Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) falls within the broader trauma- and stressor-related disorders categorized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V). The diagnostic criteria of PTSD include an exposure to a traumatic event (e.g., the threat of death, serious injury, or sexual violence) and exhibiting psychological distress symptoms that occur as a result of that exposure (e.g., intrusion symptoms, such as distressing memories; avoidance of stimuli that are associated with the traumatic event; negative alterations in mood and cognition; alterations in arousal and reactivity associated with the traumatic event; functional impairment) (APA, 2013, pp. 271–272). Given the known psychoactive effects of cannabis, the committee decided to explore the association between PTSD and cannabis use.
Are Cannabis or Cannabinoids an Effective Treatment for PTSD Symptoms?
The committee did not identify a good- or fair-quality systematic review that reported on medical cannabis as an effective treatment for PTSD symptoms.
We identified a fair-quality double-blind, randomized crossover trial (Jetly et al., 2015) conducted with Canadian male military personnel with trauma-related nightmares despite standard treatments for PTSD. Ten participants were randomized to either nabilone 0.5 mg that was titrated to a daily maximum of 3.0 mg or else to a placebo for 7 weeks. Following a 2-week washout period, subjects were then treated with the other study treatment and followed for an additional 7 weeks. Effects on sleep, nightmares, and global clinical state were assessed by the investigators; sleep time and general well-being were self-reported. Nightmares, global clinical state, and general well-being were improved more with nabilone treatment than with the placebo treatment (p <0.05). There was no effect on sleep quality and quantity. Global clinical state was rated as very much improved or much improved for 7 of 10 subjects in the nabilone treatment period and 2 of 10 subjects in the placebo treatment period.
Discussion of Findings
A single, small crossover trial suggests potential benefit from the pharmaceutical cannabinoid nabilone. This limited evidence is most applicable to male veterans and contrasts with non-randomized studies showing limited evidence of a statistical association between cannabis use (plant derived forms) and increased severity of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms among individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder (see Chapter 12). A search of the grey literature identified several recently initiated randomized controlled trials examining the harms and benefits of marijuana for PTSD.11 One trial examines the effects of four different types of cannabis with varying THC and CBD content on PTSD symptoms in 76 veterans (Bonn-Miller, 2016). Another trial is a Canadian study that evaluates different formulations of THC and CBD in 42 adults with PTSD (Eades, 2016). If these trials are successfully completely, they will add substantially to the knowledge base, expanding the range of cannabinoids evaluated and the opportunity to examine the consistency of effects across studies.
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