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PTSD and CBD Oil: A Therapeutic Alternative?

It’s hard to know where to start when treating a difficult condition like PTSD, but CBD oil may help.

Many people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are turning to CBD oil as a therapeutic alternative. PTSD is a complex and complicated condition that, according to the Sidran Traumatic Stress Institute, impacts an estimated 5% of Americans at any given time.

Recent advances in neuroimaging have provided a greater understanding of the ways in which the brain is physically changed during trauma. This understanding highlights some of the ways CBD oil can function as an alternative to traditional treatment options, relieving symptoms and helping PTSD sufferers regain their functioning.

Effectiveness of Using CBD Oil for PTSD

PTSD is a vicious condition, forcing the victims or witnesses of an incredibly traumatic event to relive those moments, often without warning. The extreme alertness or “hyper-vigilance” that is typical of the condition can leave sufferers with ongoing anxiety, trouble sleeping, agitation, and difficulty concentrating on day to day tasks. These are all PTSD symptoms that CBD oil has been known to help.

PTSD doesn’t discriminate. The condition is most commonly associated with soldiers or those who have lived in combat zones, but it can also occur in children or anyone who has experienced a life-altering trauma like abuse, an accident, or the loss of a loved one.

Along with the psychological symptoms associated with PTSD, there are often physical symptoms. These PTSD symptoms can include heart palpitations, racing pulse, chest pains, and nausea. CBD oil has the potential to alleviate some of these experiences.

Because CBD oil can help with some of the psychological difficulties, and ease a few of the physical symptoms, it is emerging as a way for PTSD sufferers to return to their previous lives.

CBD Oil and Stress Responses to PTSD

The stress responses experienced by those with PTSD are responsible for the underlying anxiety and hyper-vigilance associated with the condition. Antidepressants are often prescribed to help offset these anxious and hyper-vigilant symptoms because they elevate levels of certain neurotransmitters, like serotonin, in the brain. When serotonin levels are low, anxiety tends to be high and vice versa.

CBD oil has been shown to reduce stress in a similar fashion to the way antidepressant drugs do. In a 2009 study, researchers wanted to see how CBD could affect 5HT1A (serotonin) receptors as they related to responses in stressful situations. The results showed CBD helped reduce stress and anxiety in test subjects exposed to stressful situations. Results showed that CBD acts on 5HT1A receptors and thereby helps to reduce stress…

Finally, in a 2012 study, CBD was shown to reduce conditioned stress responses. The rats in the study were exposed to foot shocks within a contextual situation, mimicking the traumatic experiences and subsequent responses a person with PTSD might experience. When the rats were reintroduced to the contextual situation without the foot shocks, they exhibited stress on a behavioral and physical (cardiovascular) level, similar to what may be considered a ‘PTSD flashback.' Then, a portion of the rats were given CBD, and the results were promising: The rats given CBD exhibited a significantly reduced amount of physical and behavioral stress when exposed to the contextual situation, compared to the group that did not receive CBD. If there are environmental or situational triggers for your own PTSD, this study points to CBD oil as a potential help for these types of stress responses.

While antidepressants may be more widely used, they can also cause side effects like nausea, insomnia, and drowsiness. CBD oil does not cause these side effects. If you've tried taking antidepressants to manage your PTSD and were unhappy with the results, CBD oil may be worth trying.

CBD Oil for Insomnia

Insomnia is just one of many challenges associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. After a traumatic event, you may have consistently heightened levels of stress and anxiety, making it difficult to relax and fall asleep. Luckily, CBD oil has been successful in helping people get to sleep by reducing anxiety and pain, as well as reducing the occurrence of REM disorders, which are common amongst people with PTSD.

REM disorders are typically characterized by the physical acting out of dreams during sleep, and can be dangerous to the person with the disorder and anyone who's sharing the bed. REM abnormalities like this can make it difficult to sleep through the night, let alone get a good night's rest. However, a 2012 study examined the effect of CBD on anxiety-induced insomnia and REM abnormalities produced compelling results, stating, “Conclusively, CBD may block anxiety-induced REM sleep alteration via its anxiolytic [anxiety-reducing] effect…”

If anxiety associated with PTSD is affecting your ability to get to sleep and stay asleep, you might consider using CBD oil before bed.

CBD Oil and Memory Processing for PTSD

PTSD affects an area of the brain called the hippocampus. This is the area responsible for processing memories. Studies have found that sufferers of PTSD have relatively small hippocampi, likely due to damage that is caused by elevated stress levels for a long period of time.

CBD oil impacts the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2, located in the brain and central nervous system. It is believed that through its impact on the CB1 receptor, CBD oil promotes neurogenesis, the growth of new brain cells, which could help the hippocampus heal and replenish itself. By doing this new and healthy memory connections are formed, helping PTSD sufferers better cope with and process memories.

Additionally, an in-depth review of over 100 studies on cannabidiol (CBD) and PTSD concluded “Human and animal studies suggest that CBD may offer therapeutic benefits for disorders related to inappropriate responses to traumatic memories.” If you're suffering from PTSD, CBD oil may help you better manage painful memories through its physical effects on the brain, and overarching effects on your emotions.

CBD Oil and the Amygdala

The severity of symptoms in PTSD sufferers is believed to stem from the amygdala, a central part of the brain which is responsible for emotion. This particular part of the brain is hyperactive in patients with PTSD.

A study by King’s College London found CBD reduced the level of blood oxygenation in the amygdala of test subjects who were exposed to pictures of anxious people. (Interestingly, test subjects who were given tetrahydrocannabinol—THC—did not exhibit a similar response.) By reducing the hyperactivity of the amygdala, CBD oil may then reduce the severity of anxiety-induced PTSD symptoms.

Benefits of Using CBD Oil for PTSD

Current treatments for PTSD center around talk therapy and antidepressant drugs. Unfortunately, these methods may not be enough or may yield unwanted side effects; because of this, more people are turning to CBD oil as an alternative, or supplement, to traditional treatments.

Talk therapies have been found to provide great results in dealing with trauma, and in particular, Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) have helped many people overcome their PTSD symptoms. With the above research and results in mind, coupling CBD oil with these types of therapy could bolster your efforts to treat your PTSD.

However, there are many people who feel they are not yet ready to talk about their experiences.  In these cases, doctors will generally prescribe a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant, like Paroxetine (Paxil) or Fluoxetine (Prozac). But these medications come with side effects that can complicate or exacerbate what the individual is already experiencing, making them less-than-ideal candidates for treatment of PTSD. In addition to potentially causing nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, and loss of appetite, SSRIs can be difficult to quit, as there are withdrawal symptoms some users may experience. 

In contrast, a research study into the use of CBD oil on PTSD found it to have “an action profile with fewer side effects than the pharmacological therapy currently used to treat this type of disorder.” So promising is CBD oil that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has approved a federal study into the use of cannabis as medicine for PTSD. Clinical evidence is so far very limited and further research is needed

How to Take CBD Oil for PTSD

Because CBD oil can reduce stress responses, increase healthy memory processing, and lessen symptom severity, it may be worth trying if you're currently suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. However, before you do anything, speak with your doctor. CBD oil has been known to interact with certain medications, including antidepressants, so it's important you get the ‘all clear' before proceeding. For a complete consultation, you might also consider speaking to a cannabis doctor who may know more about using CBD oil to treat the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

When you're all set to start using CBD oil, you'll have to decide on an administration method. Your options are varied, and include CBD oil drops, vapes, edibles, and capsules. Vaping CBD oil or taking drops will likely produce the fastest results, making them excellent on-the-go options for managing your PTSD. Edibles and capsules will take more time to kick in, but you'll likely feel their effects longest, making them good candidates for pre-bedtime CBD oil usage. Test out different delivery methods and decide which are best for your needs.

CBD Oil Dosage for PTSD

When it comes to CBD oil dosage for PTSD, there isn't a dose that works for everyone because no two people are the same! So, start by following the recommendation on your CBD oil product. If you're still in need of guidance, we at CBD Oil Review suggest the following, having tested hundreds of CBD products:

The CBD Oil Review Serving Standard is 25 mg of CBD taken twice daily.

If you're not seeing the results you'd like, increase your dosage by 25 mg every 3-4 weeks until the results are to your liking.

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