Before thinking about treatment, it is important to understand the causes and symptoms of PTSD. By definition, Post-Traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can develop in people who have witnessed or experienced a traumatic event, such as a serious accident, a natural disaster, war/combat, or personal assault. Although PTSD is mostly an affliction contributed to combat veterans, it can occur in all people, in any ethnicity, nationality, culture, or age. While a diagnosis of PTSD requires exposure to an upsetting traumatic event, that exposure could be indirect rather than first hand. Many different methods have been used to treat symptoms of PTSD throughout the years. While psychotherapy and prescription drug treatments have been the primary methods; natural treatments – including CBD – are emerging as suitable and accepted forms of successfully treating PTSD.
The inherent nature of mental disorders makes them difficult to diagnose; for a professional to diagnose a patient with PTSD, they must experience all of the following symptoms for at least 1 month.
At least one re-experiencing symptom. Flashbacks, bad dreams, frightening thoughts or anything that may cause problems in a person’s everyday routine. Words, objects, or situations can trigger re-experiencing symptoms.
At least one avoidance symptom. Avoiding thoughts, feelings, places, events or objects that reminds a person of a traumatic event can trigger an avoidance symptom. These symptoms cause a person to change his or her personal routine, such as avoiding cars after a car accident.
At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms. Reactivity simply refers to reactions such as “lashing out” in relation to irritability and being triggered by seemingly nothing. Arousal symptoms, on the other hand, are constant. This would be referring to symptoms such and difficulties concentrating or insomnia. These symptoms cause stress and anger, and may cause difficulty eating, sleeping, or concentrating. These symptoms are usually related to the anxiety, insomnia and outbursts connected to PTSD.
At least two cognition and mood symptoms. These symptoms begin or worsen after a traumatic experience, but are not due to any injury sustained in the event. The symptoms include loss of enjoyment, distorted feelings, negative and pessimistic thoughts, and trouble recalling significant features of the event.
Traditional Treatments for PTSD
There are a number of treatments for people suffering from PTSD. Psychotherapy, also referred to as the “talking cure,” is one of the oldest methods for PTSD, dating back to as early as the 1800s4. The use of psychiatric drugs, such as antidepressants, is another popular method for controlling PTSD symptoms. Both methods, while accepted as effective methods, have been under scrutiny by medical professionals, as studies suggest that traditional drugs may not be the healthiest or most effective course of treatment. Most prescriptions for PTSD are used to treat symptoms of the disorder rather than the root causes, and they are not intended for trauma treatment. For instance, Prazosin, a medicine used to treat high blood pressure, is prescribed to PTSD sufferers as a means to combat sleep problems. Antidepressants are used to control anxiety caused by trauma, but tend to suppress the symptoms of PTSD—not cure them. While prescription drugs can be helpful in providing relief from day to day symptoms of suffering individuals, they are also linked to addiction and can also result in additional side effects. Psychotherapy addresses the root causes of symptoms and helps victims to work through the trauma to eventually be healed long term from PTSD. While valuable and often effective, the process can be expensive, extensive, strenuous, and results vary on a case by case basis.
Using CBD For PTSD
There is no ideal drug treatment for PTSD sufferers, clinical5,6,7 or preclinical;8,9,10 however, studies suggest that the endocannabinoid system, which plays an essential role in maintaining emotional homeostasis and in regulating memory retrieval, consolidation and most importantly extinction, is a possible and ideal target to treat both the emotional and cognitive characterizations of PTSD. The endocannabinoid system, first discovered in 1992 by Israeli researcher Dr. Ralph Mechoulam, is made up of two main receptors. These receptors, cannabinoid 1 (CB1) and cannabinoid 2 (CB2), were found to be an integral part of all human and animal physiologies, and are only configured to accept cannabinoids, especially tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD)11. These receptors have been found to modulate the release of neurotransmitters and produce a wide range of effects on the central nervous system, including pleasure and the alteration of the memory process. Research suggests that the cannabinoids found in CBD have the ability to work in conjunction with the cannabinoid receptors to block the continuous retrieval of traumatic events and reduce the anxieties associated with it.
CBD, PTSD & You
Unlike THC, CBD provides the same medical benefits of hemp plants without experiencing a high. The positive effects of CBD can help PTSD patients manage the core symptoms of the condition which include re-experiencing, avoidance, and hyperarousal.
CBD has become an alternative to traditional drug and psychotherapy treatments in recent years and at least 24 states have approved CBD and cannabinoids for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Frequently used for coping purposes by combat veterans, CBD has proven to be a suitable replacement for traditional drugs in treating emotional regulation, stress tolerance, irregular sleeping patterns, nightmares, social anxieties and lessening the effects of triggers.
While there is no cure for PTSD, CBD is a suitable replacement, backed by medical research, for both drug and psychotherapeutic means of controlling and treating symptoms. Traditionally, PTSD is very difficult to treat due to the plethora of symptoms. While most treatment options only focus on treating a few symptoms, CBD has the ability to treat a wide range of symptoms associated with the disorder. It has the ability to reduce anxiety, help with depression, fight insomnia, and reduce or eliminate flashbacks without the risk of possible substance abuse.
Other Natural Remedies
In addition to CBD, there are other natural treatments that are beginning to prove effective for managing symptoms and reducing the side effects of PTSD.
Kava Root. Kava root is a powerful relaxant agent that is helpful in treating and controlling panic attacks and nervous episodes that can be brought on by PTSD. A powerful natural muscle relaxant, current research supports the claims of treating generalized anxiety and depression with kava root.12
Yoga & meditation. Research suggests that traditional treatment methods fail to fully address the complicated ways that PTSD symptoms are presented, especially that of awareness of one’s emotional and physical being in the present moment. Yoga has been shown to change the brain by helping to increase “happy” neurotransmitters, reducing stress, improving coping mechanisms and more.13 Mediation, much like yoga, has the ability to calm and quiet the sympathetic nervous system, which stimulates the “fight-or-flight” response that is triggered by reactivity symptoms.
Skullcap. A medicinal plant that has been used for generations in traditional Eastern medicine, skullcap has been used as a relaxation and calming agent that assists with sleep, and has even been used as a substitute for muscle relaxers. Skullcap has been studied and identified as a drug-free alternative for soothing nervous system disorders.14
Exercise. One of the most natural ways to flood the body with positive endorphins and compounds is exercise. The rush of endorphins that result from strenuous workouts can lower stress hormone levels, increase appetite, and make it easier to relax and sleep.
Valerian. Many PTSD sufferers experience insomnia, nightmares, and other restless conditions when they attempt to sleep. Valerian, a powerful sleep aid, can help to ensure restful and healthy sleep.
Counseling. Although the terms counseling and psychotherapy can be used interchangeably, there is a difference in both as treatment methods. Psychotherapy, often used as a PTSD treatment, is a long-term treatment that focuses on a broad range of issues, how to manage symptoms, and believes in following medical recommendations. Counseling, on the other hand, focuses on specific issues and symptoms and is designed to help a person address specific problems. The focus may be on problem-solving or learning techniques for coping, managing symptoms, or avoiding problem areas.