer from PTSD. The disorder is also known to occur in survivors of other traumatic events, such as domestic abuse, assault or even traffic collisions. However, combat veterans are the single largest group in terms of sheer number of individuals diagnosed with PTSD.
The propensity to develop PTSD has been shown to be genetic to some extent. According to a 1993 study by William R. True et al, approximately thirty percent of the variance in PTSD comes from genetics alone. The study also showed that individuals with a genetically smaller hippocampus are more likely to develop PTSD following a traumatic event.
What Are the Most Common Disorders Related to PTSD, and Why?
PTSD-related disorders are surprisingly diverse, and range from mild conditions (e.g. chronic insomnia) to severe mental illness (e.g. schizophrenia) or even anomalous maladies like phantom limb pain (PLP). However, anxiety and mood disorders are by far the most commonly related to PTSD. Let’s take a brief look at each to better understand why.
- Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety and the development of specific phobias such as hematophobia or claustrophobia. These can culminate in anything from debilitating behavioral symptoms to panic attacks without proper treatment and/or therapy.
- Mood disorders include depression, bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). When left untreated, mood disorders can very easily spiral into loss of productivity, increasing self-isolation and the development of suicidal tendencies.
Studies show that anxiety and mood disorders are the ones most commonly related to PTSD because of individual feelings of residual fear, regret, anger or even dread over a lack of closure in past traumatic experiences. However, the key takeaway in this analysis is that neither PTSD, its accompanying symptoms or its related disorders are somatic in nature, and opioids are only likely to exacerbate the issue. This sets up an important question, particularly during this ongoing revolution of natural medicine: would it be a better idea to prescribe CBD for PTSD?
CBD and Its Role in Ameliorating Anxiety & Mood Disorders
There’s no better argument behind the idea of prescribing CBD for PTSD than its impressive track record in treating PTSD’s most common related disorders. Across the country, pharmaceutical-grade CBD is already being prescribed for patients with anxiety and mood disorders. Invigorated by published medical research and ubiquitous individual testimonies, countless businesses from cannabis dispensaries to health supplement stores have CBD available for sale. CBD can come in various forms from CBD topicals to CBD flower.It’s also worth noting that the feasibility of CBD for PTSD is certainly not lost on self-medicating individuals diagnosed with the disorder, as highlighted by an editorial for the Canadian College of Neuropsychopharmacology.
Existing Research & the Need for Invested Interest
CBD may well hold the potential to properly treat PTSD without risk of triggering dependency or addiction, but more research is needed. As of this writing, current research (and by extension evidence) of the viability of CBD for PTSD is minimal, yet the need for exploration could not be more urgent. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, more than twenty-eight percent of Americans who fought in the Middle East have been diagnosed with PTSD; eight percent of all Americans (or approximately 24.4 million people) suffer from PTSD and roughly seventy percent of Americans have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetime.
With time and increased government interest in the form of empaneled research programs and/or much-needed funding, there’s a good chance we’ll see much better results from prescribing CBD for PTSD — and curtail the rates of opioid deaths in the process.
About the author
Jack of many trades (and master of one or two), Paul Lewin, is a CBD and legal marijuana enthusiast currently living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.