New Study Further Proves That THC Has A Positive Effect On PTSD
A recent study carried out by Wayne State University has indicated that a small concentration of THC, the primary psychoactive compound present in cannabis, may help patients suffering from PTSD with emotional dysregulation. The research discovered that THC would help with emotional dysregulation, mainly when used in combination with cognitive reappraisal therapy. This study from Wayne State University was published in Neuropharmacology in August 2022.
The research suggests that people suffering from PTSD had fewer negative feelings when performing cognitive reappraisal tasks when using low doses of THC compared to a placebo. The researchers also discovered that the patients on low THC doses had heightened brain activation in brain parts usually less activated for PTSD patients performing similar tasks. These changes and effects stimulated by THC were powerful enough to lessen the neurobiological discrepancies seen between those without and with PTSD. These changes are also believed to be responsible for the heightened emotional control patients on low THC doses exhibited.
Not The First of its Kind
The Wayne State University research on the effects of THC on PTSD isn’t the first study of its kind. Previous studies on the same topic have discovered that THC may be powerful enough to lessen symptoms of PTSD. These studies also suggest that THC may help reduce anxiety and stress from everyday life, lower chemical markers of stress, and decrease treatment-related sensitivity in the amygdala. Nonetheless, this latest study is the first to evaluate the impacts of THC on corticolimbic brain activation when PTSD patients perform cognitive reappraisal tasks.
Cognitive reappraisal refers to events considered emotionally triggering in a manner that helps patients feel less intense about the situation. For instance, if an individual feels scared and afraid of seeing someone get shot on a TV show, you are likely to remind yourself that it is inaccurate and that actors are only playing a fictional story. Reappraising the events in this light helps you to curtail and manage the feeling of fear you got from watching the violent episode. Since cognitive reappraisal is used in some types of therapy for PTSD patients, researchers saw the need to understand the effects of THC in the entire process.
A double-blind experiment was carried out to understand the effects of high THC cannabis strains on corticolimbic brain activation when PTSD patients perform cognitive reappraisal tasks. In the experiment, 51 persons were randomly selected and administered 7.5 mg of a placebo capsule or capsules of THC. Once the effects of the THC capsules had set in and at peak window, the patients were asked to carry out some specific emotional regulation tasks; particularly tasks involving cognitive reappraisal. The functions applied to patients exposed to graphic and triggering images and then asked to reappraise. While performing these tasks, patients are also simultaneously scanned using an fMRI machine, and related questions about their emotional state are asked.
Intriguingly, previous studies on the effects of THC on PTSD patients have established that persons with PTSD display unique wave patterns of brain activation when performing cognitive reappraisal tasks. As a result, if THC could significantly reduce the variations in brain activation patterns among PTSD patients, it could be a positive indication of why PTSD patients often report better well-being from cannabis use.
Result Of The Study
At the end of the experiment, the researchers discovered that patients on low doses of THC could effectively manage negative emotions when performing the reappraisal tasks. In contrast, patients on placebo didn’t achieve much success. The researchers also discovered that other parts of the brain had heightened activation when on THC, but such effects were not recorded with patients on placebo. The brain parts with increased activation include the greater posterior and angular gyrus cingulate cortex. These are parts of the brain that are bizarrely downregulated in PTSD patients. As a matter of fact, the study was able to quash the differences in brain activation between PTSD patients and individuals not suffering from PTSD.
With THC helping PTSD patients effectively reappraise triggering memories and images, the psychoactive compound might not only reduce negative emotions at the triggering phase of the therapy but helps to boost the therapy’s effectiveness in the long run.
According to the researchers, previous studies have shown that PTSD patients displayed reduced emotional arousal following re-exposure to the triggering images and memories. They achieved successful appraisal against negative memories they failed at appraising. In simple terms, the successful appraisal has a long-lasting effect on emotional reactivity each time a PTSD patient encounters a similar trigger in the future.
The researchers concluded that the psychoactive compound THC might be a useful pharmacological supplement to cognitive reappraisal therapy to treat PTSD. By stimulating a successful and effective reappraisal, THC could provide permanent benefits to individuals who have PTSD.
Limitations To The Study
While the research was positive and showed that THC could significantly reduce the variations in brain activation patterns among PTSD patients, researchers were careful to identify several limitations to the study. These limitations include the absence of blood tests to verify if participants were tested at the THC’s peak of effectiveness. The researchers also identified that the study did not feature trauma-specific images during the tasks. Even though imagery that induces fear usually has different and more intense emotional reactivity among PTSD patients, non-traumatic-specific imagery might have yielded different results. Lastly, the researchers pointed out that while the study used a double-blind placebo model, the sample size of 51 patients was relatively small. Hopefully, future research will be based on a larger sample size of patients to achieve more reliable results and data.
Presently, PTSD patients are one of the most vocal supporters of the medicinal benefits of cannabis, with most of them claiming that THC assists in alleviating migraines, relieving stress and anxiety and curbing panic attacks. Nonetheless, more research must be carried out to substantiate the medicinal benefits of THC, so there’s no need to rush to a conclusion until concrete evidence is reached.