New research suggests cannabis could help treat PTSD

published on May 31, 2018

Canadians are using cannabis to effectively treat the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to new research from the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU).

In a study of data collected by Statistics Canada from more than 24,000 Canadians, BCCSU researchers found that those with a diagnosis of PTSD were far more likely to also report suffering from severe depression and have thoughts of suicide. However, when they focused on those reporting cannabis use, they found no links between having PTSD and reporting depression or suicidality.

“For years, scientists have known that one of the primary reasons people use cannabis therapeutically is to address mental health concerns, including post-traumatic stress disorder,” says the study’s senior author, Dr. M-J Milloy, who is a research scientist at the BCCSU. “However, this is the first time we’ve found evidence from a nationally-representative survey of the potential benefits of treating PTSD with cannabis. These are important findings that call for further rigorous examination of its therapeutic value and clinical application.”

“The lack of treatments available for people suffering from post-traumatic disorder can often have dire outcomes, including suicidality,” says Dr. Zach Walsh, an associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia who is currently leading a clinical study of cannabis and PTSD. “This research suggests that cannabis could have a stabilizing impact, improving quality of life and offering a pathway to long-term treatment solutions such as therapy.”

People exposed to trauma, including survivors of acute injury, conflict, violence and disaster, suffer from depression, suicide, and substance use disorders at disproportionately high rates compared to the general population. Canada is estimated to have one of the highest prevalence rates of PTSD worldwide, affecting an estimated 9.2% of the population.

The research is being presented this week at Canadian Public Health Association annual conference in Montreal, Quebec.