CBD Oil for PTSD vs. Marijuana for PTSD Symptom Relief

Last Updated on December 31, 2023 by Richard

Using CBD oil for PTSD is safer and more effective than using medical marijuana or street sourced marijuana. In a survey of 2409 CBD users, 220 of those people used CBD oil for PTSD. [19]

For many years you only heard about war veterans having PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).  First, they fought in the war, and then they fought the Veterans Administration and doctors to get properly diagnosed and treated.

Man in PTSD treatment. He should consider using CBD oil for PTSD symptom relief.

On top of all of that, they also had to fight the awful side effects of the medications.  For many it was not a life worth living, and suicide was the ultimate price they paid for protecting America.

Many veterans found (some) relief from PTSD symptoms by smoking marijuana. [15] However, that created new problems.  Including even worse symptoms when they stopped using marijuana.

Then came Medical Marijuana for PTSD as a means of treating PTSD symptoms.  The only thing medical marijuana did was to make its use legal.  There were still the same awful side effects from using medical marijuana as there was from smoking a joint.

Finally, cannabidiol (CBD) and the Endocannabinoid System were discovered.  That’s when cannabidiol or CBD, as it is usually called, became (in my non-doctor opinion) “the best treatment for PTSD”.

Along the way, doctors realized that civilians, including children, also had PTSD.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Background Information

PTSD is now a household term owing to the scientific advancements made over the past ten years or so.

As it stands, the term is now used on a broader scale, and its application is no longer restricted to war veterans.

Combat trauma is not considered to be the only trigger for the condition, even though the term is still mainly applied to soldiers returning from combat operations.

PTSD, whether acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term), does not develop in every person who has undergone a physically dangerous experience.  That’s according to the US National Institute of Mental Health. {1]

That make sense to me, because PTSD is not about damage to the physical body.  It’s all about the emotional and mental trauma.  However, there are physical PTSD symptoms.

The sudden death of a loved one can be shocking enough to develop PTSD. [1]

PTSD can be triggered by traumatic experiences, in whatever form the trauma takes.

Affecting both the young and the old, male or female, the disorder isn’t discriminatory in any way whatsoever.

A mix of mood-altering and psychotherapy medications, such as SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), has been traditionally used to treat the disorder.

During a short-term treatment period, the medically approved drugs can be effective.  However, long term use of antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs can be challenging for most PTSD sufferers

There are many serious associated side effects of using these pharmaceutical medications. Furthermore, when treating children, it’s much harder to use these drugs safely.

It’s become painfully apparent that traditional treatment approaches are not enough.  It may not be obvious to the medical community, but PTSD patients have ample proof that better treatments must be developed.

There hasn’t been much scientific research concerning the use of CBD oil for PTSD.  That’s because most of the research was on using marijuana for treating PTSD.

We will look into the history of using marijuana for PTSD, and then we will look at using CBD (cannabidiol) as a safer alternative.

Using CBD oil to treat PTSD has shown significant success as you will see.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: The Basics

Let us take a moment to appreciate the fundamental facts of this disorder before we look at treating it with marijuana or CBD oil.

First, there is the vivid, haunting, reliving of the trauma over and over again.

This can go on for many years with increasing damage to the human psyche.

Second, the PTSD patients go out of their way to avoid anything that would remind them of what happened.  This can be debilitating all by itself.

Other symptoms of the disorder include flashbacks, sleep related issues, depression, changes in thought patterns, mood and angry outbursts.

Finally, people suffering from PTSD also feel lonely, and dead emotionally.

What causes PTSD?

The initial causes of PTSD can be any frightening event.  That includes any physical, emotional, or socially disturbing event.

For example: A plane crash, seeing a child drowning, sexual violence or even a seemingly simple divorce.

Before PTSD was even recognized as a real war related medical condition, all of the affected veterans were simply treated for anxiety and depression.

You could argue that the only real difference between having anxiety and depression, or having PTSD, was the suicide rate.

Eventually PTSD was recognized as a real war related medical condition.  However, the only real treatments provided were the standard drugs for treating anxiety and depression.

It took years for the Veterans Administration and doctors in general to even consider using marijuana for treating PTSD.  That only happened after numerous veterans reported major symptom reductions from smoking a joint.

The V.A. and doctors couldn’t use marijuana, because it was illegal.  Second, there wasn’t any research to prove that using marijuana would be effective or safe to use.  Another reason was the fear of addicting the patients to marijuana or opioid medications.

Smoking A Joint vs Medical Marijuana For PTSD

Veterans were self-treating by smoking marijuana.  However, there were several problems with doing so.

Over the years the amount of THC in street marijuana has increased and the amount of CBD has decreased. [8, 10] This has three negative results.

First as the THC content goes up, so do the negative side effects: anxiety, psychotic symptoms, paranoia, and a faster heart rate.  Note: CBD has none of these side effects. [11]

Second, CBD reduces the negative THC side effects.  In other words, the CBD content of marijuana reduced the unwanted side effects of the THC. [11]

So, as the CBD content was reduced and the THC content was increased, you got an increased “high”.  But you also got more negative side effects.

The third result includes a greater chance of being addicted to marijuana.  Which is a very common result when using marijuana to treat PTSD.

In contrast to marijuana, CBD oil is effective at treating addictions. [9]

Medical marijuana is essentially street marijuana that is highly controlled and tested for purity.  The medical benefits are the same if the THC and CBD contents are the same for both the street and medical marijuana.

However, different levels of THC and CBD produce vastly different effects in your body. [11] This is due to how they interact with the Endocannabinoid System, which is extremely complex and is not fully understood.

With street marijuana you have no idea what you are getting.  At least with medical marijuana you know what you are getting.  Which means that you can accurately dose the amounts of THC or CBD that you are taking.

Street Sourced Synthetic Cannabinoids vs. Medical Synthetic Cannabinoids

Using street sourced Synthetic Cannabinoids (SCs), such as “spice” or “K2” is not the same as smoking a joint.  Street synthetic cannabinoids do not contain any CBDs. [12]

Additionally, street synthetic cannabinoids have many more severe side effects than natural plant derived THC.  This is directly related to the fact that street synthetic cannabinoids have a much stronger bond to the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain.  This results in much greater psychoactive effects than natural THC. [12]

In a combined study of approximately 4,000 people using street sourced synthetic cannabinoids, 26 people died.  However, in most cases, the side effects were not so serious.

The most common side effects were nausea, a fast heart rate, and agitation.

The more serious side effects included: heart attacks and strokes, pregnancy complications, and acute kidney damage. [12]

Medical Synthetic Cannabinoids

The pharmaceutical companies have produced their own synthetic cannabinoids.

Nabilone is a synthetic THC and is sold under the name Cesamet.  It’s FDA approved for treating nausea and vomiting that is caused by cancer treating chemotherapy. [10, 13]

A Canadian military study of 10 men with PTSD were treated with Nabilone.  The initial dosage was 0.5mg and was increased as needed to stop nightmares, with a limit of 3.0mg per day.  The study lasted seven weeks. Half of the men were much improved and half of the men had side effects.  The side effects were not severe.  The most common side effects were having a dry mouth and headaches. [18]

Dronabinol is sold as Marinol and Syndros.  It is also FDA approved for chemotherapy caused vomiting, and nausea, and to increase weight gain in AIDS patients. [10, 13]

Medical Marijuana

Epidiolex is derived from marijuana plants.  It contains cannabidiol (CBD).  It is FDA approved for treating epileptic seizures. [13]

Nabiximols is sold as Sativex.  This is made from the whole cannabis plant.  It has equal amounts of THC and CBD. [10, 13]

A study involving mice said that CBD was just as effective at treating psychosis as the prescription drug Amisulpride (Solian).  It also stated that CBD was just as effective at treating depression as nabiximols. [10]

This indicates that you can buy CBD oil for depression (no prescription), instead of the THC containing Nabiximols (Sativex) prescription medicine.

CBD Oil vs Street Marijuana and Medical Marijuana for PTSD

Street marijuana and medical marijuana have high levels of THC which can increase psychotic symptoms, and increases the chance of opioid use and addiction.  Whereas by using only CBD, opioid addictions and psychotic symptoms can be reduced. [20]

Anxiety, fear and panic attacks are all part of the PTSD experience, and all of these are reduced by the use of CBD (cannabidiol). [20]

Research On Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder And CBD

Clinical trials in the study of using CBD to treat PTSD are in their opening stages.

The research into the use of CBD has been greatly hindered by the legal classification of medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana contains significant amounts of THC, which causes the marijuana “high”.

However, CBD is derived from cannabis plants that contain minute trace amounts of THC.  Those trace amounts can’t get you “high”, which is why CBD oil is legal in all U.S. states.

Even though it is extracted from the cannabis plant, CBD is not psychoactive.  Because of the extremely low amounts of THC, these strains of cannabis are classified as hemp.  Sometimes it’s called industrial hemp.

By observing how CBD works during the research, we obtain useful information that can be analyzed further.   Often these research studies involve just a few people, which limits the viability of the obtained results.

Treating PTSD In Children Using CBD

Adults have plenty of trouble using SSRIs (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) to treat their PTSD anxiety and panic symptoms.  So, you can imagine that treating children with SSRIs could be even harder to do.

However, there is evidence that using CBD oil for PTSD symptoms may be a better option.

In one clinical case there was a 10-year-old child suffering from sleeping problems and anxiety issues related to PTSD. [2]

Pre-teen girl reading a book.  One girl was greatly helped by using CBD oil for PTSD symptom relief.
One girl was greatly helped by using CBD oil for PTSD symptom relief.

CBD was used to treat a girl who was the main focus of a 2016 case study presented by University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Scott Shannon.

Reducing occurrences of emotional outbursts in school was one of the main objectives.   Also, reducing the girl’s anxiety and sleep issues were of great importance too.

A baseline measurement of the girl’s symptoms was created.  This was done

by using the: Screen for Child Anxiety Related Disorders and the Sleep Disturbance Scale for Children.

For a period of 5 months, CBD oil was administered under the tongue just before she went to sleep.  Additionally, she took CBD during the day as needed.

The girl was able to enjoy improved sleep quality, through the night, and was mostly sleeping in her own room.

The emotional outbursts she experienced at school ceased, because her anxiety was greatly reduced.

To make things even better, no side effects were observed with regard to using CBD for her PTSD symptoms. 

O.K. that’s just one case.  Is there any scientific proof demonstrating how CBD oil helps relieve the symptoms PTSD sufferers face?

How CBD Oil Works To Relieve PTSD Symptoms

The Action Of CBD On Fear Memory

This study shows that CBD is a promising aid to anxiety extinction-based therapies. [14]

The dominance of fear conditioning, or fear memory, is one of the main reasons why PTSD has a debilitating effect on patients.

Fear conditioning is simply when one form of stimuli is linked with a totally different stimulus.

Soldiers who are struggling with PTSD may experience an overpowering fear of loud sounds, for instance.

This is because their extended exposure to battlefront noises such as artillery and bomb explosions heightened their fear response to loud sounds.

An exaggerated physical or emotional reaction in a veteran may be triggered by something as harmless as a loud noise caused by fireworks.

Using mice as the subjects, a Canadian study conducted back in 2016, looked into how CBD can help manage this learned loud noise fear reaction. [3]

With the help of a PTSD inducing medical method, researchers conditioned the mice.

The fear memory of the mice was observed to be highly diminished through test results after being treated with CBD for a week.

This involved presenting a cat to the mice, after which the mice did not demonstrate the conditioned fear reaction, which was to freeze up.

The end result of the study was that CBD effected positive changes in the (mesolimbic) reward pathways in the brain.

CBD was also found to revise the creation of associative memories.  Which means that the original PTSD causing trauma memory would no longer be triggered by new events.

Forgetting Fearful Memories (Fear Extinction)

Another similar study conducted in Germany back in 2012 reported that a 19-year old patient used a cannabis resin containing THC for PTSD symptom relief.  He had multiple symptoms including panic attacks, self-mutilation, and vivid flashbacks. [4]

After the patient reported impressive symptom relief, the study wanted to know how the cannabis resin actually worked.

They concluded that cannabinoids like THC and CBD may have a part to play towards anti-depressive effects and fear extinction.

To get a better sense of the therapeutic properties of cannabinoids, the study concluded that more research was necessary.

The Action of CBD On Sleep

CBD has the potential to treat sleep disorders as was observed in the study involving the 10-year-old girl previously mentioned.  Before she went to bed she took 25mg of CBD.

Usually PTSD sufferers have a hard time falling asleep.  When they do sleep, they experience disturbing nightmares.  Just the thought of reliving those nightmares would make it hard to go to sleep.  So, that made bedtime one of the most challenging times of the day for them.

In low quantities, CBD does not come with the sedative qualities associated with other sleep aids.

To the contrary, during the daytime, low doses of CBD is said to keep people awake. [5] 

Here is another study of 72 people with anxiety and trouble sleeping.  The study was one month long, plus 3 months of follow up.  Most of them took a 25 mg CBD capsule once per day.  A few of them took twice as much or three times as much.

57 patients had a decrease in anxiety within the first month and through the three-month follow up period.

48 patients were sleeping better during the first month, but the results varied during the follow up period. [16]

The Action Of CBD On Anxiety Levels

Low-to-moderate levels of CBD has been shown to reduce anxiety in humans.  High levels of CBD are not effective for treating anxiety. [20]

In a public speaking social anxiety test the participants were given 600mg of CBD before the test began which significantly reduced their anxiety. [21]

In another study of ten generalized social anxiety disorder (SAD) patients were dosed with 400 mg of CBD.  The patients had significantly decreased levels of anxiety. [22]

CBD’s anti-anxiety properties are well documented. Researchers now believe that CBD may represent a new frontier in the study of the anxiety symptoms experienced by PTSD sufferers. [6]

In a mouse study CBD was as effective as the antipsychotic prescription medicine clozapine. [17] The effective dosage for the mice was 30mg and 60mg of CBD per kilogram of body weight.

Final Thoughts On (Cannabidiol) CBD Oil For PTSD Symptoms

There is still a need for additional research to uncover how CBD actually works.  However, many people have found CBD to be a mode of treatment that works for them.  Whereas traditional approaches have fallen short of expectations.

Fortunately, legal restrictions are changing, which permits greater medical research into using CBD for treating PTSD.

In the states that have approved the use of medical marijuana, PTSD is usually approved as a qualifying condition.  Let me remind you that medical marijuana contains THC, which is why it is a controlled medication. 

Whereas, the use of CBD Oil for PTSD is legal, and available without a prescription, throughout the U.S.A.

References and Source Material

[1] Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

[2] Effectiveness of Cannabidiol Oil for Pediatric Anxiety and Insomnia as Part of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Case Report. 

[3] Cannabidiol Modulates Fear Memory Formation Through Interactions with Serotonergic Transmission in the Mesolimbic System.

[4] Mitigation of post-traumatic stress symptoms by Cannabis resin: a review of the clinical and neurobiological evidence. 

[5] Potential Effects of Cannabidiol as a Wake-Promoting Agent.

[6] Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders.  

[7] The Use of Medicinal Marijuana for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Review of the Current Literature.

[8] Changes in Cannabis Potency over the Last Two Decades (1995-2014) – Analysis of Current Data in the United States.  

[9] An Update on Safety and Side Effects of Cannabidiol: A Review of Clinical Data and Relevant Animal Studies.  

[10] Cannabis, cannabinoids, and health.  

[11] Does Cannabidiol Protect Against Adverse Psychological Effects of THC?

[12] A systematic review of adverse events arising from the use of synthetic cannabinoids and their associated treatment.  

[13] Marijuana and Cannabinoids. 

[14] Cannabidiol enhances consolidation of explicit fear extinction in humans.

[15] Use and effects of cannabinoids in military veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder.   

[16] Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series.

[17] Cannabidiol Attenuates Sensorimotor Gating Disruption and Molecular Changes Induced by Chronic Antagonism of NMDA receptors in Mice.

[18] The efficacy of nabilone, a synthetic cannabinoid, in the treatment of PTSD-associated nightmares: A preliminary randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled cross-over design study.

[19] A Cross-Sectional Study of Cannabidiol Users.

[20] Cannabidiol regulation of emotion and emotional memory processing: relevance for treating anxiety‐related and substance abuse disorders.

[21] Cannabidiol Reduces the Anxiety Induced by Simulated Public Speaking in Treatment-Naïve Social Phobia Patients.

[22] Neural basis of anxiolytic effects of cannabidiol (CBD) in generalized social anxiety disorder: a preliminary report.

Return to the Full Stride Health home page

Leave a Comment