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Cannabis Use Could Reduce Depression and Suicide Rates Among PTSD Patients

People with PTSD are more likely to experience depression and thought about taking their lives, known as suicide ideation. According to research, cannabis could ease the symptoms of depression and thoughts of suicide in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

People with the condition may have debilitating symptoms where they relive the traumatic experience in flashbacks or nightmares, struggle to sleep or concentrate, and have physical reactions such as sweating, pain, and nausea. Treatment can involve psychological therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy or eye movement desensitization processing, and taking antidepressants.

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The research, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology on Tuesday, analyzed nationally representative health data from Statistics Canada’s 2012 Community Health Survey and found that people with PTSD who have not reported past-year marijuana use are much more likely to have suicidal thoughts and go through depressive phases.

Among the more than 24,000 people who were eligible for the study, with was conducted by researchers at the the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use and University of British Columbia, 420 were clinically diagnosed with PTSD. Of those, 106 individuals with PTSD (28.2 percent) said they used cannabis in the past year. That’s markedly higher than the average of those who don’t have PTSD (11.2 percent).

Those suffering from PTSD who didn’t report past-year cannabis use were about seven times as likely to have experienced a recent major depressive episode, the study found. They were also 4.3 times as likely to have contemplated suicide.

“These findings are promising,” says senior study author Michael J. Milloy, “and merit further study in order to fully understand the benefits of cannabis for people living with PTSD.”

Milloy is a research scientist at BCCSU and the Canopy Growth Professor of Cannabis Science at UBC.

“This study provides preliminary epidemiological evidence that cannabis use may contribute to reducing the association between post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depressive and suicidal states.”

While the study only looked at Canadian respondents, the findings are relevant to U.S. patients as well, as members of the military stateside also experience higher rates of PTSD compared to the general population.

A former secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), David Shulkin, has said recently that he’s in favor of having the department conduct clinical research into the therapeutic benefits of marijuana for veterans with PTSD, stating that the suicide rate among the population demonstrates that ignoring the treatment option comes at the “peril” of service members.

“There remains insufficient evidence to provide guidance on the use of cannabinoids for treating mental disorders within a regulatory framework,” the scientists wrote. “Further high-quality studies directly examining the effect of cannabinoids on treating mental disorders are needed.”

The researchers conclude that the findings offer preliminary evidence from a population survey that cannabis use may help to reduce the link between PTSD and severe depressive episodes and suicidal states.

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They suggest that there is a growing need for high quality experimental studies to investigate the effectiveness of using cannabis and cannabinoids to treat PTSD.

“We’re only just beginning to understand what the therapeutic potential of cannabis may be for a variety of health conditions,” M-J Milloy said. “These findings are promising, and merit further study in order to fully understand the benefits of cannabis for people living with PTSD.”

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