Marijuana for PTSD? That's Leaving Out a Lot of Steps

By Douglas Main | September 28, 2011 8:07 am

When rats were injected with a chemical similar to marijuana’s main ingredient, THC, shortly after a undergoing a severely stressful event, they showed a significant reduction in symptoms like those seen in people with post-traumatic stress disorder. The study tested a synthetic cannabinoid called WIN 55,212-2, which was injected directly into the animals’ amygdala, a brain region involved in the regulation of emotions like fear and anxiety. Timing was important. Rats given the drug two and 24 hours after the stressor—being forced to swim for 15 minutes—appeared less “traumatized” when tested a week later, compared with those given the drug 48 hours later or given no drug at all. While the study adds to the already large and complex pile of evidence that the cannabinoid system has a vital role in regulating emotions like anxiety, it’s far from proving that cannabinoids will be useful for treating PTSD in humans.

Unfortunately, virtually every story covering the study got it wrong by suggesting just that (e.g., “Marijuana blocks post-traumatic stress?” “Marijuana blocks PTSD symptoms in rats.”). And many, if not most stories, confused the synthetic THC mimic studied with THC or marijuana itself. While WIN 55,212-2 binds to the same receptor as THC, CB1, it has a very different structure. This study adds to some previous ones suggesting that cannabinoids may help treat PTSD (as could other controlled substances like ecstasy, or MDMA), but there are still a lot of hurdles to cross before concluding this will lead to effective PTSD treatment.

Reference: Eti Ganon-Elazar, Irit Akirav. Cannabinoids Prevent the Development of Behavioral and Endocrine Alterations in a Rat Model of Intense Stress. Neuropsychopharmacology, 2011; DOI: 10.1038/npp.2011.204

Image: cheesechoker / Flickr




CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Mind & Brain
  • rarcher

    Do rats have cannabinoid receptors?
    All this research on animals means very little if they don’t have those and we do.

  • Seth

    I have PTSD from 2 tours in Iraq. Marijuana DOES help. It allows me to sleep, it allows me to nullify the symptoms once I am triggered, it stops my anxiety in it’s track. So, I can say from my own experience… it works

  • Old Hippie

    All mammals have cannabinoid receptors, but the real problem here is that the U.S. Government blocks most promising studies on cannabis for political reasons. They also buried the results of research in the 1970s that showed how THC helped kill cancer, which may be a crime against humanity.

    Instead of rats, researchers could talk to any of the thousands of the legal medical marijuana patients using cannabis to help their PTSD and find out what it really does. Then they could design a real experiment, if they really wanted to.

  • Techs

    Half a century ago I had bad car accident. I suffered massive pain for a long time. Standard pain killers stopped working in a very short period of time and they wouldn’t give me anything stronger for fear of addiction.
    Never understood that as tons of other people were given addictive painkillers.
    Couldn’t sleep because of the pain. Friends gave me Marijuana and I slept deeply for the first time in 2 months. I was laid up for 10 months and still have some pain to this day.
    Eventually after 6 or so months the Marijuana stopped working, but the pain was bearable by then and I quit. Haven’t touched it since. Didn’t like the way it messes with my mind.
    Watched a few friends wither and disappear from smoking the stuff. Doubt that the Marijuana was to blame. Lost a lot more friends to alcohol over the years including several the didn’t drink.

  • tensity1

    What this article states is very true: Humans aren’t rats; different cannabinoids; more research needed; don’t jump to conclusions.

    Fine and dandy, but there are so many anecdotal stories from vets from Afghanistan/Iraq all the way back to Vietnam, well, the stories are hard to ignore. Also consider the fact that MJ is a relatively harmless plant compared to pharmaceuticals, and is effectively non-toxic (but it does have some negatives, minor to most people, but keep that in mind).

    Israel has quite the program concerning MJ use to help treat vets with PTSD. Google it out.

  • Puppetmistress

    Maybe it does leave out a lot of steps, but it’s an important step that needs more attention. Marijuana and hemp are very useful plants. Marijuana is far less addictive than many medications, and has less side effect and no known deadly dose. Hemp has amazing potential in the paper business; it uses far less water to grow than trees, and the resulting paper is smoother and better quality. It also remains useable for up to a hundred years. Unfortunately, laws made in the 1930s, when people were told marijuana caused ‘murder, insanity, and death’ still forbid the growth of plants with even trace amounts of THC. The time for at least a partial reform of this law is long overdue.

  • Pat

    I have PTSD due to repeated sexual abuse by my brother 12 years ago. I am now almost 21. I never told anyone what had happened to me until about a year ago, and since then I was reintroduced to marijuana as a way to deal with the anxiety, insomnia, fear, loneliness, and lack of appetite due to my post-traumatic stress. Marijuana to me isn’t about avoiding the past, it’s acknowledging my past while being able to deal with every day life. I refuse to take anti-anxieties or anti-depressants that have many side-effects including suicidal thinking in people around my age. Now, after finding something that works, works well, and keeps me from being an angry suicidal mess, I am facing court on Wednesday for possession of marijuana. This could lead to me being put on probation for a year (including drug tests). This means I may not be able to use the only thing that works for me, and even if I move to another state I will most likely still have probation and drug tests in that state. Anti-marijuana laws make my life seem like a cruel helpless joke, with no compassion given to me by the government and law enforcement despite the compassion I gave to my brother in not outing him to my parents or authorities.

  • ConservativeChristian

    Jesus said to do unto others as we would have them to do unto us. None of us would want our child thrown in jail with the sexual predators over marijuana. None of us would want to see an older family member’s home confiscated and sold by the police for growing a couple of marijuana plants for their aches and pains. It’s time to stop putting our own family members in jail over marijuana.
    If ordinary Americans could grow a little marijuana in their own back yards, it would be about as valuable as home-grown tomatoes. Let’s put the criminals out of business and get them out of our neighborhoods. Let’s let ordinary Americans grow a little marijuana in their own back yards.
    Here’s one way that IT IS REALLY WORKING: Arresting the criminals and collecting a fee from registered growers (and bringing in thousands of dollars to support the county budget); what a great plan! This is the way to build a better America!
    The current proposal before Congress, bill HR 2306, will allow states to decide how they will regulate marijuana. You can email your Congressperson and Senators at to discuss HR 2306.
    And a big THANK YOU to the courageous, freedom loving legislators, governors, and countless others who are working so hard to bring this through! You’re doing a great patriotic service for all of America!

  • ison


    to answer your question, cannibanoid receptors along with endocannabinoids are common in animals including rats and humans.


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