Benefits of Medical Cannabis for PTSD, Anxiety, and Pain
Anecdotal evidence over the last several decades would seem to support to idea that marijuana can be beneficial for a number of conditions, symptoms, and diseases; but the scientific evidence in this area is lacking. While just over half of U.S. states have recently legalized medical marijuana, the drug is still illegal at the federal level and, as a result, it is extremely difficult to research the ways in which it may be medically beneficial to users.
While I focused my research primarily on those reports and studies published within the past two years, I have expanded slightly to include one study from 2014. This is because research in the area is extremely limited, and I did not want to exclude helpful information from your research, where at all possible.
As referenced above, research in this area is limited due to government regulations and classifications surrounding marijuana use, and "evidence" that the drug can be helpful in treating symptoms of PTSD is almost entirely anecdotal. Ultimately, "controlled studies have not been conducted to evaluate the safety or effectiveness of medical marijuana for PTSD. Thus, there is no evidence at this time that marijuana is an effective treatment for PTSD. In fact, research suggests that marijuana can be harmful to individuals with PTSD."
That said, symptoms of PTSD are the second most common cause cited by individuals requesting medical marijuana, with more than a third of all patients requesting it for that reason. Further, while no specific medical or scientific evidence exists to prove the drug's effectiveness in treating symptoms of PTSD, the number of veterans with PTSD who use marijuana has increased by 60 percent over the past 10 years.
Further, a report published by Veterans' Affairs in May 2017 indicates that "research has consistently demonstrated that the human endocannabinoid system plays a significant role in PTSD. People with PTSD have greater availability of cannabinoid type 1 (CB1) receptors as compared to trauma-exposed or healthy controls (13,14). As a result, marijuana use by individuals with PTSD may result in short-term reduction of PTSD symptoms." However, the article continues by indicating that "continued use of marijuana among individuals with PTSD may lead to a number of negative consequences."
Citing a study from Clinical Psychology Review, Time Magazine indicated that "cannabis can likely benefit people dealing with depression, social anxiety and PTSD, though it may not be ideal for people with bipolar disorder, for instance, for which there appears to be more negative side effects than positive ones." However, a separate study which reviewed existing research on the subject found that those studies which do exist in support of the potential medical benefits of marijuana for treating PTSD, cannot be trusted because the sample sizes used were so small or due to a lack of control groups.
As with uses for pain and PTSD, scientific evidence as to the anxiety-related benefits of marijuana use is limited. However, anecdotal evidence suggests overwhelmingly that the drug can be extremely helpful in this regard.
In June 2017, the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that extremely limited quantities of THC — found in marijuana — may help reduce symptoms of anxiety; however, anything which would produce even the slightest high was found to have the opposite effect, increasing feelings of anxiety.
The same 2014 study which found a 64 percent reduction in pain for program participants, also found that patients "experienced a decrease in anxiety and better sleep while using the drug." However, the specific amounts used and effectiveness was not measured for this use.
Anecdotal evidence for the benefits of marijuana with regard to pain relief abound and ultimately, chronic pain is the most highly cited cause by patients requesting medical marijuana in states where it has been legalized. In fact, about 80 percent of individuals requesting medical marijuana, are doing so for treatment of chronic pain.
That said, scientific and medical evidence of the drug's pain-related benefits is limited. In 2014, the Hawaii Journal of Medicine & Public Health published a study indicating that participants experienced a 64 percent decrease in overall pain while using marijuana.
Additionally, a study published in January 2017 by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine indicated that research on the subject offers some evidence of potential pain relief from use of marijuana. Specifically, the study found "that there is conclusive or substantial evidence...that cannabis or cannabinoids, found in the marijuana plant, can be an effective treatment for chronic pain."
Despite that promising study though, two later reports published by The Annals of Internal Medicine in August 2017 "find little scientific evidence to support either its effectiveness or its safety."
To summarize, specific medical or scientific evidence as to the benefits of marijuana use is extremely limited due to federal regulations and classifications surrounding the drug. However, anecdotal evidence, as well as limited research into the subject would suggest that limited and controlled use of specific cannabis strains may help reduce pain, as well as symptoms of anxiety and PTSD.