What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a rewiring of the brain that can happen after a traumatic experience. It changes how we process memories and makes it impossible to feel any distance from the trauma—there is no healing, only re-living of the anguish through flashbacks, nightmares and constant anxiety about getting triggered. PTSD also changes the way we process current events; it increases our chronic stress levels so much that it impairs our rational brain, making us respond to even normal daily stresses with fight-or-flight intensity and struggle to calm ourselves and problem-solve effectively.
These cognitive changes affect behaviour in ways that can damage relationships. Because of chronic sleep disruption and emotional overwhelm, people living with PTSD tend to lash out at the slightest provocation, may act paranoid or obsessed with potential threats and can be unable to discuss stressful topics rationally. Their anxiety can cause panic attacks and make them withdraw from loved ones and social situations to avoid getting triggered. These symptoms can make it impossible to function in a family or workplace, and result in high levels of divorce, unemployment and substance abuse. The loneliness of living with PTSD, or living with someone who suffers from it, can be unbearable.
In June, the U.S. National Centre for PTSD urges us to talk about this condition that affects so many of us and our families, friends and coworkers. A recent study found that 9.2 percent of Canadians will experience PTSD at some point in their lifetime, with approximately 2.4 percent of us suffering from its effects at any given time.
What Does PTSD Look Like?
You can read more about the diagnostic criteria for PTSD here, but below are some key features of the condition:
● Sleep deprivation
● Anger and irritability
● Depression and hopelessness
● Anxiety, panic attacks, avoidance and withdrawal
Memory and Cognitive Disturbance
● Difficulty concentrating
● Family dysfunction and breakdown
● Work problems and loss of employment
● Substance abuse
Who Gets PTSD?
● Women are more likely than men to experience PTSD; the number one trigger for PTSD is sexual assault.
● Men frequently get exposed to triggering trauma through their line of work, particularly in military, law enforcement or first responder roles.
● People can develop PTSD as the victim of a traumatic event and also as a bystander, responder or someone who discovers that a loved one has been victimized.
What Help Is Out There?
In June 2018, the Canadian Senate passed Bill C-211 to develop a national PTSD strategy. The bill committed the federal government to create a consistent framework within 18 months of the act’s passing that would make sure there were resources and processes in place from coast-to-coast to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and long-term improvement of PTSD in Canada.
At the moment of writing this article, the PTSD framework is still in development. In the meantime, some resources include:
PTSD Association in Canada - online resources and therapeutic programs based in Ontario
Wounded Warriors - supports veterans, first responders, and families with therapeutic programs, resiliency training, respite care and research grants
Calgary Military Families Resource Centre - online and in-person programs for mental and social wellness of active duty members, veterans, and their families
Veterans Affairs of Canada - compensation and funding for counselling and medical treatment
Global News Resource List for PTSD - multi-disciplinary supports for soldiers and veterans, including substance abuse programs, therapy animals, and financial services
What Does the Research Say About Cannabis and PTSD?
● THC reduces nightmares1
● Cannabis Improves sleep, reduces anxiety and increases coping ability2
● CBD reduces memory dysfunction caused by trauma3
● Cannabis makes patients consume less benzodiazepine medication4
If you have PTSD and wonder if cannabis could help with your recovery, it's important to speak to your doctor. An experienced cannabis educator can help you determine whether you are a good candidate for cannabis and what types of compounds, products and routines would be safest and most effective as part of your overall recovery plan.
By shedding light on the realities of PTSD, we hope to understand better how to help our loved ones and how to access the available resources. With ongoing research to develop effective treatments, as well as destigmatizing the process of getting help and creating communities that support sufferers and their families, we can make the future much brighter for patients recovering from PTSD and their families.
Fraser, GA. The Use of a Synthetic Cannabinoid in the Management of Treatment‐Resistant Nightmares in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics. (2009) (15:1) 84-88.
 Betthauser, K. et al., Use and effects of cannabinoids in military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy. (2015) (72:15) 1279-1284.
 Bitencourt, R. and Takahashi, R. Cannabidiol as a Therapeutic Alternative for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: From Bench Research to Confirmation in Human Trials. Frontiers in Neuroscience (2018). 12:502.
 Purcell, C. et al. Reduction of Benzodiazepine Use in Patients Prescribed Medical Cannabis. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research. Ahead of print. (2019)