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PTSD And Cannabis: Why The FDA-Approved Study Is Great For Doctors

We often see PTSD in the headlines along with the hardships it has had upon those who have served our country so valiantly. Yet this barely scratches the surface of the damage this disorder has had on all of the individuals who suffer from this, their loved ones, co-workers and society in general.  

Those in the armed services do not have a monopoly on PTSD. We see this unfortunate disorder among people who have suffered a great trauma in their lives. This can be a single event or many events built upon each other. We do know that there are some individuals who are at higher risk of PTSD, especially those who already suffer from anxiety. 

PTSD may manifest itself with variable symptoms such as poor sleeping, nightmares, flashbacks, lack of concentration, irritability, anxiety, paranoia, depression and physical symptoms such as headaches, temporary blindness, and nervous ticks. There is a significant risk of addiction to drugs and alcohol along with difficulty in maintaining personal relationships. Suicidal and homicidal thoughts can be part of the syndrome. Just think about how this has affected families and our society. 

We have treated people with emotional support and long-term desensitization therapy. Many medications have been used as therapy such as SSRIs, tricyclic antidepressants, MAO inhibitors, mood stabilizers and benzodiazepines. The fact that there are so many different types of medications which can be used, exemplifies the difficulty in treating this disorder and the many complicating factors in the diagnosis and treatment.  

On the forefront of investigation of cannabis as a treatment for PTSD is a group called MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies). They started one of the few FDA approved studies of cannabis for PTSD in February 2017. On January 30, 2018, the 38th of 76 participants was enrolled in the study. This study is evaluating the safety and efficacy of four different potencies of cannabis (High THC, High CBD, THC/CBD, placebo) in U.S. veterans. 

It is quite unusual and very exciting that the FDA is willing to have a study done with a medication that is listed as a Schedule 1 drug. At this time it is still a federal offense to prescribe or use the drug even though it is legal in many states. I personally look forward to the results of the study for many reasons. The first is obvious; this will give us information about whether cannabis in any form has value in the treatment of PTSD. If we see that we have a positive treatment for veterans, just think about the other people who can be helped by this drug.  

This might also demonstrate to the FDA that this is a drug that can and should be studied in the future in a formal clinical setting. This can give us information about titration and dosing of CBD/THC for the many diseases in which it is presently used. Finally, if we have proof that there are positive effects in treating diseases with cannabis, we are closer on the road to changing the FDA Schedule of the drug and making it legal from a federal standpoint. This would also allow M.D.s to become partners in the use of the drug and encourage them to study it as part of their medical practice. 

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