Treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder With Medical Cannabis

May 2, 2019

In this personal essay, Danielle Corcione provides insight on C-PTSD and how cannabis can help.

“I’ve got to treat my body if I’m ever going to recover from this illness,” Kimberly Callis, an independent researcher with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, tells High Times. “Cannabis [is] a systemic medicine; complex PTSD is a systemic condition. The two really go hand-in-hand, especially with a target on the endocannabinoid system.”

Since there is a minimal body of work around C-PTSD, most of what we know about medical marijuana and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder comes from studies oriented around former combat soldiers. Recent research shows cannabis can have a positive effect on those with PTSD. Earlier this year, researchers finally concluded a decade-long FDA-approved study on the effects of THC and CBD in veterans with PTSD.

However, trauma has many more faces than this—particularly complex trauma, or C-PTSD. Plus, more and more are seeking medical marijuana as a treatment for mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and mood disorders. So what happens when we begin to look at trauma that isn’t rooted in serving in the military and overall law enforcement?

Difference Between PTSD and C-PTSD

The National Institute on Mental Health categories PTSD as “a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.” Anyone can develop this condition, especially those who have survived “physical or sexual assault, abuse, [an] accident, [a] disaster, or many other serious events.” Common symptoms include, but are not limited to, flashbacks, sleep problems, nightmares, avoidance of certain places related to an event, physical tension, feelings of shame and guilt, and irritability. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 7.7 million adults in the United States experience PTSD.

Complex trauma, on the other hand, is defined a little differently. This condition often describes multiple traumatic incidents related to abuse and/or neglect during developmental years, explains the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. When a someone experiences multiple traumatic events so early on in their lives, it can greatly impact development and formation of the sense of self. It also deeply affects a child’s relationships, even into adult years. C-PTSD can more accurately describe children who have experienced war terror as civilians, for instance.

While PTSD is a very serious condition, as trauma does not discriminate, the framework of C-PTSD helps us understand how trauma impacts childhood development and sense of self. According to psychotherapist Peter Walker’s Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving, Complex PTSD is more insidious form of PTSD, characterized by “emotional flashbacks, toxic shame, self-abandonment, a vicious inner critic and social anxiety.”

While there are very few studies out there about medical marijuana and PTSD, research is still incredibly valuable, as they illustrate how beneficial cannabis can be, even for folks with C-PTSD. Even in today’s climate, research involving scheduled drugs is incredibly difficult to conduct. (Even the Department of Veteran Affairs denies the power of cannabis to heal from trauma, because government agencies adheres to federal law.) As researchers are able to conduct more studies on medical marijuana and mental health, there is an untapped area of study centering C-PTSD, centering survivors of childhood abuse.

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