Small doses of THC could boost the effectiveness of traditional therapies used to treat PTSD, according to a new study conducted at Wayne State University in Michigan.
Several prior studies have already determined that cannabis can effectively reduce PTSD symptoms, including anxiety, stress, and suicidal thoughts. The new study, which was recently published in Neuropharmacology, specifically focuses on how low doses of THC could help boost the effectiveness of cognitive reappraisal therapy for PTSD, however.
“Cognitive reappraisal is one therapeutic emotion regulation strategy that has been widely studied among individuals with mood and anxiety disorders, and numerous differences in brain activation patterns have been shown between individuals with and without PTSD during tasks of cognitive reappraisal,” the study authors explain.
Previous studies have discovered that even small doses of THC can reduce these PTSD-related brain activation discrepancies. But before the present study, researchers had never investigated whether cannabis could actually affect corticolimbic activity during standard emotional regulation tasks that therapists commonly use to treat PTSD.
To explore their hypothesis, researchers randomly divided 51 PTSD patients into two groups. One group received a capsule containing 7.5 mg of THC, while the other received a placebo. After giving some time for the THC to take effect, subjects participated in standard cognitive reappraisal tasks. During these tasks, subjects are exposed to triggering images and then asked to reappraise and regulate their emotions afterwards.
The subjects who consumed THC were able to successfully regulate their negative emotions after viewing the triggering images, while those who received the placebo had a much harder time doing so. Researchers also scanned subjects' brain activity with an fMRI machine and found that THC increased corticolimbic activation in parts of the brain that are usually suppressed in people with PTSD.
Specifically, researchers found that the subjects who took the THC capsules showed increased activation in the angular gyrus, a part of the brain responsible for attention and spatial cognition. THC also increased activation in the posterior cingulate cortex, which has been linked to depression, Alzheimer's, and other conditions. Researchers also discovered that greater activation of this part of the cortex was directly associated with a decrease in negative feelings after viewing the triggering images.
“These findings suggest that THC may prove to be a beneficial pharmacological adjunct to cognitive reappraisal therapy in the treatment of PTSD,” the study authors concluded.
Cannabis-assisted therapy could be especially beneficial for veterans, who disproportionately experience PTSD symptoms as a result of wartime trauma. Sadly, even though medical marijuana is legal in the majority of US states, the federal government will strip essential benefits from any service member who uses this important medicine or even works in the cannabis industry.
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