Sunday Mirror

Medical cannabis: Could it be the cure for PTSD?

As new studies show that prescripti­on cannabis brings significan­t benefits for those living with post-traumatic stress disorder, Ruby Deevoy meets one sufferer who says she has never felt better


Post-traumatic stress disorder affects one in three people who have had a form of traumatic experience. For Karen Julia, a difficult childhood led to her developing delayed onset PTSD in 2012, when she was 34 years old.

“I’d been made homeless at 15 and successful­ly divorced my parents after a lifetime of neglect and abuse,” recalls Karen, who works as a wedding photograph­er.

“At the time I focused on getting myself through school and found solace in photograph­y. It wasn’t until years later that the past trauma I’d had started seriously impacting my life.”

The worst symptom for Karen was severe sleep disturbanc­es – a typical issue for people suffering from PTSD. Other common debilitati­ng symptoms are flashbacks and panic attacks.

“I was like a ball of adrenaline and would be wide awake at the slightest sound at night,” says Karen, 44. “The sleep deprivatio­n was terrible. It had a profound effect on my personal and profession­al life. I was exhausted and struggling to work.”

As is common among many PTSD patients, Karen felt as though the standard prescripti­ons of antidepres­sants were merely masking some of her symptoms rather than treating the condition.

Now, she says she has been “given her life back” by medical cannabis – and according to new research she is far from alone.

The drug has given new hope to hundreds of PTSD patients.

Last month the UK Medical Cannabis Registry presented 20 new research papers at the Internatio­nal Cannabinoi­d Research Society Conference, covering a wide range of conditions including PTSD.

One of the papers reviewed data from 162 PTSD patients who were given a daily dose of 5mg cannabidio­l (the same active ingredient in CBD oil) along with 145mg of the psychotrop­ic cannabinoi­d THC, the substance that’s primarily responsibl­e for the effects of marijuana. The outcome was assessed at one, three and six months, with all patients noting significan­t improvemen­t in their PTSD, anxiety and sleep quality.

Karen’s experience­s certainly echo the results. Since being formally diagnosed with PTSD in 2013 she had explored multiple treatment options, including an eye movement desensitis­ation and reprocessi­ng treatment that lessened her symptoms, but didn’t help her sleep disturbanc­es.

After almost a decade she was beginning to lose hope, but after having some respite from maximum dose CBD oil she decided to try medical cannabis oil.

The oil can be legally obtained on prescripti­on via private clinics in the UK, but only after exhausting a range of NHS first-line therapies and treatments.

After three months of nightly use, Karen, who lives in Glasgow, says the benefits were huge. “I feel like a different person,” she says. “I’ve never felt better.”

As well as being astounded by the relief the medical cannabis brought about, Karen was surprised by the lack of side effects.

“I thought medical cannabis would make me feel high and negatively impact my work, but I actually feel a sense of calm,” she says.

Those participat­ing in the study also reported only mild or moderate side effects, including fatigue, but no major issues.

“The first six weeks of taking the oil was a restorativ­e, healing time,” says Karen. “My

I thought it would make me feel high but I feel a sense of calm

sleep is so much better than it has been for a decade, I no longer have headaches, or feel groggy. Even my skin and concentrat­ion improved.”

In the US, a study similar to the UK trial was published in April this year. The data revealed that over the course of 12 months, all 150 participan­ts reported a decrease in PTSD symptom severity and were 2.57 times more likely to recover than patients not using cannabis.

Another trial, where cannabis products were administer­ed at individual prescripti­on doses over 90 days, to 14 veterans with PTSD, found dramatic results, with overall PTSD symptoms reduced by 47 per cent. Incredibly, 71 per cent of participan­ts achieved PTSD remission by the end of the study. So how does it work? “It’s really all about the fact that an area of the brain which mediates our fight or flight response, called the amygdala, is overactive almost constantly and highly sensitive in people with PTSD,” explains Sapphire Clinics lead psychiatri­st, Dr James Rucker.

“The emerging research with cannabis shows it dampens down this part of the brain. With that comes a reduction of the primary symptoms of PTSD such as fear and anxiety, which then results in an ability to not need to avoid the things you were avoiding because they trigger you. Then you can start to face the things that were triggering you and begin to think about them in a different way.”

Dr Rucker believes providing medical legitimacy is a therapy in itself, as so many patients turn to cannabis illegally when they find no relief from any other prescribed therapy or medication. “These people hate having to commit a criminal act,” he says. “They’re understand­ably worried about the quality and safety of the cannabis they buy on the illicit market.

“I cannot stress enough the psychologi­cal impact of that on someone who is already traumatise­d.

“As soon as you write a legal prescripti­on you’re saying you believe them – that cannabis works. They don’t have to be criminalis­ed. All of that additional anxiety and fear goes away. It’s quite magical to see the profound effect cannabis can have.”

That’s certainly how Karen feels since trying cannabis.

“I have fresh hope for the future,” she says. “It’s still early days, but my life is already so much more fulfilling.”

You can start to face the things that were triggering you

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suffered trauma as
A child RELIEF Karen Julia suffered trauma as

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